THE REAL SPEECH PROBLEM
President's doublespeak requires that voters become language police
Guy Reel, Winthrop University, Aug. 04, 2003
Recently a gentleman from the Cabarrus Libertarian Party published a column that amounted to a diatribe against "political correctness" ("Beware of political correctness," June 5).
His argument, succinctly stated, opposed the wrongful censorship of ordinary words by what amounts to language police. For example, he said that passages harmlessly describing lawyers as men have been cut out of textbooks because of the vague idea that these concepts might offend someone.
His point is conceded, although today's youth are exposed through music, film and television to so many examples of sexist, classist, racist and stereotypical language that it seems unlikely that a few attempts to counterbalance those notions would be a very harmful thing.
His main argument, that language is decaying in society, is well worth addressing. However, his ire is misplaced. If he's really worried about language, why not attack the doublespeak of George W. Bush?
The president's language is so deceptive that the term "Orwellian" has become a bit of a cliché in describing his administration. Unlike most p.c. speech, which is mostly just silly, Bush's misuse of language actually makes a difference in people's lives. Just a few examples:
* Bush's "Clear Skies Initiative" encourages greater pollution by allowing heavily polluting facilities to operate indefinitely with few or no environmental controls.
* Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" proposes restricting public, judicial and environmental review of forest-thinning projects (read: logging) in order to give timber companies a carte blanche in national forests.
* Bush's U.S.A. Patriot Act defiles patriotism by allowing authorities to trample on civil rights by giving investigators the power to detain suspects without trials or lawyers just as long as they say it's a terrorism investigation.
* The administration claims there is a "judicial crisis" in judgeship nominees when the federal judge vacancies are at their lowest in 13 years. The administration creates a "Department of Homeland Security" and Republican politicians use it to track down Democrats who have run out on a state legislative debate.
The list could go on and on.
The abuse of language has long been a presidential tradition. But most presidents will say one thing to get elected, then later backtrack, claiming they didn't really mean what they said. Bill Clinton famously lied about sexual escapades, and was impeached for it.
Bush's ministry of propaganda is more sinister. He labels his deceptions as things that people want -- healthy forests, clear skies, patriotism -- then writes policies that do the opposite of what he says. Orwell's Big Brother would have been proud. Maybe it's time for a new kind of language police -- an informed public that holds the president accountable for what he says.