the missing “than”

The NYT had the germ of an interesting idea today: What I’d Be Talking About if I Were Still Running, op-eds from presidential candidates who have dropped out. It was only a germ because it turned out that the op-eds were only very short, virtually substance-less talking point-level comments. Now if the NYT followed this up with, say, articles doing journalism that examined the current candidates’ positions on these issues, comparing rhetoric to record, we might have something.

Anyway, I was browsing through these and — I should have known better but I clicked on Sam Brownback’s “A Family Crisis”. He had very little of interest to say — more of the tired “marriage is in a crisis” bullshit — but he did this nice little rhetorical dance that I thought was worth noting. He says:

Children brought up with a mom and dad bonded in marriage are, on average, far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.

Now, words like “more” or “less” are comparative terms. Good grammar requires we include the concepts being compared. Political rhetoric, apparently, permits leaving these things unvoiced. Politicians say the positive, and leave the negative for the readers’ minds to fill in. Grammatical deniability.

These children are “on average far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.” More likely than whom? The unmarried parents discussed in the editorial, sure, but also this clearly suggests same-sex parents. The “on average” lends it a bit of scientific gloss, and ties it into the false and misleading reports of research that are frequently circulated by rightwingers like Brownback.

Pretty slick way to politick.