`Mistakes Were Made?’ Euphemisms Were Employed: Bloomberg’s Caroline Baum, author of “Just What I Said,” writes about the old tricks of US politicians who avoid saying the truth at all costs… What a difference with Zapatero’s recent admissions of his policy mistakes in relation to ETA!!
Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) — Politicians are notorious for saying one thing when they mean something else, for couching outcomes in the best possible light to deflect attention from their own failures. Some have perfected dissemblance to such a fine art that the average person may need a political dictionary to understand what our elected representatives and other public figures are saying. The tendency to substitute a buzzword for an act or policy that doesn’t resonate with voters has been around forever. Political euphemisms generally fall into a handful of recognizable categories:
1. Passive Contrition
In his address to the nation on Jan. 10, President George W. Bush more or less admitted his administration botched the job of creating a functioning young democracy in Iraq. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me,” Bush said. Where they have been made? That sounds like a faux pas or two around the edges. And who made the mistakes? How can an administration that has worked to restore and consolidate executive power and has chosen to ignore the advice of experts claim mistakes were imposed from the outside?
Sure, “stuff happens” in war, to quote former Bush administration Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reacting to news of the post-invasion looting of Iraq’s archeological treasures. In this case, it happened because someone didn’t do something (active tense) that would have prevented or stopped it. Lesson learned: Passive voice equals pass the buck.
2. Crusty Euphemisms
L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003-2004 and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 for the splendid job he did watching things unravel, was passively contrite (“mistakes were made”) as well in a Jan. 11 Wall Street Journal op-ed. But he took the art of hidden meaning a step further in describing the risk of a broader conflagration in the Middle East and its implication for the U.S. “Such a war would threaten American interests and allies throughout the region and lead to American military re-engagement, probably on a very large scale,” Bremer wrote. “American interests” is code for “access to oil.”
The Middle East is home to 62 percent of the world’s proved oil reserves, according to BP Plc. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries accounted for 40 percent of U.S. crude oil and product imports in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, almost one quarter of our total consumption. A regional war would curtail oil imports to the U.S. and send prices skyrocketing. (Oil prices skyrocketed last year without a cutback in supply.) It’s about time someone came out and said it in no uncertain terms: American interests are allied with oil interests.
3. Word Play
Following the pasting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received from Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, many liberal editorial pages applauded the new “bipartisanship” in Congress. They might as well have said, it’s about time everyone in Congress lined up against Bush! Alas, there were no such kudos for bipartisanship when Congress passed bloated farm and transportation bills and a Medicare prescription-drug benefit.
4. Desperate Denial
On Fox News Sunday last weekend, host Chris Wallace asked Vice President Dick Cheney if he and the president feel “embattled” and “isolated” these days, with Democrats lined up against them and Republican support in Congress fading fast. “I don’t, and the president doesn’t either,” Cheney said. “I’ve seen embattled administrations. This isn’t one of them.” With the Nixon administration as his benchmark, one can understand why.
5. A Rose by Any Other Name
The president’s decision to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq in an attempt to secure Baghdad is being billed as a “surge” rather than an increase or escalation (too many associations with Vietnam). “The New Way Forward” is really a last ditch effort. “Progressives” (liberals) view the new Democratic-controlled Congress as an opportunity to appeal to Americans’ “spirit of generosity” and reinvigorate the “politics of common good” (income redistribution).
Government “investment” to grow the economy, a Bill Clinton staple, is shorthand for more federal spending. “Revenue enhancements” are tax increases and user fees without the negative connotation. “No Child Left Behind” sounds better than tougher testing standards in primary and secondary schools. Legislation passed by the House of Representatives last week forcing Medicare to “negotiate drug prices” with pharmaceutical companies, if enacted, is another form of price controls.
The “cycle of violence” in Israel and the Palestinian territories is a nice way of saying Israel has a right to defend itself without offending the terrorists, who see their random attacks on civilians as morally equivalent. The neo-conservative dream of establishing a democracy in Iraq that would serve as a political and economic model for the region is “nation building” by any other name.
All of us are guilty, to some extent, of minor misrepresentation and obfuscation. Economists have declared the U.S. current account deficit to be “unsustainable” every quarter for the last seven years. (“Boy, was my forecast off the mark!”) Traders talk about excess “volatility” when the market is moving aggressively in one direction — against them. And dismissed corporate executives routinely step down “to spend more time with the family.” Politicians, however, walk off with all the honors in this category. “People familiar with the situation” (some slimy sources who didn’t want their names attached to the story) say journalists rank pretty high as well.