Sunday, July 1, 2012

Warning: B.S. ahead (a political glossary)

Watch, listen to and read enough about politics and government, and you start to pick up on the buzz-phrases that public officials and pundits alike employ to cover up / smooth over / breeze past subject matter that would otherwise be quickly derided as pure B.S.  A masochistic political junkie myself, I've compiled some of these "BS Flags," presented here for your use and edification.  A lot of these are Deval Patrickisms, by the way, but I don't think any are exclusive to him. And several are decidedly bipartisan.

Not Investors
Investments.  Usage: "The governor continues to support investments in crucial transportation infrastructure."  Really?  The governor wants to put some money down on a bridge or a new exit ramp and then collect a specific rate of return going forward, based on the amount of initial capital contributed and the profit generated from operation of the new infrastructure?  B.S.  This means spending.  Only in government is there no functional distinction between "spending" and "investment."  I go out and buy an apple, I'm spending money on an apple - not investing in an orchard.  A bridge is different only in magnitude.  That doesn't mean plenty of government spending isn't worthwhile; but the vast majority of it bears no resemblance whatsoever to an "investment" as that word is understood in the wider world.

Raising "revenue"
Revenue.  Usage: "Without new revenue, we will have no choice but to cut vital services."  B.S.  Nine times out of ten - maybe more - when a pol or a pundit says "revenue" he means "taxes."  (And apparently when they say "mandate" they also mean "taxes" - at least in hindsight.  See below).  Why don't they just say that?  We're all adults here.  Speaking of which...


Adult conversation.  Usage: "It is past time for an adult conversation about investments and revenues."  B.S. This is one of those terms that in practice means exactly the opposite of its plain-English meaning.  "Adult conversation" actually says, "Warning: I'm about to condescend to you, demean your perspective as childish and immature, and suggest that my perspective is the only reasonable, intelligent, considered position that can possibly be taken by any thinking adult on the subject under discussion.

As much as _____ / As many as ______.  Usage: "Experts predict that this legislation could generate as much as $100 billion in savings over ten years."  Or: "Supporters claim that these investments will generate as many as 10,000 permanent jobs."  B.S.  "As much/many as ____" means: "I'm about to make up a big number in the hope and expectation that someone will hear and repeat it, it will become conventional wisdom attached forevermore to the initiative I'm pushing, regardless of eventual reality."  Most of the time this ploy works exactly as planned.

Doing it for our children
For our children.  Usage: "This bill must be passed for our children."  Alternate: For our grandchildren.  Honestly?  B.S. Also, please shut up.  Government at all levels ceded the right to talk about "the children" at least two decades ago, when on a bipartisan basis the political class decided to stop paying anything but lip-service to the notion of living within our collective budgetary means, and instead started enacting policies that (to take Massachusetts as a handy example) leave us with seventy percent of our public pension liabilities entirely unfunded, the highest per capita debt in the country, and government spending that increases even in years when pols and pundits loudly decry budget "cuts."  It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes a government to well and truly screw the future of every single child born in this country in the foreseeable future.

Spending cuts.  Usage: "During this difficult budget cycle, we've made the tough choices and enacted deep spending cuts across government." Okay, sometimes a program is actually cut. But usually? B.S.  The vast majority of the time, when pols talk about "spending cuts" what they really mean is a reduction in the anticipated rate of spending increase.  Government grows - just not at quite the rate it wishes it could grow.  Whoopee. Better than nothing, but not a "cut."

Police, firefighters, and teachers.  Usage: "We need to have an adult conversation about increasing revenues for investments in police, firefighters, and teachers."  B.S.  There is no special, segregated pool of government money set aside for "police, firefighters, and teachers."  Likewise, there is no reason that "police, firefighters, and teachers" must always and everywhere be marched out onto the plank and forced to bear the full brunt of reductions in government spending.  No reason except that "police, firefighters, and teachers" resonate better with a gullible public than "second assistant water inspectors," or "special state liaison to municipal diversity coordinators, district 7."  When pols and pundits call out "police, firefighters, and teachers," what they mean is: "I'm making an emotional argument in support of spending that I am unable to justify on any other terms."  They also mean: "if you oppose me on this, it means you hate your community (and probably our children)."

