Banish the gobbledygook, PDQ
Politics occasionally drive John Boehner to tears, but rarely to plain English. Gobbledygook is the Washington disease, and the Republicans have a bad case of it. Wonkery was not invented in Washington, but Washington is where it thrives.
Corporate-speak is closely related to government gobbledygook, and those most fluent in the tongue have been carefully trained and tutored in using words not to amplify meanings, but to hide them. One way to do this is to use five words when one or two will do. Perfumed words are preferred. Initials and acronyms are best of all.
The Democrats are rarely wordsmiths, but they understand that plain people — i.e., most of us — understand plain words. Short words are good, Winston Churchill observed, and familiar words are better. Short, familiar words are best of all. Ronald Reagan knew this, which is why he was called the great communicator. Many Republicans, having inherited corporate genes, have never learned it.
This becomes crucial when there’s a crisis, and nobody wants the further misery of trying to figure out inside-the-Beltway terms of art, when congressmen speak of the CBO and OMB, the GDP and the AMB, and the politicians argue about whether a CR will satisfy the grunions at the EOB. FBI, GOP and maybe AFL-CIO are about all the alphabet soup that most Americans can digest.
Facts, the wise man said, can’t speak for themselves and depend on someone else to distort them. In the current crisis, President Obama and the Democrats have the media at their back, as they nearly always do. The Associated Press reported this week that its national poll finds that Mr. Obama’s approval rating has fallen deeper into Jimmy Carter country, with only 37 percent of Americans say he’s doing OK. The Associated Press, once the gold standard for neutrality and reliability, reported this under the headline: “Poll: GOP Gets the Blame in Shutdown.” The prevalence of such bait-and-switch journalism is why the Republican leaders must do more than rant, rave and scold. If they hope to succeed, they must agree on a clear and easily understood goal — and learn how to talk about it.
There’s lots to talk about. The president is using the government to harass people, and it’s not just the National Park Service rangers who have been instructed to make life as miserable as they can for as many people as they can. As though to rub salt in the wounds of the veterans who were evicted from the World War II Memorial on the Mall, the White House approved an invitation to immigration amnesty groups to hold an amnesty rally near the very place the Park Service blocked the veterans, many in their 90s, who had come from thousands of miles away. The government’s message was plain and clear: thousands of illegal aliens are welcome, but the veterans, all of them American citizens, are not.
Imaginative abuse is what the Republicans should be talking about, abuse and insult as a consequence of Mr. Obama’s shutdown — only somewhat of a shutdown, actually — and they should be talking about it in plain, blunt terms. No more talk of CRs, of OMB projections and the statistics beloved by the wonks and geeks.
The Republicans stumble into occasional opportunities to exploit, if only they could figure out how and screw up the courage to do it. When the House and the Senate approved an exception to the shutdown with funding to pay death benefits for veterans, the White House said no way. “The legislation is not necessary,” his White House spokesman told reporters Thursday. “Our view has been, this piecemeal funding is, again, a gimmick. The president was not pleased to learn of this problem.”
No doubt. But why should he worry? He will be treated to a milliondollar funeral on that distant day when his family needs one (even messiahs from Chicago will one day die), with his coffin resting on Abraham Lincoln’s catafalque in the Capitol Rotunda as thousands of mourners pass by to shed a solemn tear. He might even get a tomb at Arlington. No one will call that a gimmick. But neither is it a gimmick to pay for a funeral for an old guy who lost an arm on Iwo Jima or left a leg on Omaha Beach. Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.