Language is very important–after all, it is how each of us communicates with others. No language = no communication. Spoken and written language are useful because we can use them to communicate highly complex constructs in such a way as to make those ideas approachable by just about everyone who understands the common language. Well, that’s how it ought to work. Peggy Noonan has some useful thoughts on how the rush (on the part of the President’s men and women) toward universal healthcare may well be using big words to confuse those who would otherwise understand:
As she [Sebelius] spoke, I attempted a sort of simultaneous translation, which is what most of us do now when we hear our political figures, translate from their language to ours. “Access health care” must mean “go to the doctor.” But I gave up. Then a thought crossed my mind: Maybe we’re supposed to give up! Maybe we’re supposed to be struck dumb, hypnotized by words and phrases that are aimed not at making things clearer but making them more obscure and impenetrable. Maybe we’re not supposed to understand.
I shouldn’t pick too hard on Ms. Sebelius specifically. Most people in the administration, and many in government, speak as she speaks, and have for many years. In her case there’s reason to believe it’s a quirk. A New York Times profile recently had her recalling with self-deprecating charm the time her child ran a high fever and she caused a bit of confusion by forgetting to say, “We have to go to the hospital!” and announcing instead, “This unsustainable increase in body temperature requires immediate access to a local quality health-care facility!” I made that up, but it was believable, wasn’t it?
“Maybe we are not supposed to understand.” Maybe Ms. Noonan is on to something here. She goes on:
Do members of the administration speak obscurely because they can’t help themselves, or do they speak the way they speak because they really aren’t all that keen to have people understand them? Maybe they calculate that lack of clarity ensures maximum ability to maneuver. But maybe they should think less about maneuvering. They’re not helping the prevailing sense of national anxiety by speaking in a special lingo all their own. After all, it’s not their health-care system they’re reforming, it is America’s. It would be nice if America were allowed to know what exactly the plan is, and how it would work, and who would pay, and how.
I think perhaps the people in the administration speak this way, in part, because that is how they assume professionals in their positions ought to speak. After all, jargon is the province of the “in group” whatever that group may be. I know that jargon is an essential part of my language on a regular basis. One key difference between me and Ms. Sebelius? I’m not an elected or appointed government official who is answerable to the general public.
That aside, there is definitely a component of confusion (perhaps planned) in the information supporting many of the federal government’s recent intrusions, whether we speak of banking, automaking, doctoring or warfighting.
After all, if I (or anyone) says simple things, people might have a clue about what is happening before it happens. That could be downright dangerous. Or, as someone might be saying in a conference room somewhere in the greater DC area right now:
In the event that communciation of non-complex matters is achieved without filtering or obfuscation, members of various political constituencies are more likely to gain knowledge of events before those events have actually been executed in the manner prescribed.