Comprehending Congress: Delegation from Tennessee speaks at lower grade level
Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 8:00 pm
By TOM HUMPHREY
Nashville Bureau Chief
NASHVILLE — Congressmen speak at nearly a full grade level lower than they did seven years ago, and seven of the 11 members of the Tennessee delegation to Washington are below the national average, according to a new Sunlight Foundation analysis.
“Today’s Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level, down from a high of 11.5 in 2005,” said the nonpartisan foundation in a news release Monday. “Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress, others will see as more effective communications.
“And lawmakers of both parties still speak above the heads of the average American, who reads at between an eighth- and ninth-grade level,” the release says.
In the Tennessee delegation, the lowest grade level went to two of the most highly educated members, Reps. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, at 8.64 and Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, at 9.87. Both men are physicians who graduated from medical schools.
The top Tennessee rating went to Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher, a farmer who gives the Crockett County community of Frog Jump as his hometown. He is listed as speaking at a 12.7 in his congressional comments.
Knoxville’s Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., was runner-up for tops in Tennessee at a 11.74 grade level.
The foundation used the CapitolWords.org website, which features popular words and phrases found in the Congressional Record since 1996, and the “Flesch-Kincaid test,” which equates higher grade levels with longer words and longer sentences.
Using the same methodology, the foundation said the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 grade level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level.
“The Gettysburg Address comes in at an 11.2 grade level and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is at a 9.4 grade level.
Most major newspapers are written at between an 11th- and 14th-grade level,” says the news release.
Besides Roe and DesJarlais, other Tennessee lawmakers scoring below the ave rage 10.6 grade level were Republican Sen. Bob Corker, 10.06; Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, 10.21; Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, 10.35; Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, 10.43; and Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, 10.52.
Joining Duncan and Fincher as above average were Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, 10.96; and Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, 11.45.
Nationally, the top rating went to Rep. Daniel Lungren, R-Calif., with a 16.01 grade level, and the lowest to Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., with a 7.94.
Of the 20 lowest ratings nationwide, 17 were Republicans and three Democrats. Of the top 20 highest ratings, 12 are Republicans, seven Democrats and one (Sen. Joe Lieberman) an Independent. Published in The Messenger 5.23.12