Rhetoric has been cut loose from reality in the hands of the Democrats for some time now, but in the current calls for spending "compromise," an apotheosis has been reached.
The great Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, once pointed out that, in the way words are used in the modern era, all assertions tend to suggest their opposite. This has certainly been the case with Democrats. When Bill Clinton asserted that he had never had sex with "that woman," it meant that he most certainly had, and just about everyone in America understood it -- eventually, at least.
Since then, liberals have crossed the line into full-blown duplicity, if not delusion. Wasteful spending is routinely called "investment," crushing regulations are mere "oversight," while vast new taxes are "necessary revenue enhancements." If Obama ever starts shipping Americans who disagree with him off to the gulag, he'll probably call it a "destination club."
As for now, in the wake of the debt ceiling debate, Democrats are insisting on their willingness to compromise. It is the Republicans, held hostage by the Tea Party, who refuse to do so, or so they say. Democrats want a reasonable, balanced approach -- one that "works for the American people." They want to compromise on spending, on taxes, on health care, on regulation, and on every other issue of the day. They are just about the nicest folks in the country, while Republicans are rigid ideologues, unwilling to bend an inch.
That may not sound like bipartisan talk, but Democrats have an answer for that one, too. It's conservatives in the GOP who are "holding them hostage." Conservatives are trying to "wreck things" by insisting on a balanced budget. If they would just get back to business as usual, Democrats would not have to call them out.
Applying Kierkegaard's law, it is not difficult to see what compromise means for the left wing of the Democratic Party. What it means is continued confrontation -- a further hardening of ideology and a total unwillingness to listen to the American people. It means continued pandering to the liberal base of unions, trial lawyers, environmentalists, and welfare clients -- all at the expense of the taxpayer.
A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal demonstrates what I'm talking about.
As required by the debt ceiling deal, Harry Reid has appointed three members of the Senate to the bipartisan deficit reduction committee which is scheduled to report before Thanksgiving. As one would expect, these three senators (Baucus, Kerry, and Murray) are all staunch liberals. And, just to set the right tone ahead of their deliberations, on Wednesday they fired a shot across the bow with an op-ed entitled "Together We Can Beat the Deficit."
What they said in this partisan spiel, in essence, was that they were going to insist on a "balanced" deficit reduction package that includes both spending cuts and tax increases. What they meant, however, was that spending cuts would be end-loaded while tax increases would be almost immediate. That way, they said, spending cuts would not upset the fragile economic recovery now underway. What they meant was that end-loaded spending cuts would not upset the chances of Democrats in the 2012 election.
What's really striking about this little partisan ambush is the tone in which it is couched. The three senators speak repeatedly of compromise, bipartisanship, and consensus. They talk of "working together" and of discarding the "typical ideological lens." And every time they do so, they make it clear how partisan they intend to be in the forthcoming negotiations.
Even as they speak of compromise, Democrats are unwilling to compromise on the deficit or on anything else. In the political lexicon of the left, words always mean their opposite. When the president asserted that "the rich can afford to give back a little bit more," what he meant was that they should be taxed a lot more.
Even that phrase, to "give back," was duplicitous. To "give back" suggests that someone has "taken" from others. The rich have created wealth by producing, investing, and managing -- not by stealing from others, but by creating something of use for others to enjoy. The only entity that steals from the public and needs to give back is government.
Not only did Senators Baucus, Kerry, and Murray initiate the deficit reduction process with a partisan attack, but they had the audacity to suggest that their opponents must "move past the partisan rancor" and join Democrats in civil discussions, as if Democrats had been civil all along. In other words, the three are willing to forgive the "partisan rancor" of their GOP colleagues and move forward, as long as Republicans are willing to accept a "balanced plan" with "shared sacrifices" -- liberal code for tax increases on the rich.
Those two phrases need a bit more unpacking. Applying Kierkegaard once again, it's clear that a balanced plan is one that is not balanced, and shared sacrifices are sacrifices that are not shared.
Throughout the course of the deficit reduction talks, Democrats have not wavered in their insistence on a plan that includes steep tax hikes on the rich while shielding Democratic constituencies from immediate cuts (with the intention, of course, of reversing end-loaded cuts before they come into effect). That is why, under the $917-billion spending reductions already agreed to, only $3 billion (or 0.3% of annual spending) takes effect immediately. As for long-term cuts, they are cuts in name only. They are reductions of a few percentage points off established baseline increases.
It turns out that the liberal rhetoric of balance and shared sacrifice reflects more of the same: a continued unwillingness to budge from higher spending and taxes. "Balance," as employed by the Reid appointees, means just what it has all along: uncontrolled spending funded by higher taxes and more debt. "Shared sacrifice" means higher taxes on the rich alone, not shared by those earning less than $250,000.
Obama, as head of the Democratic Party, is the chief abuser of Kierkegaard's law. Literally everything that the president says has come to suggest its opposite. When Obama insists that you can keep your current health care coverage, it means you cannot. When he promises jobs and more jobs, it means fewer jobs. When he speaks of a "very specific plan" to improve the economy (after he returns from vacationing with millionaires and billionaires), it means he is bluffing. He doesn't have a clue what will be in that very specific plan.
Fortunately, the public is catching on. Obama's approval numbers are plummeting because he has lost all credibility. Like Democrats in general, he has cried wolf once too often, and Americans are no longer even listening.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture and politics.