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Analysis: Congress Talks Like a Bunch of Teens

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Posted on May 21, 2012

The complexity of speech in the Congressional Record has declined steadily since 2005, according to a new analysis.

The ongoing bickering between congressional Democrats and Republicans can be described as sophomoric, no surprise perhaps given a recent analysis that found the average elected representative in Washington, D.C., speaks at a 10th-grade level, almost a full grade lower than seven years ago. To get to that conclusion, the Sunlight Foundation dissected floor speeches. —TEB

Sunlight Foundation:

Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress, others will see as more effective communications. And lawmakers of both parties still speak above the heads of the average American, who reads at between an 8th and 9th grade level.

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.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, May 22, 2012 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

Leefeller - I agree with you regarding the level at which the Media offers its information both in writing and orally. What’s even more disturbing is how 8th grade level discourse is used to manufacture the most banal, uneducated and sophomoric material possible..Americans consume this nonsense 24/7 and look what we have today: a nation of half-wits who all think they’re going to become rich and famous…..I think Joe-the-Plumber is a fine example of what our masters want for us.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, May 22, 2012 at 7:55 am Link to this comment

At what level one speaks to communicate to an audience is most important in getting a point accross for understanding, what seems even much more important would be how one thinks.

I question the creditability of this article when it states: “Most major newspapers are written at between an 11th and 14th grade level.” I would say more like 8th grade level!

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culheath's avatar

By culheath, May 22, 2012 at 3:48 am Link to this comment

And some people thought Idiocracy was just a movie.

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D.R. Zing's avatar

By D.R. Zing, May 22, 2012 at 12:49 am Link to this comment

Yes. What’s weird and scary is it’s happening at our universities as

I once had a guy with a Ph.D try to browbeat me into agreeing that
the force keeping us on earth is “centrifical.” I tried to explain
that centrifical is not even a word; he’s thinking of
centrifugal force, which plays a role in planetary orbits, but it’s
gravity that keeps us on earth—a law of Newtonian physics: 
all mass attracts (for details go here:’s_law_of_universal_gravitation).

Consider, too, how many people memorize the Bible but do not
understand it is the historical myths and laws of ancient peoples. 
That is very strange—to be able to read at an advanced level and
yet not understand the context of what you’re reading.

It’s explains why the debates in this country are so shallow and
destructive. We are a nation of educated idiots.

All that aside, or perhaps to the point, it is why it is such a
pleasure to post and correspond with the members of the TruthDig
community.  There is a high level of discussion here that is much

All the best.


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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, May 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm Link to this comment

I’ve been in the credit industry for many years. Recently, I was doing some research into the lack of “financial literacy” that exists in this country. An interesting issue arose:

Did you know that most credit card contracts and other financial contracts are written at…....drum roll…......A 12TH GRADE LEVEL and this is one of the reasons why industry critics claim most Americans cannot understand what they’re signing….......?

So, to speak to Gerard’s point: We elect the morons we relate to. We aren’t electing the best or the brightest, nor are we working for them. We have become a nation of block heads without focus, without conviction and without a collective brain.

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By Big B, May 21, 2012 at 6:57 pm Link to this comment

Lets face it, we have never been led by our best and brightest. We have however, always been led by our most ruthless, our most aggressive, people who act first, and think later.

It explains how we arrived to where we are now. This fall we will once again be forced to choose between one of the ruling oligarch class, and a toady oligarch wanna-be.

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By gerard, May 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm Link to this comment

We elected them.  So we have only ourselves to blame.
On the other hand, unfortunately Americans are not noted for their brains. That’s a big part of our problems—anti-intellectualism as a traditional posture, including scorn for higher education and willingness to go in for home-schooling and privatization.  The entire routine leads to a gradual dumbing down, especially when the idea of “teaching to tests” comes into the equation. I feel genuinely sorry for teachers, most of whom know better than this but can’t do much about it, partly because teachers’ unions are so unreasonably maligned and feared.

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