Friday, September 03, 2004

...I reach for my pistol
Various Nazis, usually Hermann Goering, are given credit for the quote: "Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my pistol" (also variously translated, this is the most common version). I don't often claim sympathy for Third Reich war criminals, but I do understand the feeling that the Reichsmarshall was voicing. Some words used in public political discourse become so loaded with meaning--and frequently at odds with their dictionary meaning--that my reaction on hearing them is a barely squelched urge to violence. The more American way of phrasing Goering's thought would be, "if I hear 'em say that again, I'm gonna kill 'em."

I offer this as an explanation for my reaction to the President's speech yesterday. There are some words that are so cringeworthy that Republicans should be allowed to utter them. At the top of the list is "reform." Every time I hear a Republican mention reforming something, my fight-or-flight reflex goes into overdrive. Welfare reform. Tort reform. Medicare reform. Social Security reform. Any kind of deregulation as reform. Whenever reform crosses their lips it means the majority is going to be seriously screwed over for the benefit of the moneyed minority.

My normal reaction to a word being bled of its meaning is to announce a moratorium on using that word, to give it a chance to recover some linguistic credibility (not that anyone pays attention to my list). In pop culture, which is random and stupid, that would normally be enough. Pop culture overuse comes from a lack of imagination; words are damaged through linguistic faddishness, not sinister intent. But in politics, the problem is deeper. Words are misused in an attempt to camouflage actions. "Defense of the Family" doesn't defend anything, it deprives a group of rights. "Tort reform" means a limit on our right to seek legal redress. "Social Security reform" means gutting Social Security to provide investment funds. "Tax relief" is just a sick joke. George Orwell called this tactic "newspeak" when he watched the Department of War renamed the the Department of Defense. Despite the fact that we have had almost sixty years since he warned us, the tactic has just grown stronger and healthier. Et cetera, und so weiter, and so it goes.

When George Bush gives a full length speech, there are so many of these cringeworthy moments that I'm still twitching today. Good thing I don't carry a pistol; my TV and computor monitor would need weekly replacement if I did.

Butt covering disclaimer: This post is a semi-humorous, cumudgeonly rant. I have never, nor do I now, advocate violence by me, or anyone else, against anyone, anywhere. In fact, I'm a wimpy pacifist. Can't we all just get along?

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