April 14, 2011
The Ryan Plan and Progressive DoublespeakBy Andrew Foy, MD and Daniel H. Fernald
In his seminal work, 1984, George Orwell imagined a future dystopia in which an omnipotent Party ruled over what had been the Anglosphere. The recent debate over Congressman Paul Ryan's 2012 budget proposal has revealed that one of the Party's slogans, "Freedom is Slavery," has taken firm root in the leftist political class and punditocracy.
Ryan's ambitious plan aims to cut government spending and boost economic growth. It would restructure Medicare and Medicaid, the biggest drivers of government spending and deficits, and simplify the tax code by broadly lowering rates and ending almost all existing credits and subsidies.
In Ryan's own words:
In the wake of this historic proposal the left has abandoned any semblance of connection to reality, and has expectedly gone to ground in the wild and wacky world of progressive doublespeak.
"Doublespeak" is directly connected to the term "doublethink," which featured prominently in Orwell's 1984, and which -- tellingly -- was synonymous with "reality control." It is a language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words with the intention of creating a "communication bypass." The left has learned, as the right has not, that in politics he who controls the language controls everything.
Orwell's equivalent term for today's "doublespeak" was "duckspeak," which involved mindlessly spouting Party orthodoxy. Anyone who has ever heard James Carville in full bayou mode knows exactly what duckspeak sounds like.
A disturbing case in point is the way in which progressives have managed to redefine "liberty" to describe a state of affairs alarmingly close to what would until quite recently have been called "slavery."
The American Founders understood liberty to mean freedom from unjust coercion. The Bill of Rights was indeed expressly intended to codify the Founders' understanding of liberty as protection from coercion in the normal course of human events. What set the first American Patriots on the path to revolution was not the economic burden imposed by British taxes, which was laughably small by contemporary standards, but rather the fact that these taxes represented a form of unjust coercion in direct conflict with their natural liberty.
This undermining of liberty is part and parcel of the left's agenda, precisely because their agenda is coercive. Liberty is nothing but an obstacle to the left. Writing in the Democratic Strategist John E. Schwartz warns the left of the need to improve their doublespeak:
Liberty according to progressives like Schwartz is the obligation to accept coercion in the interest of a greater good that has been determined in advance by the political class. On this view, the government acts beneficently in order "to assure the full worth of [every individual's] equal freedom." Thus, on this twisted model, coercion by government actually increases freedom.
And thusly does part of Orwell's novelistic prophecy come to possess flesh and bones reality in the hearts, minds, and ever-wagging tongues of the statist left: "Freedom is Slavery."
The left's criticism of Ryan's plan is a prime example of doublespeak in action. The left has been bellowing about the need for "shared sacrifice" in addressing America's budget shortfalls. They accuse Ryan of exempting the rich from any duty to pitch in because his plan does not raise their taxes.
According to the left, this is just another example of how conservatives want to consolidate power at the top of the income scale and throw the poor and middle class to the wolves. In what was likely the most reality-free criticism yet of the Ryan proposal, Donna Brazile (interim chairman of the DNC) on This Week's roundtable actually claimed Ryan's plan would redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich.
Sadly, on Meet the Press, Ryan himself stumbled when responding to the "shared sacrifice" criticism from host David Gregory. In so doing, he underlined the critical rhetorical weakness of the right, which has never quite learned how to counter the left's doublespeak in plain, clear, unapologetic language.
Taking control of the national conversation will require, first, exposing doublespeak as such, and, second, addressing it with boldness and clarity. Regarding the "shared sacrifice" criticism, it must be stressed that one cannot "sacrifice" something that was not his to begin with.
For example, Ryan's reality-based plan decreases spending on Medicare and Medicaid for the simple and indisputable reason that they are not fiscally solvent.
Since its inception, Medicare has never been able to subsist solely on dedicated payroll taxes and premiums, the original promise, and Medicaid has always been a welfare program requiring the redistribution of earned income from those not receiving the benefit.
Ryan and the Republicans should directly confront this doublespeak by making the self-evidently true point that no one is being asked to give up what they already have, which is the only meaningful definition of "sacrifice." Benefits are being cut so, in the future, people can continue to receive something instead of nothing. They should bypass the leftist propagandists and precisely define what the word "sacrifice" means. Only in this way will the right have any chance of wresting control over the media narrative away from the leftist apologists for statism and economic slavery.
The K.I.S.S. principle should apply, as well. Keep the message simple, and keep beating the left with the plain, unvarnished truth. Ryan and his supporters should boldly proclaim that the United States has arrived at the current fiscal crossroads not because Rich Uncle Pennybags and Daddy Warbucks have been looting the public treasury from smoke-filled backrooms, but simply due to the government's having spent too much, overpromised for too long, and ultimately, reversed the intentions of the original American experiment grounded in individual rights and limited government.
The Ryan plan is as much an ideological vision as a budget proposal, and in order to advance it we on the right must call out the left's propaganda machine and expose their deliberate lies and obfuscations as the doublespeak that they are.
Andrew Foy is a medical resident and co-author of The Young Conservative's Field Guide. He can be contacted at Andrew.Foy@gmail.com. Daniel H. Fernald holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and rhetoric from Emory University, and is most recently the author of Atheism Answered. He welcomes correspondence at email@example.com.