During last week’s presidential debate, I was surprised that the candidates and moderator threw around the terms Simpson-Bowles and Dodd-Frank without any explanation. Not surprisingly, those two topped the list of most-searched terms on Google during the debate.
When I mentioned this to my colleagues, one suggested a few possible explanations. Perhaps they were being brief because of the time limits or they expected their audience to understand the terms. Plus the pundits were sure to talk about it later. It was reasonable to assume a certain level of knowledge from viewers, Lauren said. “It is a debate, not Family Guy.”
While those are good points, I’m not convinced it was good practice. To me, I still sense a sort of “inside the Beltway” mentality in throwing out those abbreviated terms with no explanation.
Clearly the candidates and moderator weren’t overly concerned about the time limits, and it would have taken only a few extra words to put their references in context. The Associated Press Stylebook, for example, recommends “Dodd-Frank Act or law on financial reforms” in a first reference. The candidates’ meaning became clearer from the context as they talked about both items. (A Washington Post blog explains both references fully). I’m also not arguing for a high level of formality. I think just as many people, if not more, would have been confused if the candidates said “The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.”
I hope that most voters understand the basics of Simpson-Bowles and Dodd-Frank, even if they don’t know them by name. But it’s a mistake to assume your audience knows too much. In fact, those less-informed voters are the ones you may be able to sway with your explanation.
A year ago I made a plea for people to be courteous communicators and explain terms, and that’s still good advice.
Do you think such shortened references are OK in a debate?
[Image Source: C-Span]