The third debate among the Democratic candidates for President was held on December 19 in New Hampshire. Our VocabGrabber pulled out coalition, validation, and prioritize as the top three most relevant words used over the course of the evening (see our list of the top 20 most relevant words here).
But it wasn't so much the words used so much as the Poetry 101 speechifying techniques that caught our attention — were Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley not-so-surreptitiously seeking the English teacher vote?
During his discussion of reforming the country's prison system, Senator Bernie Sanders said,
We need, basically, to pledge that we're going to invest in this country, in jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration.
Sanders would hardly be the first political figure to rhyme. One famous modern example of a rhyming politician is the activist the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who ran for President in 1984 and 1988 and who used his experience delivering sermons to create phrases like, "If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used alliteration, a technique which groups words by initial sound. This is a technique all politicians employ, but during the third debate on Saturday night, it was Clinton who clearly had the alliterative advantage.
She called out Donald Trump for his "bluster and bigotry." Later, answering a question about her relationship with Corporate America, she said: "I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving and the successful." She outlined what she calls her "New College Compact." Finally, Clinton also used the phrase "clarion call." A clarion call is a call to war named after the clarion, a medieval trumpet-like instrument that would have been sounded to signal the start of a conflict.
Criticizing Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims immigrants and tourists from entering the country, Governor Martin O'Malley called it a "clear and present danger in our politics within." The phrase "clear and present danger" goes back to a Supreme court decision that considered the limits to the rights of guaranteed by the first Amendment in times of war. Here is Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. writing in Schenck vs. The United States in 1919:
The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the United States Congress has a right to prevent… When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.
By invoking the idea that Trump's proposed plan for a government action might be something the very government would seek to censure as dangerous in a time of war, O'Malley was using the term ironically.
This might have made Trump angry to hear, but O'Malley's ninth grade English teacher, should he or she have been tuning in on Saturday night, was likely very proud.
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