• Science Confirms: We're Governed by Overgrown Teenagers

    Capitol DomeEver wonder why it feels as if Congress replicates all the worst elements of your junior high student government, an institution replete with extreme self-regard that rarely matches the actual competence of its members?

    Thanks to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation of speeches recorded in the Congressional Record, we have an answer! Members of Congress sound like preening teenagers because they talk like teenagers

    Today's Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level, down from 11.5 in 2005. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 grade level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level. The Gettysburg Address comes in at an 11.2 grade level and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech is at a 9.4 grade level. Most major newspapers are written at between an 11th and 14th grade level.

    Respect for comity demands that both sides be blamed equally for increasingly simplistic language, unfortunately, the data doesn't quite bear that out…

    Between 1996 and 2005, Republicans overall spoke at consistently 2/10ths of a grade level higher than Democrats, except for 2001, when a rare moment of national unity also seems to have extended to speaking at the same grade level. But following 2005, something happened, and Congressional speech has been on the decline since. For Republicans as a whole, the decline was from an 11.6 grade level to a 10.3 grade level in 2011 (up slightly to 10.4 in 2012 so far). For Democrats, it was a decline from 11.4 to 10.6 in 2011 (also up slightly to 10.8 in 2012 so far.)

    We could have discerned the obvious when every debt crisis-related press release read from Eric Cantor as a variant of, "NO DAD, YOU CAN'T MAKE ME," but for those who need more evidence, this study relies on the Flesch-Kincaid test. Crucially, the test equates higher scores with longer words and sentences, saying nothing about the clarity, eloquence or correctness of the content. Some of the most effective and intelligent public figures are plainspoken.

    Nevertheless, these results help explain the raft of intrusive sexuality-related legislation in recent months. Fifteen year old me also had an unhealthy fascination with lady's private parts.

    Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

    Tags: Democrats, House of Representatives, Republicans, Senate


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