In “Politics and the English Language”, Eric Arthur Blair, aka George Orwell, wrote that “. . . one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Yet it goes even deeper than that. As Orwell showed in his novel “1984”, language control is thought control. Change the language and you can short-circuit and circumvent rational discourse. Ideology can be imposed via lexical manipulation. From nutty campus speech codes and verboten “trigger” words to the cunningly crafted political language used by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, et. al., the left has taken “1984” as its operations manual. This is particularly true for policy positions that are widely unpopular with the American public.
Consider the left’s now standard language on abortion. While the majority of Americans continue to believe that abortion should be legal in the first trimester, public opinion has been drifting more and more pro-life. Solid majorities oppose abortion in the second and third trimester. Late term abortion is hugely unpopular, as is taxpayer funding of abortions. Furthermore, abortion itself is not seen as something positive. You are, after all, killing the human being growing in the womb. The public’s views on abortion are quite opposed to the Democrats’ committed platform of unhindered access to abortion at any stage of pregnancy, and taxpayer funding if they can get it.
The Democrats’ strategy to overcome public opinion is to avoid debating the principle clearly in question, namely, the moral status of the human being in the womb. Any principled debate on abortion should begin here. Why is it morally permissible to kill human life at its early stages of development? What makes a six week old fetus different, morally, substantially, from that of a one week old baby? Do they not both have beating hearts? If you prick them, do they not bleed? One might strive to make the argument that a fetus with a beating heart, and fingers it likes to suck on as it flips and turns in the womb, is nothing other than a mass of inhuman, dead tissue. But this is a losing argument, to be sure. Instead, the Democrats’ strategy is to change the language around abortion in order to circumvent and deny that any such principle even exists. You will almost never hear them use the word “abortion”. “Abortion” has been replaced with “women’s healthcare choices”, or simply “women’s healthcare”. Whenever a pro-life argument is made about protecting life in the womb, the response is nearly robotic: the government should not interfere with women’s healthcare choices.
The words “healthcare” and “choice” evoke positive emotional responses. Who can be against healthcare and choice? Grotesquely, the words also conceal and conflate a morally repugnant concept with a positive one: killing a child in the womb with healing. “Healthcare” means, to most rational people, something that cures or treats an illness or wound. The Democrats’ hope is that the intentional killing of a baby in the womb will come to be seen by the American public as a form of healing. The final genius of this language is that if healthcare should be subsidized by taxpayers, and abortion is healthcare, viola! Mission accomplished. Taxpayer funding of abortion at all stages of pregnancy. Why bother debating principles when so much can be achieved via language manipulation? Thus have the Democrats made murder respectable.
Other examples abound. For example, the noun “illegal immigrant” is no longer in the Democratic lexicon. It has been replaced with either the generic “immigrant” or “undocumented worker”. Again, this verbal legerdemain is intentionally designed to avoid debate on the principle in question and conceal a negative concept with a positive one. The reason for this is because, like abortion, the Democrats’ immigration policies of more open borders and amnesty are unpopular with the American public. Most Americans believe that secure national borders are a good thing, and that if someone wants to immigrate to America, they should do so legally. By substituting “immigrant” or “undocumented worker” for “illegal immigrant” the Democrats avoid uttering the word “illegal”. It thus circumvents the essence of the opposing argument, namely, that these people are breaking the law. Furthermore, by attacking their opponents as being against “immigrants”, the Democrats intentionally misrepresent their opponent’s position as being against what most people see as a good thing, “legal immigration”. It also paints a veneer of racism and xenophobia for good measure. Finally, the use of the word “undocumented” creates an illusion of legal neutrality. Being “undocumented” sounds much better than being “illegal”.
The Democrats skillfully deploy euphemism when they are defending unpopular policy positions. I have no doubt that somebody paid a lot of money for poll testing specific language usage on these topics. The task of their opponents is to demand clarity in political debates and not let them get away with avoiding the principles in question. Demand they speak the words they dare not utter.
Arman Partamian is an attorney and former CIA officer. He received his M.A. from the University of Chicago and his J.D. from American University.