Words Matter

A look at the manipulative and misleading power of the words candidates and elected officials chose, and the effects of those words.


There is an episode of The Simpsons in which the titular characters are attempting to get an unpopular bill passed through congress.  They succeed by including it in a bill called "The Flags for Orphans Bill."  This would be so much funnier if it weren't so accurate about what actually happens in our political posturing.

It's important that we as citizens take a moment to stop and think about what we are hearing, and the message and positions behind the words. There are myriad examples of this in contemporary political life, but for this blog I'd like to look at three particular egregious examples.

First off, who can forget the USA PATRIOT Act?  This act, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, gave law enforcement unprecedented access to the private lives of Americans.  It allowed agents to view purchases, medical records, email, phone, and other communications, frequently without advance notice and without warrants.  These were dramatic restrictions on previously sacrosanct constitutional rights, and many civil libertarians strongly disagreed.  However, in the charged wake of the attack, it was difficult to successfully oppose such a bill - especially when the title of the act implies that anyone who votes for it is unpatriotic!  Imagine if it had been accurately titled— "The USA GIVE LAW ENFORCEMENT UNANNOUNCED ACCESS TO YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS Act," and you see the power of the words.

Next is the particularly heinous "Obamacare."  This is a play on "Hillarycare" of the 1990s, and it's a ploy by the GOP to marry negative feelings about Obama to legislation that most Americans frankly don't understand, and therefore assume "I don't like Obama, so this 'Obamacare' must be really bad."  This does two things - it reinforces negative opinions about both the President and the Affordable Healthcare Act, and it gives people who oppose the President an excuse to do no further research on what the bill actually does.  It's brazen manipulation, and it's untenable.

Finally, and most heinously in my opinion is the addition of the term "illegals" into the American lexicon.  Now, it should come as no surprise that I am a dyed in the wool liberal.  I believe we can work towards a sensible immigration policy that doesn't demonize foreign workers— regardless of their immigration status.  That said, this particular term is so prevalent in our current society, that even I first think "illegal" when I hear the word "Mexican," and I have to consciously work to not do so.  I suspect that in your hearts, many of you do the same.

This term allows us to dehumanize these people— many of whom have come from poverty so desperate, very few of us here in Massachusetts can have any comprehension of it.  It also expands to all foreign workers— particularly workers of Latin American origin— allowing us to group whole nationalities of people who both look and sound different than the majority of American-born individuals, and think of them as a lesser class.   It gives us permission to think of these people as criminals first, job-stealers second and maybe as human beings a very distant third.

As informed citizens, it is incumbent upon us to sit back, take a hard look at the facts of what's being presented to us, and consider the intent of the words chosen to sometimes obscure those facts.  Otherwise, we'll soon end up buying into the  (read comments below linked article).

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

BJ February 02, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Ben, Excellent blog post. I could not agree more. It happens on both sides of the aisle, but much more by the right. Of course, my favorite is "family values." Who wouldn't be for family values? Until of course you realize it means only those belief systems favored by the far right, and an attack on any family system not in alignment with the narrow-minded far right definition of family.
Ben Jackson February 02, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Hi BJ - Thanks for the feedback. And you're right - "family values" implies such a narrow, outdated idea of what a family is, that it implies that anyone who doesn't follow that path is anti-family. Common sense dictates that this is ridiculous, but to apparently no avail!
Michael Barrett April 09, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Hey Mush, obamacare is something obama has called it. But we can just say it's another unconstitutional bill, how's that? Maybe the should have read it first, then they would not have voted for the POS. Thr republicans should thank obama for the '10 election. He's stupid but usefully stupid.
Michael Barrett April 09, 2012 at 03:57 PM
"foriegn workers". LOL. How about criminals who don't pay taxes and commit crimes daily. Be legal or get out


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