Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Penchant for Hyperbole

Have you noticed how our public commentators have been engaging their penchant for hyperbole? For example, in the Wall Street Journal last week, an article opened with the question: "let's play this week's favorite parlor game: are we in another Great Depression?" There was a similar question asked in the USA Today this past Monday. By any measure, isn't a bit hyperbolic to compare our current financial recession (with its 6.1% unemployment) to the Great Depression (with its 24% unemployment)? When a quarter of our population is unemployed and in soup kitchen lines, then it would be appropriate to ask the question.

Likewise, with Obama's election to the presidency, the questions are being asked: is this the grand realignment, similar to 1980 when the nation turns in a particular direction? Does this reflect the new "liberal" mood of the nation? Again, this strikes me as hyperbolic: while the electoral college vote for Obama was significant, it wasn't any more impressive than Bill Clinton's thumping of an incumbent president in 1992. That year, Clinton carried Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Colorado (which also went for Obama); but also 2008 Red States Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Likewise, Clinton went in with large majorities in the House (258 seats) and Senate (57 seats); very similar to Obama's majorities (254 and 56). And yet, the past eight years demonstrated that the country can swing from side-to-side from cycle to cycle.

The real question then is why all the hyperbole (by meaning, hyperbole conveys extravagant exaggeration)? I've wondered whether this is our culture's hype machine--the only way to truly grab people's attention any more is to hype something as bigger or more significant than any other moment in time. Is it because we are so bored? Because it is so difficult to get our attention? Because we need to sell media time? Because we have a tendency to run to extremes? I don't know--but it strikes me that with the anxiety that so many feel these days, that perhaps we are engaging our penchant for hyperbole a little too much and revealing something about our hearts and our hopes.