The White House’s ‘new’ newspeak
“I got tired of cursing the newspaper every morning. I got tired of seeing what was going wrong and not being able to do anything about it.” – Rockridge Institute founder George Lakoff
The progressives and the folks running Washington these days have been engaged in an awful lot of aggressive “framing.” Much of this involves coming up with names like the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” which clearly conforms with a time-honored festival of hyperbole, hypocrisy or misdirection in Washington predating the current administration by decades (and probably centuries.) Some of this turn-the-truth-on-its-head campaign appears to have political antecedents designed to appeal to “low-information voters,” which is a polite expression for people who will believe anything said by authorities or circulated on the Internet.
The reason this comes to mind today is the quote from Michelle Obama this past weekend in a fund-raising appeal that claimed the president is doing what he can to get people off public assistance programs.
When I was growing up, a family like mine… could build a solid life without much debt and without relying on any form of public assistance. Today, for too many families, that American promise is no longer within reach…Barack is working to fix that and he needs solid Democrats in Congress to help him.
(That the American dream has become a “promise” is a column for another day.)
Readers of this space won’t need much help to figure out why Michelle’s view is completely backward, but must have noted recent reports that, for the first time in American history, there are more people on federal food programs than there are full-time private sector workers. That’s right. A third of the U.S. population – 101 million people – are now receiving subsidized food assistance from one of the 15 food programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, costing about $114 billion last year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us there were 97 million and change full-time private sector workers last year in the United States.
George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 (sales of which have soared, in some cases by more than 7,000 percent, since details of the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program were revealed) introduced the term “newspeak” and it remains familiar to most educated people.
In our list of “new” newspeak terms, item number one has to be the “Behavioral Insights Team” that the administration is reportedly putting together to encourage Americans to change their behavior. Examples of the projects this team will undertake include advertising to convince people to sign up for health care, become organ donors, improve the energy efficiency of their homes, choose healthy eating habits and save more for retirement.
FoxNews.com reports that, according to documents describing the program, this kind of nudging “can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less and help people to achieve their goals.” Presumably, the advertising will harmonize eventually with the national Democratic Party’s campaign ads.
It has recently come to light that one federal government agency — created to defuse potentially explosive situations involving law enforcement — was used by Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice to escort college students on a 40-mile march to “demand justice” and to pressure the resignation of a police chief following the Trayvon Martin shooting.
A second newspeak example can be found in the “Community Relations Service,” a taxpayer-funded agency which the taxpayers are not allowed to know about, except through Freedom of Information Act requests by Judicial Watch. The service was deployed recently to Sanford, Fla. “to work marches, demonstrations and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain,” before George Zimmerman was charged with a crime.
In the meantime, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, originally affiliated with a union called Unite Here, stages protests and files legal actions against restaurants. Supported by federal funds, mostly Labor Department grants, this organization is the subject of a restraining order forbidding any further harassment of Bar Jamon, Esca, Manzo and other restaurants in New York City affiliated with celebrity chef Mario Batali.
Detroit has been in the news a lot lately. Most of us in the Midwest saw the formal declaration of bankruptcy coming. Nearly everybody who writes opinion is anxious to tell you that Detroit is either a unique cultural collapse or the first of a line of local government dominoes with unhealthy credit balances.
For newspeak purposes, I refer you to the president’s speech a couple of years ago when he said, “I see a city that’s coming back. And right now, there’s an advanced battery industry taking root here in Michigan that barely existed before.” He may have been thinking about A123 Systems, a company his Department of Energy had just given $249 million of our money to prop up in the year before a critical election, and which was still getting federal grants when it declared bankruptcy a year later.
As Lily Tomlin used to say on Saturday Night Live, “I try to be cynical, but I can’t keep up.”