Liberals and their language

George Will, picking up on some themes we have blogged about here, notes not only the ineffectualness of liberal solutions to our economic woes, but how they are running away from their own language:

In societies governed by persuasion, politics is mostly talk, so liberals’ impoverishment of their vocabulary matters. Having damaged liberalism’s reputation, they call themselves progressives. Having made the federal government’s pretensions absurd, they have resurrected a supposed synonym for the government, the “federal family.” Having made federal spending suspect, they advocate “investments” — for “job creation,” a euphemism for stimulus, another word they have made toxic.

Barack Obama, a pitilessly rhetorical president, continues to grab the nation by its lapels, demanding its attention, and is paying the price: The nation is no longer listening. This matters because ominous portents are multiplying. [Will goes ahead and cites some of them, including the bright idea of the administration's economic advisors to purposefully induce inflation]  . . .

It is a wonder, this faith-based (and often campus-based) conviction that the government that brought us the ethanol program can be trusted to precisely execute wise policies that will render the world predictable and progressive. . . .

The economic policy the “federal family” should adopt can be expressed in five one-syllable words: Get. Out. Of. The. Way. Instead, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose department has become a venture capital firm for crony capitalism and costly flops at creating “green jobs,” praises the policy of essentially banishing the incandescent light bulb as “taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” Better to let the experts in his department and the rest of the federal family waste other people’s money.

 

via Our floundering ‘federal family’ – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Tom Hering

    Interesting that you didn’t quote the most relevant statement in Wills’ article, Dr. Veith: “… Procter & Gamble, which claims to have at least one product in 98 percent of American households …” Politically conservative Christians in the Reagan ’80s ascribed America’s demise to Proctor & Gamble’s satanic logo, and politically conservative Christians in the 21st century ascribe America’s demise to Obama liberals. Conservatives got P&G to drop their logo, and they got liberals to run away from their language. It’s a grand tradition of identifying and engaging the real problems in our nation – one that every American can be thankful for! :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Interesting that you didn’t quote the most relevant statement in Wills’ article, Dr. Veith: “… Procter & Gamble, which claims to have at least one product in 98 percent of American households …” Politically conservative Christians in the Reagan ’80s ascribed America’s demise to Proctor & Gamble’s satanic logo, and politically conservative Christians in the 21st century ascribe America’s demise to Obama liberals. Conservatives got P&G to drop their logo, and they got liberals to run away from their language. It’s a grand tradition of identifying and engaging the real problems in our nation – one that every American can be thankful for! :-D

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Meh.

    Are liberals trying to appeal to a wider audience by using market-tested verbiage? Undoubtedly. Is that weaselly? Probably. Is that “running away”, as Veith puts it, or even — somewhat laughably — “impoverishment of their vocabulary”, as Will would have it? That just seems like the framing a “conservative” would choose, in order to score political points.

    I’ve already said my piece on why all the flap over the phrase “federal family” is so much silly posturing.

    And, of course, Will’s column isn’t really about the words and phrases we choose to use. It’s about the economy. Fair enough, to that end.

    But was it “running away” when Republicans under Bush tried to avoid use of the word “privatization” in discussing Social Security reform, when they tried to shift to the phrase “personal savings accounts”?

    Do you really want me to dig up more examples of the Bush administration using marketing decisions to craft the language they wanted to present themselves with?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Meh.

    Are liberals trying to appeal to a wider audience by using market-tested verbiage? Undoubtedly. Is that weaselly? Probably. Is that “running away”, as Veith puts it, or even — somewhat laughably — “impoverishment of their vocabulary”, as Will would have it? That just seems like the framing a “conservative” would choose, in order to score political points.

    I’ve already said my piece on why all the flap over the phrase “federal family” is so much silly posturing.

    And, of course, Will’s column isn’t really about the words and phrases we choose to use. It’s about the economy. Fair enough, to that end.

