Language as a Smoke-Screen

It’s long been accepted that political language is often filled with obfuscatory phraseology, meant to deceive people into believing one thing is true when, in fact, the actions behind the language imply the opposite. Vagueness in language is often employed in order to serve as a smoke-screen for deceit. For instance, take the following passage:

Plan for a Healthy America

“We now face an opportunity — and an obligation — to turn the page on the failed politics of yesterday’s health care debates… My plan begins by covering every American. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less. If you are one of the 45 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, you will have it after this plan becomes law. No one will be turned away because of a preexisting condition or illness.”

— Barack Obama, Speech in Iowa City, IA, May 29, 2007

There are various forms of obfuscation employed in this speech snippet, taken from Obama’s campaign website. First, he begins stating we have an “opportunity” that is in fact an “obligation” to do such-and-such. Opportunities are not obligations: opportunities can be taken or ignored, signifying they are, in fact, optional. By beginning with the word “opportunity,” Obama makes what is in fact going to be mandatory seem optional, which is a much nicer state of things than mandatory compulsion. It is a trick to make people believe they still have freedom to choose when, in fact, choice will be taken away from them.

The next obfuscation is the phrase “to turn the page on the failed politics of yesterday’s healthcare debates.” It is a phrase characterized by opacity: what does “failed politics of yesterday’s healthcare debates” mean, anyway? Does it mean we’ve been talking about it too much? Too little? In the wrong way? When was “yesterday”? In context, one might realize he is likely speaking about Hillary Clinton’s failure to get a single-payer healthcare system in place during her husband’s presidency. So the phrase was meant to mudsling without naming names, so that Obama could engage in character-bashing without being pinned as a character-basher. Again, language has been used to deceive.

The rest of the speech is an exercise in half-truths. His plan covers every American (false: some Americans will be covering other Americans who do not currently cover themselves and fall under some income demarcation, while some Americans who choose not to be covered will be forced to cover themselves. A “plan” cannot actively ‘do’ anything). He asserts your premiums shall be less — leaving out the hidden costs of co-pays, waiting lists, lower-quality care, intrusive programs into lifestyle and diet to be employed to make sure you’re not costing the system ‘too much,’ higher prescription prices, lower financial incentive by professionals to do research, higher costs of ‘optional’ care, etc.

If you are one of the “45 million Americans” (likely an inflated, rounded-up number) who doesn’t have health insurance, you shall ‘get it’ after Obama’s plan becomes law. You shall get it, indeed—some shall be getting a large bill they before with which they chose not to be burdened, for whatever reason.

Language has long been used in this fashion, and shall likely continue to be so used. Language plays a large part in how far we allow the government to intrude into our lives — if we are made to believe we still have freedom, our civil liberties can be degraded, one by one, and no one will notice until it’s too late.

That’s why Sandy’s reporting on the degradation of the Second Amendment taking place in the lead-up to the Supreme Court hearing on the latter is so very important. Allowing the government to search and seize without a formal warrant is a dangerous precedent. It can have implications, the most frightening of which do not involve arms: the government feeling free to break and enter as long as lip service is paid to public health and welfare.

We must be vigilant. And we must understand that our civil liberties were laid down as such for well-thought-out reasons, by people with experiential and/or academic knowledge on the darker nature of government power-mongering.

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One comment on “Language as a Smoke-Screen

  1. vesta44 says:

    Re Sandy’s article on the 2nd Amendment: I can tell you right now that if an officer of the law came to my house and asked if he could search it for guns, I would ask if he had a search warrant. If he said no, then I would tell him to get one or he’s not setting foot in my house. I’m not a criminal and there is no reason in hell that I should not be allowed to own guns (I used to hunt and shoot trap when I was younger, and my husband still hunts occasionally).
    As for the mandatory insurance coverage for every American, I’ll believe it when I see it. The government can mandate all it wants, but enforcing those mandates is going to be a costly enterprise (and I want to know how they’re going to register all the homeless and enforce insurance coverage for them). There will still be people who fall through the cracks and won’t have insurance coverage they can use (which is totally different from insurance you can afford to use). I had insurance when I worked, I could afford the premiums, but I couldn’t afford to USE the insurance because I didn’t make enough money to pay bills AND take care of the office visit copays, not to mention copays for prescriptions. So yeah, I had insurance, fat fucking lot of good it did me, I couldn’t use it for preventive health care, let alone an illness, no matter how minor that illness was (and I was making more than minimum wage, damn near $12 an hour and I was only supporting myself). So all the asshat candidates can talk about health insurance for everyone all they want, I don’t, and won’t, believe that they can make it affordable for everyone to be able to have it AND use it.

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