Washington – A good-government group says the quality of congressional speeches have regressed by nearly a full grade level since 2005, but Connecticut’s lawmakers were above average, with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman cracking the top 20.
The Sunlight Foundation used a computer program to analyze hundreds of House and Senate floor speeches printed in the Congressional Record every day Congress is in session. By analyzing words and sentence structure, the foundation determined the school grade level of those speeches.
Today’s Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level, down from 11.5, the foundation’s study found. But all members of the Connecticut congressional delegation speak well above that average.
Lieberman, a Yale-educated author and lawyer, was in the top 20 of the 530 lawmakers studied as far as the quality of his speeches. The Sunlight Foundation determined Lieberman spoke at a 13.5 grade level – that of a freshman in his second term in college.
“Sen. Lieberman attaches a very high value to communicating and puts great effort and care into his Senate floor statements,” said Lieberman’s press secretary, Whitney Phillips.
But Lieberman’s speeches, and those of many members of Congress, are likely to go right over the public’s heads. The average American, the Sunlight Foundation said, reads at between an 8th and 9th grade level.
In comparison, 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, which turns out to be the grade level of a speech by Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District.
Most major newspapers are written at between an 11th and 14th grade level, the Sunlight Foundation said.
“Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress, others will see as more effective communications,” said Lee Drutman of the foundation.
The rest of the Connecticut delegation was ranked almost as high as Lieberman.
The Connecticut Report Card
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, 13.5
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, 12.9
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, 12.6
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, 12.5
Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, 11.5
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, 11.3
Rep. Jim Himes, 4th District, 11.2
Himes said his constituents are “intelligent curious people who undertand the challenges we face can’t be captured in a single sound bite.”
“Boilerplate answers may make you a media star, but I chose, instead, to paint a clear picture of the decision at hand,” Himes said.
Some Connecticut lawmakers, like Blumenthal, were amused by their rankings and the study as a whole.
“If they think I speak well, it’s probably because I listen and learn from the people of Connecticut,” said Blumenthal, who has degrees from Harvard and Yale.
The lawmaker who scored the highest grade of 16 was Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif, and the one who scored the lowest is Rep. Rick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who spoke at a 7.9 grade level.