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Friday July 25th 2014

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Outtakes—Words Matter

Having listened to countless hours of city council and county commission meetings and attending dozens of press conferences, I’ve come to the conclusion that our elected officials rarely mean what they say. They are often playing to egos of others in the room or simply saying what they think people want to hear.

Okay, I get it. This isn’t a big revelation to most of you, but it should bother you.  For our elected officials to be forthright and direct should not be considered unreasonable expectations.

How can we trust our officials if they don’t even care about the words they are saying?

Part of the issue for me is I’m usually aware of the back story and what has been happening behind the scenes on an issue. So when someone says that he has been working with another official on a problem, I know that “working” usually means drinking a few beers together or simply passing each other on the street.

Words mattered to Abraham Lincoln. His speeches have stood the test of time because he cared about every syllable of every word in every sentence. His thoughtfully written Gettysburg Address is heralded as one of the greatest speeches in American history.

In less than three hundred words, Lincoln redefined the Civil War as more than a battle over secession and states’ rights, but also for the principle of human equality that he believed was espoused by the Declaration of Independence.

Standing at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where four and a half months earlier the Union armies defeated Robert E. Lee and his Confederate troops at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln said the war was also about preserving our fledgling republic.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure,” said Lincoln.

Not a wasted word.  No hyperbole. Nothing about himself or his “accomplishments.”

Twenty weeks earlier, the Union army had suffered 23,055 casualties. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was decimated with nearly 28,000 casualties. Nearly a third of his officers were killed, wounded, or captured. Lincoln didn’t talk about his train ride to Gettysburg or how hard he was working in Washington. He honored the fallen and tried to give meaning to their deaths.

Lincoln’s words mattered. He knew it and people expected them to be meaningful. He rarely failed to meet their expectations.

Our elected officials need to take heed. This paper will continue to hold them accountable for their words. They do matter.