    But was it “running away” when Republicans under Bush tried to avoid use of the word “privatization” in discussing Social Security reform, when they tried to shift to the phrase “personal savings accounts”?

    Do you really want me to dig up more examples of the Bush administration using marketing decisions to craft the language they wanted to present themselves with?

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I just bet the newspeak will be double-plus effective for the liberals.

    Or not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I just bet the newspeak will be double-plus effective for the liberals.

    Or not.

  • nqb

    I actually came here to make a small point about incandescent light bulbs, but I’ll get to that in a second. Stay tuned!

    I guess I missed the discussion about “federal family” before, and I have to say that I mostly agree with Dr. Veith. Even if they are using the term to simply refer to “many different organizations that all fall under the government umbrella” as tODD would have it, the term is undeniably playing on the (presumably positive) connotations of “family.” I offer one of tODD’s examples as my own:

    “The administration, coordinated through FEMA, is committed to bringing all of the resources of the federal [government] to bear to support the states and territories that have already been affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene.”

    “Federal family” does a nice job of hiding what that sentence actually says. All of the resources of the federal government? That’s crazy.

    And I know there will be objections to substituting in the entire federal government for “the federal family,” but what else can I honestly put there? It’s the federal family as headed by the administration, mind you.

    So why not put “the family of federal disaster relief programs”? Or better yet: “the federal disaster relief programs.” That sounds perfect to me. But I guess then the sentence just sounds rather reasonable and mechanical (that’s what the disaster relief programs are for, after all) and not warm and fuzzy like the federal family committing all its resources to this problem we’re facing. “Federal family” is warm and fuzzy. It’s happiconnotationistic.

    And the fact that “the federal family” appears 116 times on FEMA.gov only accents the fact that this is a conscious effort to adopt an ambiguous and happiconnotationistic (I’m really liking this word I just made up; it’s so ugly) phrase.

    Okay, so if you were paying attention, you’ll notice I’m not really taking Dr. Veith’s side because he suggested that “federal family” referred to FEMA. But I think that, in fact, we’re talking about the whole dang government or something. Something big. But something that’s looking out for YOU. :)

  • nqb

    I actually came here to make a small point about incandescent light bulbs, but I’ll get to that in a second. Stay tuned!

    I guess I missed the discussion about “federal family” before, and I have to say that I mostly agree with Dr. Veith. Even if they are using the term to simply refer to “many different organizations that all fall under the government umbrella” as tODD would have it, the term is undeniably playing on the (presumably positive) connotations of “family.” I offer one of tODD’s examples as my own:

    “The administration, coordinated through FEMA, is committed to bringing all of the resources of the federal [government] to bear to support the states and territories that have already been affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene.”

    “Federal family” does a nice job of hiding what that sentence actually says. All of the resources of the federal government? That’s crazy.

    And I know there will be objections to substituting in the entire federal government for “the federal family,” but what else can I honestly put there? It’s the federal family as headed by the administration, mind you.

    So why not put “the family of federal disaster relief programs”? Or better yet: “the federal disaster relief programs.” That sounds perfect to me. But I guess then the sentence just sounds rather reasonable and mechanical (that’s what the disaster relief programs are for, after all) and not warm and fuzzy like the federal family committing all its resources to this problem we’re facing. “Federal family” is warm and fuzzy. It’s happiconnotationistic.

    And the fact that “the federal family” appears 116 times on FEMA.gov only accents the fact that this is a conscious effort to adopt an ambiguous and happiconnotationistic (I’m really liking this word I just made up; it’s so ugly) phrase.

    Okay, so if you were paying attention, you’ll notice I’m not really taking Dr. Veith’s side because he suggested that “federal family” referred to FEMA. But I think that, in fact, we’re talking about the whole dang government or something. Something big. But something that’s looking out for YOU. :)

  • nqb

    My little bit about incandescent light bulbs isn’t really about incandescent light bulbs:

    Will is comparing investing in risky (i.e., not yet proven) new technologies to buying an old, inefficient technology that costs significantly more than a new, proven technology. That hardly seems fair.

