The study of language is always a fascinating exercise. In the wake of the devastation caused by the Tsunami Condoleezza Rice spoke of it as “an opportunity” to show the world how much this country “cares”: true enough perhaps, but a strangely discordant observation given the circumstances. Still it provides some insight into the political nerve center of this administration. So much of the daily rhetoric to which we are exposed sounds terribly righteous on the surface but upon examination falls short of what we are meant to understand or misunderstand as the case may be.
And it isn’t only in the political realm that jarring verbal oddities occur. With every merger discussion centers around how The Market will respond, who will become CEO, what new business procedures will be instituted. Somewhere in the mix is the subject of job losses. With the recent merger of Verizon and MCI, Verizon executive, Doreen Toben, said “In total we are targeting a 7,000 head count reduction.” One might conjure up wartime body bags, but of course Ms. Toben is simply referring to job losses. Some years ago at one of the mail order firms the company sent a notice to its employees that said “due to a favorable mortality rate” insurance payments to the company fund would be reduced – a good thing, but such a cumbersome way of describing the reason for it.
It’s as if the explainers just can’t bear to state their case in a simple forthright manner. The president, for example, has sent a giant budget proposal to Congress and in the last few days, a “supplemental” request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as if, in the latter case, the need for additional funds came as a surprise. The president has said his budget requests exemplify a new spending restraint because of the deficit and falling value of the dollar, more surprises presumably.
But just consider what that budget proposal contains in terms of cuts in domestic programs and scant accountability for how our taxes are being spent in the war effort. Billions of dollars have gone missing in Iraq during out occupation, but this seems to be a less pressing matter than concerns about the “oil-for-food” program when Saddam Hussein was in power. And as to budget cuts, while this administration talks constantly about “the family” and how to protect it from assaults by gays and rude language on TV and radio, it shows small concern for programs specifically designed to help populations and, most especially families, in need.
For example, “Even Start” is on the chopping block, a program designed to promote family literacy and as its mission statement says “to help break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.” Likewise “Head Start” will see funding cuts as will those “first responders” the president spoke so proudly of after 9/11. Heating assistance for low income families is also projected to be cut by $182 million, this while oil companies are making windfall profits. Food-stamp funding for 300,000 families with children is to be cut, as are vocational education grants to states.
How does one make sense of those grandiose speeches about no child left behind? Vocational training is an area of extreme need since not all young people need or want to attend college and focusing so heavily on testing is irrelevant to many. Apparently it makes good copy in some circles even if it may leave large numbers of children behind or without the skills they need to find employment.
What it all seems to boil down to is the fact that too often words are used simply to provide cover for actions that in no way comport with what is said. If we want to protect and guide our children then we need to invigorate programs that are meant to do that. And if the war is a major force driving the deficit then perhaps we need to examine those new “revenue streams” to which legislators and economists so often refer, because cutting programs that mean so much to our neediest are insignificant gestures in terms of the budget and the economy. And giving large tax cuts to our wealthiest, verbally disguised as job creation, is a form of governmental largess the country cannot afford.

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