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Losing A Great Communicator

Losing A Great CommunicatorWith the passing of Ronald Reagan, experts are wondering if the former president’s eloquent manner of speech has also faded from American culture. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.10.04] This week, millions mourned the passing of former United States President Ronald Reagan, known to many as the "Great Communicator." The death of the iconic figure left some experts wondering if politicians of this day and age will ever live up to his legacy. The eloquent rhetoric closely tied with Reagan's presidency, says a Tufts expert, is becoming increasingly uncommon in American politics.

"I hate to sound [old], but I do think people are not as articulate as they used to be," Hurst Hannum - professor of international law at The Fletcher School at Tufts - told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to the Tufts professor, lack of clarity in political speech is not necessarily due to inarticulateness. Some politicians use it as a tactic to avoid expressing a strong position on an issue.

"If you're vague enough it allows your audience to fit their own thoughts into whatever that is said," Hannum told the newspaper.

Unclear speech - of which both 2004 presidential candidates have been accused - may be especially employed when talking about potentially divisive issues.

"If you speak in grand generalizations like ‘I'm against terrorism,' people will be more likely to feel they agree with you and say ‘Yes. I'm against terrorism, too,'" the Tufts professor told the Inquirer.

The Fletcher expert says that lack of clarity may also be a bi-product of an increasingly fast-paced society.

"The more we rush, the less time we have to collect our thoughts, and the less time we have to be articulate," Hannum - who encourages his own students to write down their thoughts before they say them - told the Inquirer.

The Tufts professor says that law may be one of the few disciplines where elocution is still valued.

"But this is a discipline in which you are required to be precise," Hannum told the Inquirer. "Lawyers, of course, are infamous for being overly precise."

But attorneys also are prone to choosing their words sparingly.

"In a courtroom when a lawyer is succinct, usually it's a reflection of having good facts," said the Tufts expert. "The other side is deliberately fuzzier and emotional."

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