On Political Hyperboles

Hyperbole: an obvious and intentional exaggeration; an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally (Dictionary.com)

Everyone uses hyperboles as a figure of speech to create a strong impression, to get the point across as in It’s raining cats and dogs, Bob is older than the hills, and the everlasting classic He’s full of shit.

Everyone realizes politicians use hyperboles. To determine if a statement is a hyperbole, one must consider the user’s context, tone, intent, and audience as well as the listener’s perspective. After all, what we hear is influence by our own bias of preferred party.

Let’s start with Governor Bev Perdue (D-NC) who not long ago said ,“I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover.”

While one side says she is making a recommendation that is against the Constitution, the other says it was a hyperbole to make the point that our representatives in Congress are bypassing tough, important decisions because they are always in re-election mode (every two years).

Recently Mike Huckabee (R-AK) made this statement in a speech to an Ohio group in the Cincinnati area about our state’s contentious Issue 2 vote; “Make a list…  Call them and ask them, ‘Are you going to vote on Issue 2 and are you going to vote for it?’ If they say no, well, you just make sure that they don’t go vote. Let the air out of their tires on election day. Tell them the election has been moved to a different date. That’s up to you how you creatively get the job done.”

Since I was curious about his tone, context, the audience reaction, and what he said next, I listened to a recording of his speech. Although I obviously could not see his facial expressions, his tone was light and the audience laughed. I admit that I was concerned when seeing the quote, but I think Mr. Huckabee hyperbolized. However, following the statement, he could have added (which he did not) something like, “I’m kidding” or “Seriously folks” to clarify his point.

Republican Herman Cain’s recent statement about building a barbed-wire, electrified fence along the border “with a sign that says it can kill you.” Insensitive or hyperbole?

Mr. Cain says it was humor. After watching the statement’s reply more than once, he obviously got the reaction he wanted from the Tennessee audience – but humor? I do not buy it because neither the tone in his voice, the look on his face, nor the words that followed suggested anything humorous.

Although our tendency to be thick-skinned or thin-skinned depends on our bias and perspective, we have to realize politicians use hyperboles all the time. We must be careful not only against overreaction, but to also giving them a free pass – and that is where judgment comes into play. But the need for good judgment is not limited to the listener, it is also important to the one delivering the message.