I’m plenty guilty of this writing behavior and I defended it to Claude on aesthetic grounds, speaking of the importance of rhythm and patterns in writing that can make superfluous phrases attractive; I said that they served as verbal ornamentation.
However, I have taken Claude’s admonition to heart. Now when I find myself prefacing a remark with “I think [that so and so],” generally I end up discarding the modifier. Whatever it was that I want to say sounds much stronger without the circumspection.
In today’s New York Times as well as on yesterday’s radio and television news, President Obama, boasting of the capture of the fellow who is alleged to have been behind the attack on the consulate in Benghazi in 2012, is quoted thusly: “It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible, and we will bring them to justice.”
“It’s important for us to send a message to the world” is the kind of unnecessary preface that gets up Claude’s nose. Actually, Obama takes the “I think [that]” redundancy and makes it sound even weaker. The implication is that the primary reason we have nabbed this bad guy is not because he deserves it, but because it is politically important for us to send the world a message. And what is that message? “We are not as weak as you think.”
I really shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations like this but, to paraphrase Lesley Gore, it’s my blog and I’ll make sweeping generalizations if I want to. Obama’s too thoughtful, too honest (perhaps), remark on the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, in which he reveals his insecurity over a perception that he and his administration are not “tough enough,” is indicative of the way he governs. Obama is an intellectual, an academic; he is aware of the many sides to every question, the many implications of every policy. He also gives the impression that he regards honesty, forthrightness, as his greatest character strength. Those two traits – objective thoughtfulness and an ingenuousness which in many lines of work, such as academia, might be prized – combine to make him seem (and, therefore, to be) a weak leader.
What he should have said, and I wish he had advisors who could point this out to him, was: “When Americans are attacked we will find those responsible, and we will bring them to justice.” Period.