Monday, October 26, 2009

Language and Politics

Politicians and reporters sometimes have an awfully bad way of throwing fuel to the fire. Misrepresenting history, people, and plans through vague language is just one of them. The reasoning is oftentimes very simple: people in power want to ease the fears of their constituents. However, journalists sometimes have the tendency to do the same with their readers. I think the former is understandable. But the second, the journalists who intentionally misrepresent history, people, and plans, is as perplexing as it is infuriating.

What good is it when writers for big publications, such as U.S. News & World Report, call men like Ben Bernanke and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan laissez faire, although their policies have spoken differently? After all, laissez faire is French for “leave alone.” And the current and former Federal Reserve Chairmen are certainly not innocent of not intervening in the economy.

Is there any good in politicians not being honest when they do wrong? I once heard that it is better to believe a man is speaking mistakenly unintentionally, than to accuse a man of intentionally telling something wrong. Hopefully, the former is true, but sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that some politicians do know they are skewing the truth.

For instance, when Obama said “we brought the global economy back from the brink” during his speech at the G-20 meeting a few weeks ago, listeners have to wonder what exactly does that mean. Listeners would also have to question how they did that over the course of a meeting. What kind of action could the G-20 nations have taken that could have caused such a quick reversal?

Also, how many times will they tell us they brought our economy back from the brink? Why do they have to tell us this at one-month to two-month intervals? If they keeping telling us this at this rate, doesn't it suggest that they incapable of permanently sustaining the economy? Doesn't it suggest stimulus is what it is, temporary. Why can't they permanently do this?

Or how about during the same speech Obama said “because of the bold and coordinated action” millions of jobs have been “saved or created.” These terms have resurfaced in various places in 2009: the health care speech, the G-20 speech, and even his most recent Youtube weekly address. Listeners also have to ask which one is it. Which jobs were saved and created? We know now; it is the thousands, not millions, of government jobs that were saved. Hardly any stimulus money (not that we need it) is reaching the private sector.

Politicians also have a really good way of misleading the American public into believing that things are getting better – especially when they are not. Pay attention to the language in President Obama’s weekly address last week. “Perhaps transform the economy." President Obama is still using the same ambiguous language that made me skeptical of his economic “wisdom” during his presidential campaign.

Or how about on October 19 when the Associated Press’ Julie Pace interviewed Jared Bernstein, the Executive Director of the White House Middle Class Task Force, and he said that they money received from stimulus dollars will be used to “buy more groceries, more furnishings, you name it, that causes more economic activity and jobs in and of itself.” Yes, maybe a temporary stimulus effect may become visible, but at the expense of injecting more money into the economy, thus causing inflation and the progressive devaluation of our dollar; talk about "change" we can believe in and "change" we can see.

The time will come when people will begin to trust their eyes more than their ears. They will see when the rhetoric does not match up with the reality. When that time comes, I hope politicians have more than rhetoric to ease the discontent of the people.

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