July 9 "All In Perspective" Column published in the Hill Country News and Jarrell Star Ledger. Beginning July 26, my columns will also be published in the Georgetown Advocate.
“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” -George Orwell
In his 2007 best-seller Words that Work, political strategist and pollster Frank Luntz describes how the right words can sell goods, ideas, and political candidates. Of course Dr. Luntz didn't exactly, er, 'write the book' on manipulating the masses through language, because wordplay has always been an essential ingredient of politics at every level.
One only needs to look at the names of proposed congressional legislation to find examples of political word-games. Some are fun, like the “HAPPY” Act (Humanity and Pets Partnering through the Years-actually involves tax deductions for pets.) Of course others are downright misleading. The “Affordable Healthcare Act” is hardly 'affordable' since it will increase taxes on the middle-class by $4.2 billion and drag state governments to the brink of financial insolvency. But “affordable” sounded a whole lot better than the “Forcing Americans to Depend on Government Bureaucrats for Healthcare.”
Politicians are notorious for manipulating words to win elections, and often intentionally mangle definitions to deceive the public. In 2010, when Americans began to push back against President Obama's 'progressive' policies, it became very fashionable for candidates to call themselves “Conservative.” Even ardent Lefties in Texas suddenly became “fiscally conservative,” but the conversion was really only on campaign literature.
Lately many on the Left have shifted to the term “fiscally responsible.” For most of us, “responsible” invokes images of thriftiness and a lack of extravagance. Unfortunately, for liberal/progressive politicians, “responsible” doesn't actually mean controlling spending. Government spending will continue, but the 'responsible' will be hiking your taxes to pay for it all.
Some of the more subtle and deceptive political wordplay occurs in state and local politics, especially with the nearly 2,000 Political Action Committees registered in Texas. PACs love to create names that are non-threatening and perhaps a teensy bit misleading. For example, one might think that the 'Texas Parent PAC' is all about helping 'parents,' but as it turns out, Texas Parent PAC lobbies on behalf of public schools- not necessarily a bad thing, but the group also opposes allowing parents to choose their child's school.
Another education lobby group, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) defines 'freedom' as making sure there are no expressions of Christianity in public schools ever (or in any other public place for that matter). TFN also actively promotes very liberal sex education programs, pro-abortion policies, and even organizes 'kiss-ins' to demonstrate for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender issues. And while they claim to advocate for religious freedom, TFN has been a vocal opponent of religious freedom for those who don't want to fund abortions and birth-control.
With all the political wordplay (from both sides of the political aisle,) it would be great if pols would follow the example of the Texas State Rifle Association. There's really no question about where these folks stand; they are about GUNS. Whether or not you agree with their stance, the linguistic honesty is truly refreshing. Of course, maybe that's what makes the Left so mad at the TSRA: while pro-abortion groups must hide behind benign acronyms like NARAL, defenders of rights actually named in the Constitution can afford to be bold.
We are now entering the full-blown election season, and are about to be inundated with carefully crafted political messages. Just remember that underneath all those vague, comforting platitudes are real policy agendas. Voters should seek specific explanations for campaign words like 'liberty,' 'freedom,' or 'hope and change.' Since most Americans now believe our country is going in the wrong direction, perhaps this year voters will look for substance over mere words. Here's hoping.