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Fussing About Commas, when the Boss Can't Spell

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. State Department Photo.

Turns out that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is all worried about the proper use of commas, even as he works for a President who can't spell and who writes pretty much like a fifth grader.

Also, I'd just like to add this: doesn't he have something more important to worry about? Like maybe dealing with Rocket Man, Putin or perhaps trying to smooth over rifts with our longtime allies who have been insulted and belittled as cheapskates by Trump, who has also hit them with heavy tariffs?

Check out this story from CNN. It seems that Pompeo's staff has issued emails instructing employees on the proper use of the comma, telling them to adhere to the Chicago Manuel of Style, which states "effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with the goal being ease of reading."

According to the article (if you're too lazy to click on the link), this example was given:

"The administration is committed to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace agreement, and remains optimistic that progress can be made," with the comma after agreement highlighted in bright yellow -- meaning it is wrong.

"No comma when single subject with compound predicate," the email instructs.

CNN quotes a senior State Department official as saying that Pompeo is a stickler for correct punctuation, which prompted his staff to send out the guidance emails.

Ok, that's great that our Secretary of State has high literary standards and wants documents, even emails, distributed by the State Department to be consistent both in style and to be grammatically correct. But it just seems a little bit anal to me for the Secretary to be preoccupied with such things -- especially when the guy he works for (Trump) sends out tweets with misspelled words, random capitalizations, and often incorrect grammar.

Again, I ask: Doesn't Pompeo have anything better to do? After all, when he was sworn in, he listed a number of priorities that he wanted to see accomplished, including:

  • Take advantage of "historic opportunities" with Norh Korea;

  • Make sure America's always a respected and principal leader on the world stage;

  • Bring back the State Department's "swagger."

In his testimony presented in May to the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the State Department's budget request, Pompeo's written opening statement included this sentence:

"Our request also makes clear the United States must exert a proportional financial commitment in the pursuit of goals shared by the entire international community. It is time for other nations – especially those with high GDPs – to assume greater responsibilities and devote greater resources towards our common objectives, whether it’s crushing terrorists, stopping Iran’s malign behavior, strengthening the NATO alliance, eradicating infectious diseases, and so much more. We expect good help, good financial support from our partners and allies.

There are a lot of commas in that passage. Wonder if Pompeo personally proofread it before presenting it to the committee.

Then there is this question: Is making proper use of the comma part of his strategy to restore the Department's "swagger?"

Just asking.

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