It’s silly season for the political media. Congress and state legislatures are on summer hiatus. The president is squandering millions on yet another posh vacation. The halls of power are empty and silent. It’s a perfect time to examine political idiosyncrasies, among them, language.
Words have meanings, and using words improperly has consequences — everywhere but in places like Washington and Harrisburg.
Because a confused public is more docile and compliant, politicians intentionally use common words in ways that are difficult to understand, even meaningless to most Americans, although attentive listeners may notice their use of ordinary words and phrases which deviate from common usage.
Speech is a political stock-in-trade. Politicians are aware of and, occasionally, uncomfortable with the deceptions, deficiencies or unpopularity of their arguments, so, over time, they have developed their own pidgin variation of English to conceal those inadequacies.
In political settings, words are as imprecise as government accounting, so, if politicians are to be held responsible for things they say, voters must master politi-speak.
As a public service, I’ve gathered some commonly-occurring political word usages, analyzed them in context to determine their true meanings and begun to compile a Political Glossary and Phrasebook.
"With all due respect" – I mean no respect at all.
"Civility" – A courtesy extended only to those who agree with the speaker.
"Let me be perfectly clear" – Bovine excrement alert!
"It’s important" – Precedes the unspoken phrase "to my friendly special interests."
"Hard data" – Any heart-wrenching anecdote which supports a desired policy outcome.
"Bigotry" – A character deficiency exhibited exclusively by people who oppose big government, question a poverty-perpetuating welfare state or who honor American cultural traditions.
"Transparency" – Opacity
"Spending" – A word often implied but rarely articulated in legislatures unless combined with the words "cuts" or "offsets," as in:
"Spending cuts" – Freezing or marginally reducing the rate of increase in spending, or
"Spending offsets" – Tax increases.
"Paying for a bill" – Increasing taxes.
"Without paying for a bill" – Without increasing taxes (borrowing).
"Investment" – Spending. (On anything. Taxpayer value and/or intrinsic returns are irrelevant and unnecessary.)
"Stimulus" – (Usually massive) Deficit spending.
"Revenue enhancement" – Tax increase.
"Tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent" – Not increasing taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent.
"Bonus tax cut to millionaires and billionaires" – See: "Tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent."
"Calamitous consequences" – A certain, though unspecified outcome of failing to increase taxes.
"King’s ransom" – Any dollar amount in taxes the government forgoes.
"Only 1 percent of the budget" – Chump change. (A term once commonly, but not exclusively, applied to the value of congressional earmarks, or $20 billion to $30 billion annually.)
"Recession" – Full employment when a Republican is president.
"Recovery" – 7.6 percent to 10.2 percent unemployment when a Democrat occupies the White House.
"Fairness" – A nebulous, artificial term having various applications including, but not limited to amnesty for "undocumented immigrants," labor-union control of the economy, homeownership for the indigent, etc. The American left reserves the right to define "fairness."
"It’s for the children" – It’s for the adults, or, at least, some adults.
"Policy guidance" – Government regulations and mandates, often issued by anonymous, unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats.
"Federal budget process" – There’s no longer a clear process or a meaningful definition. America has had no federal budget for four consecutive years – and counting.
"Doing nothing is not an option" – A common political phrase meant to convey urgency, usually associated with one of the following declarations: "It’s a ‘Must Pass’ bill" — a) the political class wants it; b) it’s loaded with pork; c) generous special interests want it; or, most likely, d) all of the above, or "We must do something!" — We want to do something. (Note to political class: Doing nothing is always an option – and often the best option.)
"Debt Ceiling" – An insignificant, quasi-fiscal technicality often raised without opposition or debate. (See: "Doing nothing is not an option")
Aside from alibis, few politicians have ever been known for their imaginations, but language is another exception. Its seemingly infinite word combinations make English uniquely expressive. Our language is easily misused by politicians to fool legions of gullible and inattentive voters.
So, learn the lingo. Pay attention. It drives the hacks crazy.