WONK: a second look at the word

On June the 8th I wrote a blog posting about the word wonk and thought I was done with it.  [WONK]   I discovered in that process that a wonk could be anything from an Australian sailor to a Geek who is overly-obsessed with the pursuit of a specific topic.   There was a reference to the fact that the word wonk emerged during the Clinton Administration.

But I was somewhat thrown for a loop this morning when Ezra Klein published an article on Facebook calling Bill Clinton the Wonk in Chief.  And then, during his article he referred to Clinton as wonkish.   Having reveled in the outstanding speech Clinton gave before the Democratic National Convention last night, I was taken aback and felt the need to re-examine the meaning of the word.

Clinton’s speech was all about “arithmetic.”   In a more than 50 minutes speech he did an autopsy on the Republican financial program, selecting each organ, holding it up before the American public, and describing its characteristics and signs of disease.   He then did the same thing to President Obama’s finance plans, disclosing that he found the President’s economic proposals to be free from disease.    Granted, it was a long presentation, and it was detailed in a way that the American public hasn’t heard it before (either one of the plans,) and I suppose that the detail could qualify for the definition of wonkish.

Clinton’s presentation was laced with humor, a characteristic of his speechifying.   They are always entertaining.   But the presentation was also tough, serious, and indicative of the urgency of the message he was delivering.    A summary of his speech would be that Clinton warned us that if Romney is elected President the country will fall back into economic problems which will be disastrous.  He documented that fear with specific references to weaknesses and poor arithmetic.

In a campaign that has been characterized by the lack of specificity on the part of both parties, the revelation of details was refreshing.   The length of the speech was not a problem.  It could have gone on a few minutes more before it might have become repetitive and potentially fatiguing.   But I didn’t get the feeling that Clinton was obsessed with useless detail.   To the contrary, his management of detail was impressive and educational.

I’m not sure why Ezra Klein chose to use the words wonk and wonkish in his piece.  Perhaps there is another meaning for the word which is escaping me.   But had I written the article I would have found it easy to use such words as brilliant, entertaining, clarifying, soaring, and maybe even game-changing (even though I think there has been too much sports language in this election season.)  I would say that the Obama campaign is in a different place today than it was yesterday.

It remains to be seen what the other uber-orator, Barack Obama, will do with his place in the spotlight tonight.  But the seed has been planted.   The crowd has been geared up.   The plot has been identified.  All there is for Obama to do tonight is to own the energy, intelligence and enthusiasm that was created for him last night and in the outstanding speeches of Tuesday night.  It will be a shame if he embraces boredom and destroys the roll.


Photo Credit:The Washington Post

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