Monday, February 9, 2009

Washington's Sheer Cloudy Vagueness

In his classic essay, "Politics and the English Language" (1946), George Orwell explores the gross misuse of language by political leaders. "In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. ... Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."

Last week, after Tom Daschle withdrew his name from nomination as President Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services in charge of seizing control of the health care system for the government, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went before the cameras to praise his old friend. He only momentarily referred to Daschle's failure to pay $140,000 in taxes. He described these unhappy developments, saying only, "some things came up."

Apparently, this is his way of speaking to the American people. Here we see our Senate Majority Leader trying to convince an interviewer that, unlike in certain oppressive countries, paying taxes in America is voluntary.

Instead of conceding the interviewer's point, but then explaining that there is nonetheless an important element of liberty in our tax system (we can arrange our affairs so that we have tax shelters and deductions), he goes for the Big Lie and argues that paying taxes is simply, univocably, and obviously voluntary. When the interviewer confronts him with the truly obvious connection between civil penalties for not paying your taxes and the coercive nature of the system, he plays dumb. He even claims that the responsibility we have for calculating our own income taxes makes it a voluntary system (even though they always check my homework and tell me the real figure later). So it seems that the Senator is either deceitful or thick. Which is more charitable conclusion? And what are we to think about the majority of voting citizens in Nevada?

Of course, when Orwell spoke of "the indefensible," he was addressing far more serious concerns than our still manageable tax burden and our legal requirement to bear it. Orwell has the following in mind.

Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.

Nonetheless, a free and vigilant people, when faced with shameless doubletalk of this sort from an elected official, would make sure to send him looking for work after the next election.

Harold adds:

I propose an Orwell watch here among readers of this blog; there will surely be many instances as we spiral the drain into socialism, Democrats being the party of deception, misdirection, and obfuscation. I can think of three Orwellian news speak items right now:
  • "tax cuts", according to Obama, are now what used to be known as tax credits, or more straightforwardly, transfer payments, aka welfare.
  • "ear marks", allocated spending the Congress sneaks into bills under cover of darkness, are no where to be seen in the "stimulus" bill, according to Obama. Right.
  • "economic stimulus" is, according to the Bamster, just spending. Any spending will do, as John Maynard Keynes argued, even building pyramids or just digging holes and filling them in. So why not spend on the 40 year wish list? But we have known since Jimmy Carter, if not the father of American democratic socialism himself, FDR, that Keynesian pump priming and deficit spending do not yield the multiplier effect that made the theory so attractive to big government types. "Stimulus" in Orwell/Obama speak is political stimulus for the Democrat party, with the private sector picking up the tab.

Large cash prizes* for the best contributions to the Orwell List!

* cash prizes paid in Zimbabwe currency.

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