[lg policy] Politics And The English Language =?windows-1252?Q?=97_And_Last_Night=92s_?=Iowa Caucus

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jan 5 17:11:11 UTC 2012

Politics And The English Language — And Last Night’s Iowa Caucus

By Alyssa Rosenberg on Jan 4, 2012 at 8:38 am

I’ve watched bunches of Republican presidential primary debates this
season, but there was still something shocking about watching Michele
Bachmann hunker down yet again and complain that Barack Obama’s
policies are socialist. As I tweeted, watching her, words have
meaning. Socialism and communism are real, definable things with clear
boundaries and significances. They’re not words to be used lightly, if
you care about having meaningful debates. And attempts to obscure
meaning by distorting language, and attempts to make meaningful debate
impossible should be things we get angry about. They should be
disqualifying because they’re a means of facilitating deep and
profound dishonesty. Michele Bachmann should be considered manifestly
unqualified for the presidency of the United States because she has
almost no qualifications for the position and no serious policy
positions. But she should also be disqualified from serious
consideration because she uses language in a way that is fundamentally
dishonest and is an anathema to serious and difficult conversations
about our country’s future.

Perhaps as a writer I am unusually prone to vexation on the subject of
language. And maybe we collectively accept that our language is
blurred in this way, and that the correct response to it is to pull
out jokes from The Princess Bride about things not meaning what people
think they mean. George Orwell pointed out that it’s always been a
little square to talk about reclaiming language for clarity and
honesty: “It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language
is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light
or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious
belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which
we shape for our own purposes.” But I don’t believe culture is
entirely a natural growth, and as a subset of that, I don’t believe
political rhetoric and writing are either.

Tweeter Terry McMahon suggested that it would be nice if people — and
I think this is true for rival candidates, reporters, and the public —
started asking questions like what “socialist” means. If you’re going
to use a word for political gain, if you’re going to use it as a
weapon, you should be held responsible for what it means and your
reasoning for using it.


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