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1984 instruction-manual

Take a moment to consider some examples of the horrible misuse of words in political debates. David Harsanyi at Reason provides a few choice examples of the corrupted and misleading language used by Democrats:

  • the absence of a tax that “should” exist but doesn’t is a “loophole”;
  • failure to pay that tax is a “fraud”;
  • denial of “access” occurs when the state doesn’t give something to you for free;
  • “disenfranchisement” means you have to show an ID or wait in line;
  • “full rights” means the entire world must be a “safe space” for your actions or views, even if the rights of others are denied in the process.

These are all recent examples of mangled language from the two candidates for the Democrat Party nomination. But here’s a big one that Harsanyi overlooked: the misuse of the term “liberalism” to describe statism. In fact, he misuses the word “liberals” himself! In “Don’t Call Leftists Liberal; They’re Not!” on Sacred Cow Chips, I offered some thoughts on this bit of Newspeak practiced by so-called progressives. I can’t resist reposting the following quote of Daniel Klein quoting Kevin Williamson, which says it all (links are in the original post):

Williamson [quotes] two leftist authors writing in The Nation, one decrying ‘unbridled individualism,’ the other ‘unfettered capitalism.’ Williamson concludes: ‘A ‘liberalism’ that is chiefly concerned with the many clever uses of bridles and fetters does not deserve the name. It never has.’”

The following quote from Harsanyi gives emphasis to the wrongful appropriation of “liberalism” by the left, though it relates more specifically to the misuse of the term “loophole”:

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” … creates the false impression that people are getting away with breaking the law. It’s a way to skip the entire debate portion of the conversation and get right to the accusation.

Another behavioral characteristic of leftists is a certain self-righteous satisfaction that they hold the moral high ground on any number of issues. “The Smug Style in American Liberalism“by Emmitt Rensin in Vox takes a poke at this presumption. Of course, Rensin misuses “liberalism”. I find this review of the article by Kyle Smith an effective summary, and it’s even better because it skips what comes off as a long catalog of excuses by Rensin as to why leftists might be forgiven for patting themselves on the back. I give Rensin credit, however, for a good analysis of the origins of leftist “smug”, which he attributes to a backlash against defections from the Democrat coalition by working-class voters in the second half of the twentieth century. And I credit Rensin for his ultimate condemnation of undeserved leftist attitudes of superiority. Here are some difficult realities for the left cited by Rensin:

Nothing is more confounding to the smug style than the fact that the average Republican is better educated and has a higher IQ than the average Democrat. That for every overpowered study finding superior liberal open-mindedness and intellect and knowledge, there is one to suggest that Republicans have the better of these qualities.

Perhaps inventing new definitions for words in the service of rhetoric comes easy with pomposity. In the end, assertions that the left is more “caring”, “tolerant” or “peaceful” are balderdash. There are honest policy debates to be had about the best way to solve social problems and respect for the rights of others, but having experienced angry reactions in debate with befuddled leftists for myself, I wholly concur with this Kyle Smith observation:

Ridiculing opponents is easier than arguing with them. Liberals don’t want debate, they want affirmation.