Humans have been using euphemisms ever since Adam first “knew” Eve. In politics, especially, obfuscating and twisting the meaning of words has been going on forever. But today’s debates aren’t only littered with rhetorical distortions. In some ways, many of Democrats’ most potent arguments are built on corrupt language.
One of the words, for instance, that’s really getting a workout this cycle is “loophole.”
Democrats have long deployed “loophole” as a means of implying that gun laws were being broken. Basically, all of life is a giant loophole until Democrats come up with a way to regulate or tax it. In its economic usage, “loophole”— probably more of a dysphemism—creates the false impression that people are getting away with breaking the law or doing something unethical. It’s a way to skip the entire debate portion of the conversation and get right to the accusation.
So when Clinton promises to close the loophole of corporate inversion, which she does all the time, what she means to say is that Democrats disapprove of this completely legal thing that corporations do to shield their money from the highest corporate tax rate in the OECD. Loopholes are like “giveaways;” monies which DC has yet to double and triple tax.
The Press Plays Along
It’s one thing for Democrats to try and set the parameters of a debate before the debate is even had, but it’s quite another to watch the press participate. Here’s CNN: “Hillary Clinton to push closing corporate tax loopholes.” Here’s The Hill: “Obama calls for Congress to close corporate tax loopholes.” Here how the Associated Press reported the issue: “President Obama on Tuesday criticized loopholes that help protect offshore tax havens and U.S. companies that move abroad for lower tax rates.”
Surely if religious freedom—a well-defined and long-standing idea—deserves quotation marks around it to imply that it is something else altogether, the political usage of “loophole” deserves the same fate. If Ted Cruz began calling taxes “theft,” would the Associated Press follow? “President Cruz on Tuesday criticized the job-killing thievery of the United States government.” It’s doubtful.
But Bernie Sanders, bless him, just skips the entire perception game and just comes out with it: “The offshore tax haven network isn’t something that we need to reform or refine. It’s a form of legalized tax fraud that must end.”
“Legalized tax fraud” is a revealing statement about the progressive belief system. For most, progressive taxation is imbued with a moral imperative. So when you fail to pay an imaginary tax that doesn’t exist but Democrats believe should, you are by default engaged in fraud and immorality. The law has just to catch up with sin.
If You Don’t Give Me What I Want, You’re Stealing
Democrats can create entire issues out of corrupting words. Take “access”— formerly meaning “having the ability to approach, enter, or use.” In today’s liberal parlance, when the state doesn’t give you something for free, it’s taking something from you. It’s denying you access. When there’s a lack of “access” to birth control, it doesn’t, as the dictionary might lead you to believe, mean that Walgreens and CVS have been dissuaded from selling condoms or that someone is bolting the door when women attempt to purchase birth control at the local pharmacy. It means that government has not made condoms “free” for anyone who desires them.
To oppose the latter—whatever you make of the position—is not tantamount to a “ban” or “outlawing.” Yet Hillary has accused Cruz of attempting to “ban” contraception—not once, but five times in his political career. This goes on all the time. Yet, by any definition of the word, neither Cruz nor any Republican in office today has ever tried to ban—prohibit, forbid, proscribe, disallow—contraception or even infringe on the right to access it. This is a fairy tale with a thriving political fan fiction community.
Voters who pay only marginal attention to political debates (most) are probably left with some vague notion that men are working to “deny women” access to birth control. It would be understandably disconcerting if this were true. A War on Women loses a bit of its bark when it’s The War on Having the Taxpayers Pay For Everyone’s Pill.
“Any right that requires you to take extraordinary measures to access it is no right at all,” Hillary Clinton recently lamented as she spoke about the prevalence of the anti-abortion movement’s activism. “As long as we have laws on the book like the Hyde Amendment [a provision pretending to bar federal funds for pay for most abortions] making it harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”
By “extraordinary measures,” Hillary means walking past pro-life protestors who might say something that makes you uncomfortable. Any genuine attempt to hinder a person from walking into a Planned Parenthood is already illegal, after all. Some of us, you see, are imbued with special rights, or “full rights.” Women who support the right to an abortion, for instance. Not women who want to express themselves in opposition.
It’s not only within the “reproductive justice movement”— a supereuphemism—isn’t the only place we see these kinds of obfuscations occue. “Disenfranchisement” once meant revoking the rights gained through suffrage, but has been corroded to mean asking a person to provide a picture ID before voting or to wait in a line that discomforts him. Today, a country that deports hundreds of thousands of people every year has “open borders” and the millions of illegal immigrants are called everything but illegal. Today, tax cuts “cost” Americans something, because government has first dibs on every dollar you earn, but state spending is an “investment.”
And so on.
This is just a small taste of the war on meaning, of course. And to allow them this falsification language is to surrender a lot debate before it even begins. Rather than adapting to the rhetoric, it’s important to push back. As Orwell famously put it, the struggle against the abuse of language is not “a sentimental archaism” but the “first step toward political regeneration.”