Anyone who wants to study the tricks of propaganda rhetoric has a rich source of examples in the statements of President Barack Obama. On Monday, July 9th, for example, he said that Republicans "believe that prosperity comes from the top down, so that if we spend trillions more on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, that that will somehow unleash jobs and economic growth."
When President Obama boasts of the number of jobs created during his administration, the numbers he cites may be correct, but he doesn't count the other jobs that were lost during his administration. His critics cite the latter. Both can claim to be right because they are talking about different things.
What has been the net effect? During this administration, the proportion of the working age population that has a job has fallen to the lowest level in decades. The official unemployment rate does not count the millions of people who have simply given up looking for a job.
Trying to choose the greatest pitcher of all time is at least as difficult as trying to choose the greatest hitter of all time. In both cases, the best we can do is narrow down the list.
Outside a charmed circle of five batters, no one had both a higher lifetime batting average and a higher lifetime slugging average than any of those five. In alphabetical order, they are Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. There are other batters whose lifetime records came close, including Barry Bonds, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg. But close cannot define the greatest.
Nothing is likely to get an argument started among sports fans faster than attempts to name the all-time greatest in any sport, or even the all-time greatest in a particular aspect of a sport. However, in baseball, we can at least narrow down the list of possibilities — considerably, in fact — when it comes to hitting.
Having taught economics at a number of colleges for a number of years, I especially welcomed a feature article in the June 22nd issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, on how economics courses with the same name can be very different at different colleges. It can also be very different when the course is taught by professors in the same department who have different approaches.
Chief Justice John Roberts probably made as good a case as could be made for upholding the constitutionality of ObamaCare by defining one of its key features as a "tax." Yet what he did was betray his oath to be faithful to the Constitution of the United States. Who he betrayed were the hundreds of millions of Americans — past, present and future — whole generations in the past who have fought and died for a freedom that he has put in jeopardy.
If there were a Hall of Fame for political rhetoric, the phrase "social justice" would deserve a prominent place there. It has the prime virtue of political catchwords: It means many different things to many different people.
Politicians seem to have a special fondness for words that have two very different meanings, so we are likely to hear a lot of these kinds of words this election year.
"Access" is one of those words. Politicians seem to be forever coming to the rescue of people who have been denied "access" to credit, college or whatever.
But what does that mean, concretely?
Since this is an election year, we can expect to hear a lot of words — and the meaning of those words is not always clear. So it may be helpful to have a glossary of political terms.
Such political terms include "fairness," "racism," "compassion," "mean-spirited," "greedy," and "the hungry." What do politicians means by these terms? Why are these terms so useful politically?
Many people may have voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because of his charisma. But anyone familiar with the disastrous track record of charismatic political leaders around the world in the 20th century should have run for the hills when they encountered a politician with charisma.