One of the most annoying things about politics is that it results in the mangling of language. By that I mean that political speak makes very plain concepts and words either needlessly complex or reverses the plain meanings into something else. I am going to vent a bit and give a few examples. But before I do that, let me make my political stance and assumptions clear. I think it is important to do this because one my biggest pet peeves is the veneer of objectivity. Too many pundits want to act like neutral and unbiased observers when their agenda is so easy to spot that it makes them nearly impossible to hear. My biases follow:
I am a registered Republican, consider myself politically conservative and think that Ronald Reagan is the greatest President in my lifetime and one of the best in American history. So feel free to filter everything that follows through those assumptions and apply whatever grains of salt that you feel appropriate. Since I fall solidly on the right end of the political spectrum, to be fair I will begin by pointing out a couple of ways that I think Republicans abuse language to serve their own political ends.
1. Redistribution of income – This is thrown out by Republicans as a talking point against a whole host of Democratic economic policies. And it is complete nonsense. Every government redistributes income. Governments collect revenue (mainly via taxes, although there are other streams) and pay that revenue out in a variety of ways. They pay government employees (from legislators to soldiers to bureaucrats), extend benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, pay off bonds that have been previously issued and support infrastructure projects (along with many other things). This is, by definition, redistributing income. It is collecting from one source and paying to another. Not a difficult concept. The real beef that Republicans and Democrats have with each other is not the redistribution of income. It is in the amount to be collected and the way it is redistributed.
2. Picking Winners and Losers – This is a complaint that Republicans have with what they believe is undue interference by Democratic policies in the marketplace. They believe that this interference rewards certain businesses and/or industries and punishes others. On the face this is absolutely true. Democrats do indeed do this. But the problem is that Republicans do it as well. In fact there is no such thing as governments that do not interfere in the marketplace. Any law or regulation that governs behavior or sets boundaries as to what businesses and industries may or may not do is again, by definition, interference in the marketplace and at least to a degree affecting who “wins” or “loses” in the marketplace. The only question is what those boundaries are and what behavior is rewarded or punished. I want the government to help pick winners and losers. I just want it to reward good behavior, punish bad behavior and set appropriate boundaries that benefit the general populace as much as is possible. I want the government to interfere when some Madoff-style Ponzi scheme enters the marketplace and punish the jerk (or jerks) who are the bad actors. I want the government to reward businesses or industries that do things the right way and benefit the market. Again, the real argument isn’t about picking winners and losers. It is about what the right boundaries, right rewards and right punishments are.
Now to the Democratic side of the aisle.
3. Increasing Revenue – Democrats look at the gap between what the government is taking in and what it is paying out and rightly would like that gap to shrink considerably (or preferably disappear). At least they say the would. But the focus isn’t for them on what the government pays out (at least for most part, they typically would love to cut defense spending). But the focus is on “increasing revenue”. This is a nice euphemism for raising taxes. Taxes are the biggest source of government revenue and the only way to increase revenue to any real degree is to raise taxes. You can spin this anyway that you want, from “closing loopholes” to the rich “paying their fair share” but it is raising taxes, nothing more or nothing less. This may or may not be a good idea, but there is no way to really increase revenue without collecting more taxes and at the end of the day increasing taxes on almost everyone, because the “middle class” pays most of the taxes under any scenario and if you raise taxes on the “rich” it isn’t going to hit the rich so much as the middle class. The truly rich can move their money around, hire an army of accountants and lawyers to lessen their load and lobby politicians for favorable conditions. So when you hear talk about “increasing revenue”, it is a tax hike. And one way or another, it will hit you and I.
4. Wall Street “Fat Cats” – This is a euphemism to describe the people who make a ton of money on often dubious investment schemes (such as the bundling of high-risk mortgages) and have a nice backstop of taxpayer money if their schemes blow up in their face. It is also a description of the same people who contribute tons of money to political campaigns (mainly Democratic campaigns in recent years, though to be fair they tend to read tea leaves pretty well and have no problem switching the money train to Republicans if they think that Republicans are going to win the next election), lobby the daylights out of the government to get all kinds of favorable rules for themselves and run to and fro through a revolving door of top executive positions in the private sector and high level cabinet positions in the public sector (see Timothy Geithner, Jon Corzine et. al). The Democratic party does a great job of talking about “the working man”, but it is every bit as much the party of the plutocrat as the Republican party.
I could keep going, but you get the idea. It is an election year, so keep your ears tuned for phrases that come up again and again in the political talking points of the day. And understand that the words that are being said rarely mean exactly what they seem to mean. Just a helpful hint.