In George Orwell's novel, "1984," Newspeak refers to language designed by a totalitarian regime to control thought and make subversive speech impossible. It destroyed words with prohibited meanings so that heretical thoughts couldn't be expressed. A form of censorship, Newspeak employed euphemisms and words deliberately opposite the reality they described. For example, "joycamp" was the term assigned to forced-labor camps. The "Ministry of Truth" was in actuality an organ of disinformation.
Newspeak was created to institute thought control and thereby exert political control through restrictive changes to the language. The term is now commonly used to refer to attempts to obscure the truth, especially in political rhetoric which abounds with instances of it. For example, President Obama's administration has officially replaced "terrorism" with the phrase "man-caused disasters." Terrorist activity, such as suicide bombings perpetuated by Al Qaeda and other Islamic groups, is now benignly called "anti-Islamic acts." In abortion debates, the taking of a human life is reframed as a "woman's right to choose."
Newspeak usage also crops up in legislation with titles that are the exact opposite of a bill's intent. With ever-shortening American attention spans and media's increasing focus on entertainment news, Newspeak is not simply a fictional danger but a real threat to the practice of democracy in America. Some recent examples include: "The Respect for Marriage Act," "The Employee Free Choice Act," "Internet Freedom Preservation Act," "American Clean Energy and Security Act" and "America's Healthy Future Act." A quick examination of each reveals Newspeak at work.
H.R. 3567 or "The Respect for Marriage Act"
Introduced in Congress last month, this measure would repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act , which makes it clear that states have the right to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. "The Respect for Marriage Act" would redefine marriage to include the union of any two people in a committed relationship, essentially forcing same-sex "marriage" on all states.
This, despite a national Rasmussen poll indicating that 68% of likely voters hold traditional views of the institution of marriage and 67% believe that voters, not activist judges or government bureaucrats, should make decisions defining marriage. A May 2009 Gallup poll found that 48% of Americans felt that allowing legal same-sex marriages would "change our society for the worse." "The Respect for Marriage Act" is anything but. Nothing "respectful" exists about the government repealing existing legal protections of marriage against the wishes of American voters.
The "Employee Free Choice Act" (H.R. 800)
This measure would replace the existing secret ballot elections for union membership with a system in which workers must publicly sign union cards; in effect, no free choice. Under the bill's provisions, once a majority of company employees sign union cards, all the company's workers will be forced to join the union without necessarily having an opportunity to vote on the decision; in effect, no free choice.
Public knowledge of voting results leaves workers vulnerable to harassment and intimidation, thereby eliminating employee ability to choose freely. In addition, the Employee Free Choice Act requires binding arbitration in employment disputes by government officials who have little knowledge of the workings of the business and are unaccountable for the consequences of their rulings. This denies workers the ability to bargain and vote on their employment contracts.
In reality, "free choice" is maintained by the current, secret ballot elections that respect worker privacy and limit union coercion. In actuality, card-checking union preferences strips workers of free choice, while mandatory arbitration robs them of the ability to bargain with their employers.
The "Internet Freedom Preservation Act"
Also referred to as "Net Neutrality," this proposal represents an unprecedented expansion of Internet regulation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the exact opposite of Internet freedom. It would allow the FCC to regulate the speed and pricing of traffic across public and private broadband networks. It would create a bureaucratic structure to control competition and customer service. It would mandate what data companies can or cannot prioritize.
Further, it raises privacy concerns because it will enable the federal government to track users. Consumers have been well-served by an open Internet system in which private sector competition and innovation has nurtured an environment that anyone can use to develop new applications and content. This freedom will be stifled rather than "preserved" with the unbridled expansion of federal government power over the Internet that will be put in place with "Net Neutrality."
The "American Clean Energy and Security Act"
This bill provides no energy security at all for Americans because it would substantially raise energy prices while subsidizing unproven energy sources and taxing reliable energy sources. It is an attempt by the government to force costlier energy options on the public by lavishing substantial tax breaks on so-called renewables. The contention that this bill will improve the environment is a fallacy.
In fact, the American Clean Energy and Security Act will sacrifice economic growth and jobs and actually reduce funding for environmental protectionism. Even believing for a moment that carbon dioxide emissions harm the climate, U.S. consumption changes will pale in comparison to energy use in China, India and other developing countries that will not cut their emissions. Ironically, it is the wealthiest nations that have the cleanest environments. As far as "security" is concerned, a country with a contracted economy with costly or few energy options, is a country less able to defend itself and thereby less secure.
"America's Healthy Future Act"
This "Obamacare" is in essence government-controlled socialized medicine. It will reduce health care availability and increase wait times for medical services. It will harm the health of Americans, exact heavy costs and restrict freedom of choice.
Currently, 74% of U.S. citizens make scheduled doctors appointments within four weeks, compared to only 40% of Canadians with their government-sponsored healthcare. In the United Kingdom's socialized medicine system, breast cancer mortality is 88% higher and prostate cancer mortality is 604% higher than the incidence in the current U.S. system.
Rationing of services, which will directly affect the morbidity and mortality of the elderly, is a central feature of America's Healthy Future Act. With a goal of reducing health spending by 30% over the next two decades, the bill, in its "essential benefits" clause, expressly restricts the amount of money a person may spend on health care and, by extension, on certain interventions. In this way, the government takes control over quality of life and end of life decisions. It is not difficult to see how this bill will result in a less "healthy future" for Americans.
The titles of the above-cited bills are clearly at odds with their intent. The misleading language serves only to muddle their true objectives and befuddle the public. Thus, America seems to be drifting down the slippery slope that Orwell depicted in his fictional totalitarian society in "1984." Clarity of language is critical for sound decision-making and informed voting that are the pillars of our democracy. Deceptive language like "newspeak" is a grave threat to freedom and a sure route to greater government control. George Orwell may have been prescient when he wrote "1984;" he just had the wrong year.