Fair share.  Usage: "The wealthy need to pay their fair share of taxes."  (This, by the way, is one of the few contexts in which you'll see the word "taxes" in place of the B.S. "revenues.") B.S. This means "more." Doubt it?  Then find me one instance in which a pol or a pundit has demanded that someone or some group pay a "fair share" of taxes and meant "less," or even, "exactly their current rate."  Doesn't happen.

On the table.  Usage: "A gas tax hike is just one idea on the table."  B.S.  "On the table" means: "this is what I want to do, but I'm not quite ready yet to admit it explicitly."  Think of it this way.  You walk into a room and see a pol with a big glass of cold, frosty beer in front of him.  You ask if he's going to drink it, and he replies, "that's on the table."  Same thing.

Maybe the last /only plausible invocation of
"The American People"
The American People.  Usage: "The American people know that we need an adult conversation about the impact of spending cuts on our children, police, firefighters, and teachers."  What the speaker here really means is: "people who agree with me," which on many/most issues these days means "between 48 and 52 percent of the American people."  Seriously - nobody save for maybe the President in certain limited contexts (see, e.g., this) has the right to presume to speak for "the American people," but pols and pundits at all levels do it all day every day.  Nails on the chalkboard, and a major BS flag.

To spend more time with my family.  Usage: "I'm resigning from the Administration to spend more time with my family."  This one isn't so much a B.S. flag as B.S. in and of itself (almost always).  For reasons that nobody has ever explained to me, invocation of "more time with my family" is almost a reflex for politicians, even in situations where there is no doubt about other, more compelling motivations for a sudden career change.  I understand that no pol can ever stand up at a podium and say, "I'm resigning to cash in," or "I'm resigning because I'm about to be indicted."  But why so many pols feel the need to slap a big "I'm Full Of It!" sticker on their chests as a final public act is just beyond me.

With all due respect. Usage: "With all due respect to my opponent..." B.S. This is another that means precisely the opposite.  When a pol or a pundit says "with all due respect," he's really saying "@*$# you."

I'm glad you asked that question.  Usage: "I'm glad you asked that question, Joe. This is a topic I'd hoped to discuss..."  B.S.  Another opposite.  Also used as a frequent substitute for "@*$# you."

I want to talk about the issues.  Usage: "The American people are tired of these distractions. I want to talk about the issues."  B.S. This translation it easy.  "I want to talk about the issues" means "I don't want to talk about what we're talking about."  Yet another occasional stand-in for "@*$# you."  (There may be only one real way to say "I love you," but there are a thousand ways to say the opposite.)

Just wants to talk about the issues.
I have no intention.  Usage: "Let me be absolutely clear: I have no intention of raising anyone's taxes."  Most frequently used by Democrats running for office, this B.S. requires an always-unspoken qualifier.  "I have no intention" actually means "today, in this precise moment in time, I have no presently-formed intention..."  Tomorrow?  Who can say?

Mandate.  Usage: "The mandate is not a tax.  Alternate: The mandate is a tax."  This is a newly-minted bit of B.S., but it is moving up the charts.  The usage is very context-specific.  In court, a mandate is a tax (otherwise, hey, it might just be unconstitutional).  In the wider world, pols and pundits will twist themselves into rhetorical knots insisting that a mandate absolutely is not a tax, bears no resemblance to a tax, and is in fact something more akin to fresh-baked Christmas cookies by a crackling fire.  Anyhow, B.S. A mandate is a tax.  Just ask SCOTUS.

There are more.  Many more.  I'll think of one the second I hit "publish."  Drop a comment and tell me some that I'm missing.

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