Democratic Presidential Candidates' Perfect Orwell's Language Manipulation
Seventy-three years ago, in his now classic essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell examined the deceitful nature of political speech in his day. He offered some superb examples of words that mask their actual meaning and of rhetorical devices intended to fool the reader. "In our time," he wrote, "political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible." The imprecision, pretentiousness, and staleness are deliberate, intended to conceal what the writer does not want to admit. His examples, most of them from leftists like Harold Laski, were bad enough, but even Orwell could not have foreseen the nonsense coming from progressives this election season — and it's still early in the game.
Take defenses of the "Green New Deal." Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who popularized the idea (which has been around for a decade or more), doesn't seem to have any comprehension of its cost, or the cost of anything else. When asked about how she would pay for it, her initial response was "tax the rich." The truth is that there aren't that many rich, and under her 70% and up federal tax plan, there soon wouldn't be any. Now she seems to believe that one can simply print money to pay for it all. This radical extension of Modern Monetary Theory would bankrupt the country and render our currency worthless.
Kamala Harris, another master of Orwellian speech, insists that "we have to be practical, but..." The problem is that she never defines what is meant by "practical." It is one of those words (like Obama's "smart" policies, which were invariably dumb) meant to end a conversation rather than open it to reasonable debate. Who can object to "being practical," but is it practical to spend an estimated $3.26 trillion per year on the Medicare for All plan Harris has endorsed? Harris refuses to discuss cost, insisting as she does that health care is a basic right and that destroying private insurance is the best way to deliver it.
Then there is Cory Booker, a speaker who often reverts to the rhetorical device known as "the big stick." When asked about paying for the Green New Deal, Booker responded by raising his voice and barking that "we can have it both ways." By this he implies that there would be no crippling cost to eliminating carbon fuels. Sen. Booker did not explain just how this would work, as if vigorously asserting that having it both ways were the same as doing so. But what is really meant by "having it both ways"?
Is Sen. Booker able to demonstrate, with hard evidence, that the replacement of fossil fuels with green alternatives — wind and solar, universal upgrading of building insulation — is economically feasible? Solar and wind now constitute some 3% of energy production in the U.S. To go from 3% to 60% — the percentage not covered by nuclear and hydro — while at the same time meeting rising energy demands, projected to grow by 40% by 2050, would be a colossal undertaking. It would entail paving the entire state of Arizona in solar panels and constructing a wall of windmills from West Texas to North Dakota. That construction would entail environmental damage far in excess of anything that continued reliance on fossil fuels might do. It would also kill off entire industries, for which millions of workers have been trained.
Progressives have already gone a long way toward killing off the coal industry, in which well paid workers have lost their livelihoods. The idea that a highly trained geologist or petroleum engineer could find employment screwing down rooftop panels at $15 an hour won't be much consolation to workers in the petroleum industry. The oil and gas industry supports 9.8 million jobs, according to API. Under the Green New Deal, all of these workers would be displaced within ten years.
Worst of all, the Green New Deal would remove energy production from the private sector and place it under government control. This expansion of government power over its citizens is the true intent of the Green New Deal and of every other progressive initiative. The oil and gas sector constitutes 8% of the U.S. economy. Eliminating this sector and shifting to government-controlled green power has been a longstanding aspiration of the left, along with socialized medicine and centralized control of education. Now, in an extremely divisive political atmosphere, progressives see an opportunity to make their dreams come true.
But politicians like Harris, Booker, and Ocasio-Cortez blithely pass over the human damage their plans would cause — just as when Hillary smugly pronounced that she intended "to put a lot of coalminers ... out of business." Their vague pronouncements mask the reality of the Green New Deal: jobs lost, savings devalued, and an economic collapse worse than that of the original New Deal. They would accomplish their ends through the use of force.
The politicians' responses to these issues are so absurdly crude and callous that even Orwell couldn't have imagined them. They resemble something out of Lewis Carroll. An all-time low temperature set this winter for the state of Minnesota is taken as evidence of global warming, and if you disagree, chop off your head.
I'm not suggesting that progressives are actually threatening to chop off the heads of their opponents — not yet — but that is both their birthright, going back to the French Revolution, and their apparent direction. Their speech is full of extremist expressions, and their actions, like the recent attack on a Berkeley conservative, are increasingly violent.
Underlying all of their proposals, including the Green New Deal, is the threat of expropriation. Progressive thought always rests on the idea that those who possess more, even as a result of hard work and sacrifice, are wrongdoers whose wealth should be confiscated, ostensibly for the benefit of "the people" but actually for the benefit of the ruling elite.
Their wealth is never subject to confiscation. With a net worth of $3 million, Cory Booker apparently donated an average of only $10,714 annually to charity over the past 14 years (while claiming that he donated "hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars"). Yet his 2017 book United speaks of "advancing the common good." Is Sen. Booker advancing the common good or his own good?
Whether the response is bullying or a refusal to answer, progressives' use of language is not intelligent or reasonable. It's the kind of deceit one would expect from authoritarians, and the crucial fact about progressives is that they are authoritarians. They believe in advancing their causes by the use of force — and their causes always advance their own ambitions.
Like Maduro pronouncing that his country needs no aid and backing it up with troops at the border, progressives rely on intimidation rather than reason. Like FDR calling it the "New Deal" and seeing his policies extend what should have been a sharp but brief recession into the longest depression in American history, their slogans mask their true intentions.
We had one New Deal; we don't need another. And we don't need a president who will crush the energy industry and eliminate private health insurance while pretending she is saving the Earth from catastrophe. The real catastrophe would be seeing one of these hardline socialists get elected.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).