Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Vocab Lesson For South Dakota's Republican Party

I tell my students that words and ideas matter.  One should use words precisely to convey ideas clearly.  (I'm a bit less demanding about spelling and neat handwriting.)

South Dakota's Republican Party apparently disagrees with me.  According to a South Dakota GOP press release, Tim Johnson staffer and possible House of Representatives candidate Matt Varilek broke rules, laws, and protocol when he spoke in Mitchell recently.  The party claims that Varilek "delivered vitriolic campaign-style personal attacks against Rep. Kristi Noem." (emphasis mine)

To be "vitriolic" is to express "extreme bitterness and hatred toward somebody or something, or an expression of this feeling in speech or writing."

According to The Mitchell Daily Republic's coverage of the speech,
Varilek said he was struck by Noem’s words when he attended a speech she gave recently in which she said politics are too polarized.
“Well, I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “But that’s kind of like Goliath calling David the bully.”
The phrase "kind of like Goliath calling David a bully" is not vitriol.  It's an allusion, a brief reference to a literary work, mythological character or event, biblical person or event, or a historical person or event.  In addition to committing an allusion without a license, Varilek may be guilty of wry understatement, an ironic remark designed to convey meaning indirectly.  The phrasing certainly is not caustic, bitter, biting, or hateful.

The article reports that Varilek claims that Noem
has supported continuing subsidies for big oil and gas in Congress and he wonders why, since there are no such businesses in South Dakota and the country is in need of tax revenue.


Varilek said a close look at Noem’s campaign finance reports shows she has received thousands of dollars from Exxon, Chevron, Halliburton and other oil and gas companies.


“All of a sudden that vote doesn’t look so mysterious anymore,” he said.
Accusing someone of pandering to campaign supporters now counts as vitriol?  I also thought  such accusations were standard operating procedure.  I believe that people flipping off the President of the United States is vitriolic; accusing him of pandering to Wall Street contributors is probably accurate.  It definitely is not vitriolic.

Maybe the South Dakota Republicans are angry about what he said about the debt ceiling debacle.
Varilek said he was dismayed when Noem sided with House Republicans who threatened to shut down the government this summer. That would have caused severe economic hardships, he said, and he was surprised she adopted that stance.


“It just made so sense at all,” Varilek said. “And I think that’s reckless.”
Most adults thought the debt ceiling debacle was reckless.

Perhaps, Varilek's remarks were ill-timed; they may have been inappropriate. after all the state has only three congressional staffs; they should play nice with each other, and these comments may have angered some of Noem's or Thune's staff.

Even with that concession, I would like to introduce the SDGOP to a new word: "hyperbolic," enlarged beyond truth or reasonableness. Claiming that Varilek's statements are "vitriolic" stretches the meaning of the word beyond any reasonableness." In this instance hyperbole is more dangerous than the alleged vitriol because this hyperbole robs "vitriolic" of its meaning and impact.

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