    Except, of course, for the chance that we might find that ONE incandescent light bulb that can light up my room perfectly and for the perfect amount of time (preferably forever?). So keep buying those light bulbs and send that one to me when you find it! (FYI, you’ll probably have much better luck and much greater returns with the investments.)

  • nqb

    My little bit about incandescent light bulbs isn’t really about incandescent light bulbs:

    Will is comparing investing in risky (i.e., not yet proven) new technologies to buying an old, inefficient technology that costs significantly more than a new, proven technology. That hardly seems fair.

    Except, of course, for the chance that we might find that ONE incandescent light bulb that can light up my room perfectly and for the perfect amount of time (preferably forever?). So keep buying those light bulbs and send that one to me when you find it! (FYI, you’ll probably have much better luck and much greater returns with the investments.)

  • Tom Hering

    Todd, your comment @ 2 brought back so many amusing memories of the years 2000-2008.

    “Frivolous Lawsuit.” Victims of serious corporate and medical wrongdoing seeking compensation.

    “Patriot Act.” Legalizing the sort of things that loyal Americans have always fought to be free from.

    “Clear Skies Initiative.” Allowing polluters to increase their pollution.

    “Healthy Forests Initiative.” Allowing the lumber industry to cut down old growth trees.

    “No Child Left Behind.” Requiring schools to give students’ personal information to military recruiters. Kids hate to miss a war.

    “Enhanced Interrogation.” Asking questions in a louder voice? No, enhanced pain and suffering.

    “Terror-related charges.” Prosecuting someone who runs a charity that helps people who help terrorists – by living in the same places terrorists live.

    “Preemptive Strike.” Attacking a nation with no intention or capability of attacking us.

    “Axis of Evil.” An association (?) of two countries that are hostile to each other (Iran and Iraq) plus a third (North Korea) that has no relations with the first two.

    “Illegal Combatant.” Your armored personnel carrier ran a red light?

    “Prisoner Release.” Transfer of non-prosecutable suspects to jails in foreign nations. See “Enhanced Interrogation” above.

    “Propaganda Outlet.” A hospital in Iraq that releases figures on civilian casualties of American actions.

  • Tom Hering

    Todd, your comment @ 2 brought back so many amusing memories of the years 2000-2008.

    “Frivolous Lawsuit.” Victims of serious corporate and medical wrongdoing seeking compensation.

    “Patriot Act.” Legalizing the sort of things that loyal Americans have always fought to be free from.

    “Clear Skies Initiative.” Allowing polluters to increase their pollution.

    “Healthy Forests Initiative.” Allowing the lumber industry to cut down old growth trees.

    “No Child Left Behind.” Requiring schools to give students’ personal information to military recruiters. Kids hate to miss a war.

    “Enhanced Interrogation.” Asking questions in a louder voice? No, enhanced pain and suffering.

    “Terror-related charges.” Prosecuting someone who runs a charity that helps people who help terrorists – by living in the same places terrorists live.

    “Preemptive Strike.” Attacking a nation with no intention or capability of attacking us.

    “Axis of Evil.” An association (?) of two countries that are hostile to each other (Iran and Iraq) plus a third (North Korea) that has no relations with the first two.

    “Illegal Combatant.” Your armored personnel carrier ran a red light?

    “Prisoner Release.” Transfer of non-prosecutable suspects to jails in foreign nations. See “Enhanced Interrogation” above.

    “Propaganda Outlet.” A hospital in Iraq that releases figures on civilian casualties of American actions.

  • John C

    This is one area where the Democrats have a lot to learn from the Republicans. My favourites; liberal elites, class envy, compassionate conservative.

  • John C

    This is one area where the Democrats have a lot to learn from the Republicans. My favourites; liberal elites, class envy, compassionate conservative.


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