[Paleopsych] NR: Deroy Murdock: 1984, c. 2004 Doublespeak is alive and well.
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Deroy Murdock: 1984, c. 2004 Doublespeak is alive and well.
Deroy Murdock on Political Rhetoric
August 11, 2004, 8:59 a.m.
George Orwell's novel 1984 depicted Earth as a totalitarian planet.
Twenty years after that date, most of the world -- and America
specifically -- has avoided his dystopian vision. Even if Big Brother
is watching, no one is required to love him. And, at a minimum, he
quadrennially faces the voters.
Still, a new study finds Orwell's ghost haunting America's public
dialogue. More accurately, the hollow and oxymoronic rhetoric the late
British writer described thrives in the United States.
Mark Schmidt, an adjunct scholar with the National Taxpayers Union
Foundation, has penned "The Orwellian Language of Big Government,"
a concise meditation on how politicians contort words to "turn
citizens into subjects." As Orwell himself warned, "The great enemy of
clear language is insincerity."
"At the national level in particular, elected positions are dominated
by career-minded officials who repeat empty and often deliberately
misleading or untruthful slogans," Schmidt writes. "Consider the two
most recent Presidential campaigns. After 'reinventing government,' we
'crossed a bridge into the twenty-first century' to a place where 'no
child is left behind,' thanks to the wonders of 'compassionate
Do those phrases mean anything? Absent Clinton-Gore, would America
still be trapped in the 20th century? Were conservatives cruel and
coal-hearted before Bush-Cheney? John Kerry's most memorable utterance
this year -- "Bring it on!" -- doesn't tell us much, either.
"If this trend continues," Schmidt fears, "our language will
ultimately be useless to express the ideas that form the basis of
rational political discourse in a healthy republic."
Schmidt analyzes numerous sound bites that are so routine most
Americans accept them without detecting their internal circularity or
[bullet_10x16.gif] "The era of big government is over." -- Bill
Clinton's declaration in his 1996 State of the Union address
tantalized free-marketeers. If only he meant it. Three years later, he
proposed $305 billion in fresh spending, with another $125 billion on
the table in 2000. Schmidt writes, "It was truly Orwellian for a
President who involved the federal leviathan with the issue of
uniforms in local public elementary schools to claim that the era of
big government was over."
Government spending as "investment" -- President
Bush's FY 2004 budget boasts "major new investments in...education,
Medicare, health care, homeland security, energy independence, the
environment, compassion, and the unemployed." This is one of the Bush
White House's most treasured Clintonian heirlooms. Under Democrats and
Republicans, government "investment" suggests that spending tax
dollars creates equity-style returns. While some initiatives may be
legitimate, disbursing Treasury checks is not the same as purchasing
shares of General Electric or Genentech.
"Voluntary compliance" -- This term explains the
Internal Revenue Service's notion that taxpayers donate their money to
the Treasury. According to the IRS publication Why Do I Have to Pay
Taxes?: "Voluntary compliance means that each of us is responsible for
filing a tax return when required and for determining and paying the
correct amount of tax." Those who violate this compulsory voluntarism
can wind up in handcuffs.
"Undocumented worker" -- While the term "illegal
alien" grates on sensitive ears, it often is a more honest term than
"undocumented worker." As Schmidt notes, many of those who come to
America without permission possess bogus or expired documents.
Likewise, some illegal immigrants labor diligently in the informal
economy while others are here to treat America's social safety net as
a giant hammock. "Undocumented worker" lulls Americans into
overlooking these realities.
"Security" -- Since September 11, lawmakers
promiscuously stamp "security" on their pet projects. Thus one
congressman claimed that a $3.5 billion peanut subsidy "strengthens
America's national security."
"Working families" -- Most offensive of all, this
battered cliche paints a populist portrait of blue-collar employees
who "work" while the landed gentry play croquet and treat martinis as
a food group, pausing only to gauge how much their trust funds have
grown. Such nonsense subtly forgives higher taxes on the affluent and
forgets that well-paid surgeons, screenwriters, and even trial lawyers
actually must work to get paid.
Mark Schmidt urges Americans to listen carefully and critically to the
often duplicitous words that roll off of politicians' tongues. As
George Orwell taught us: "The slovenliness of our language makes it
easier for us to have foolish thoughts."
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