Monday, May 12, 2014

A Belated Musing On Ravnsborg And Relevancy

I was a little busy last week. A young plainswoman was graduating from college, sort of. (She's got one class left to take this summer.) Mrs. Plainsman and I spent last week rushing about, so we could pretend to be ready to face finals week before driving off to see her walk through the graduation line bedecked in all sorts of academic and non-academic cordage and regalia. (There's something about spending 18 hours in a car that's not conducive to getting real work done, hence last week's rush.)

I wanted to weigh in a bit on the kerfuffle surrounding Republican Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg claiming to be the "ONLY U.S. Senate candidate with relevant military experience." I am in no position to weigh in on whether candidates' military experience qualifies them for the United States Senate. (PNR has a take here.) I do want to mention what the ad reveals about the candidate

It strikes me that the most "relevant" job a United States senator has is protecting his constituents' lives and liberties. To the best of my knowledge performing those duties entails crafting well-written legislation to serve constituents, repealing harmful legislation, and preventing the enactment of legislation detrimental to the senator's constituents. The U.S. Senate also has "advise and consent" power. (I know that in the political world the vast majority of a senator's job involves glad handing rich folk to raise money to get re-elected, but I so rarely get to wax romantically about politics that I'll ignore that detail for this post.)

The vast majority of a senator's job seems to involve parsing language. If Ravnsborg didn't anticipate that other veterans would take umbrage at his claim to be the "ONLY U.S. Senate candidate with relevant military experience," then one has to doubt that he's up to the job. "Only" is rather strong, limiting word. Further, the idea that something is relevant carries the connotation that other things, other candidates' military service in this case, are irrelevant. One does need to be a linguist to anticipate that others will take offense at the claim that their military endeavors were "irrelevant."

It's more likely that he did know the effect that his word choice would have. He either didn't care or wanted to stir up the race. In that case, he's just another pharisaical candidate who follows the letter of Reagan's 11th commandment not to speak ill of another Republican but uses language carefully to skirt the intent. If that's the case, then he'll soon be spending all of his time glad handing rich folk to raise funds to get elected and I can go back to being cynical.

No comments: