How easy it is for the Democrat left to fool Republicans, even some conservatives, by foisting their word choices on everybody. A better example would be hard to find than the term “government shutdown” being applied to the state of affairs predicted in the wake of an impasse on the upcoming continuing resolution.
The term “government shutdown” conjures up a vision of a Federal government in its entirety falling into a black hole for who knows how long. Oh, what a cataclysm! Oh, what a ghastly catastrophe! The nation, the world will collapse into total meltdown! Oh! Oh! Oh!
This is, of course, exactly what President Obama and his supporters want us to think. We need only remember his fusillade of lies about the consequences of the sequester to know what to expect times a hundred if Republicans dare to deny him his demands for continued government funding.
The apocalypse scenario is, of course, a big, fat lie. More than that, the term “government shutdown” is literally an oxymoron. A true, full-orbed government shutdown is nothing less than a state of anarchy, which is to say, no government. In the history of “government shutdowns” — yes, there have been lots of them in the last forty years, seventeen in all — not one of them has come anywhere close to such dire straits. It’s worth noting that the term “government shutdown” is found throughout that forty-year history. Who knows who first coined it? I strongly suspect it was a Democrat, since the 94th Congress was overwhelmingly Democrat and the occupant of the White House was a very weak President Gerald Ford when the term first appeared in the public discourse.
It’s not just the Democrat left pushing the “government shutdown” term. Here’s a sampling of conservative commentary on the dreaded “government shutdown,” which shows, among other things, just how divided even respectable conservatives are on this issue. As far back as February 2011, Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute (hat-tip Mark Levin) offered a detailed argument showing that the 1995 “government shutdowns” were in no way the disaster many today are describing, either to the Republican Party or the nation. Charles Krauthammer, on the other hand, has had three pithy words to say about Obamacare defunding that risks “government shutdown”: “This is nuts.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been stirring up a hornets nest for more than six months over the “government shutdown” issue among conservatives and Republicans as well as Democrat leftists. He said in a January 2013 interview with David Gregory, “I’ve helped closed [sic] the government twice. It actually worked. Bill Clinton came in and said, ‘The era of big government’s over,’ after two closings. Not before.” Ramesh Ponnuro, echoing denizens of other public voices of many ideological stripes, thinks that “Gingrich’s spin is just wrong.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, in defending the move by him and a few other senators to attach a defunding of Obamacare to a continuing resolution, had this to say: “I think the term ‘government shutdown’ is a misnomer…it’s actually a partial, temporary shutdown.” Aha, Sen. Cruz comes close, and he certainly deserves mega-kudos for his courage and determination, but we can do better. He is correct in saying that “the term ‘government shutdown’ is a misnomer,” but he fails to provide a substitute nomer and thereby helps to perpetuate the shutdown misnomer in the public debate.
So what do all these and many other public voices have in common? They all cling to the profoundly untruthful and misleading word shutdown.
All except one, the Heritage Foundation. In a March 2011 Research Factsheet, A Slowdown, Not a Shutdown, Heritage points out that:
[T]he term “shutdown” substantially overstates the matter. Even if Congress and the President fail to reach agreement, the most essential services continue, such as: (1) providing for national security, (2) conducting foreign affairs, (3) providing for the continuity of mandatory benefit payments, and (4) protecting life and property. These services include military, law enforcement, VA care, and others. Social Security checks are still mailed.
But Heritage doesn’t just offer us a compelling compendium of truths about what to expect in a “government shutdown;” the authors actually have the audacity to suggest that we call it something different, a “government slowdown.” Slowdown is fine, but I think an even better alternative would be “government retrenchment.” Here’s what one dictionary has to say about the word retrenchment:
1. A cutting down or back; reduction.
2. A curtailment of expenses.
The word is perfect for conservatarian purposes, and the term “government retrenchment,” unlike “shutdown”, is actually truthful as to the real-world consequences we can reasonably expect from an impasse on a continuing resolution. Best of all, “government retrenchment” has the potential to turn the blame table right back on President Obama, right where it belongs. And yes, Sen. Cruz, let’s make that temporary government retrenchment, that’s even better.
So, what is the probability that such a potentially debate-shifting word change could be made to stick. Let’s face it, realistically it’s probably low, especially at this late date. The new term will work only if all the “government shutdown” mutterers, most particularly Republicans in national elective office, can muster the moral fortitude to shout down the Democrat “messaging” bullies.
The problem is not just that shutdown has had almost forty years to become entrenched, although that in itself is a formidable obstacle. Nor is it only that shutdown serves ongoing Democrat propaganda so well. The pathetic truth is that so many national Republican officeholders, including the leadership of both chambers of Congress, have a stake in shutdown as well. By perpetuating shutdown, with its aura of foreboding calamity and disaster, they can continue to justify their own stupid cowardice and their refusal to fight back against the propaganda of the Democrats and their media allies.
Perhaps it’s not too much to hope, however, that a few truthful and courageous people will find a way to begin using new language as a part of the wakeup call to Americans who are listening.