“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
— Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
One of the Left’s most important weapons is its ability to twist language—to change the meanings of words and phrases. The Left dominates the news and entertainment media and the academic world, which gives it a power over language that conservatives, libertarians, and centrists cannot match.
►It’s a particular problem with Constitutional law. For example, some people take the “general welfare” references in the Constitution (the Preamble and Article 1, Section 8) and twist the term’s meaning so that it refers to special (or specific) welfare. (Something done for the general welfare is done for the people as a whole, such as national defense, while special welfare has individually identifiable beneficiaries, such as those who get checks from the government.)
►Another example of how language is twisted: The Constitution gives Congress the power “[t]o regulate Commerce . . . among the several States”—that is, to set the rules for the transfer of goods and services across state lines. But that has been interpreted absurdly to mean that a president and the bureaucracy can intricately restrict a wide variety of human activity even when it doesn’t cross state lines. Thus, Congress=the president and the bureaucracy … regulate=hamstring … interstate=intrastate … commerce=everything people do.
►Pseudoscholars of the law have long claimed that the “militia” referenced in the Second Amendment is the federally funded National Guard, despite the fact that the National Guard “militia” came into existence 111 years after the Second Amendment was ratified. In discussing the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, they also twist the word “regulated,” which, in this context, means trained and maintained (in the sense of armed “regulars”); it does not mean tied up by bureaucratic restrictions, as the Left believes.
►The word “right” may be the political term that is most often misused. A “right” is an aspect of life in which government cannot interfere. For example, I have the rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press to the extent that I can say or publish what I want without government restriction. “Freedom of the Press” doesn’t mean that the government must buy me a printing press, or “Freedom of Religion” that the government must pay for my church.
Sometimes people ask me if I believe that a person has a right to healthcare, and, of course, the answer is yes (under the Ninth Amendment and other parts of the Constitution). But having the right to healthcare doesn’t mean I have the power to make other people pay for my healthcare. It means that the government cannot legitimately interfere in my relationship with a doctor, a hospital, a health insurance provider, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, or a corner drug store. If I want a health insurance plan that covers hair plugs and chiropractic treatment but not birth control or mental health, it is my right to buy such coverage from an insurance company. That is a right that Obamacare and a number of other unconstitutional laws take away from me.
Leftists’ misuse of the term “right” was highlighted during the 2008 presidential campaign when a 2001 Obama radio interview came to the public’s attention. In the interview, then-State Senator Obama complained that the Constitution is a “charter of negative liberties” which “says what the states can’t do to you, what the federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.”
President Obama, who has claimed falsely to have been a Constitutional law professor (he was a lecturer on the subject, not a professor), has worked hard to twist the meaning of “right” so that it applies to things you can take from other people, such as the “right” to birth control at other people’s expense. His 2012 campaign made frequent use of Sandra Fluke, who argued famously for requiring poor people, through their health insurance plans, to pay for rich people’s birth control and sex-change operations.
►Another term is one from the Bible: “my brother’s keeper.” The word “keeper” in the King James Bible means overseer, boss, or master. It often means a benevolent master, but it means master nonetheless. One keeps one’s servant, one’s child, one’s wife (in a patriarchal society), one’s livestock, one’s fields. The keeping never goes in the opposite direction. A “kept” person is subservient. The term “kept woman” does not mean “loved and cared-for woman.” Many people misuse the term, many of them with the best intentions. President Obama openly declares, in speech after speech, that he wants to be “my brother’s keeper” and “my sister’s keeper.” Does he really mean that he wants to be everyone’s overseer?
Well, does he?
►Remember the Bush Doctrine? It was stated in the second Inaugural address of George W. Bush and meant basically that it would be the policy of the United States to promote democracy around the world, even where democracy entailed the risk that elections would be won by people who hate us. (For an example of what can happen, google Egypt + Muslim Brotherhood.) Leftists, however, created their own “Bush Doctrine,” which was that the U.S. claimed it could attack any country that might be seen as a future threat—attack pre-emptively, in other words. One commentator put forth that it was preventive war, not pre-emptive war. Columnist Charles Krauthammer, who may have been the first to use the term (referring to unilateral withdrawal from certain treaties), later listed those meanings and others for “Bush Doctrine.” So the term has always meant different things to different people.
That didn’t stop Charlie Gibson from trying to use the Bush Doctrine to make a fool of Sarah Palin during her vice presidential campaign and, in the process, making a fool of himself. Krauthammer wrote:
There is no single meaning of the Bush doctrine. In fact, there have been four distinct meanings, each one succeeding another over the eight years of this administration — and the one Charlie Gibson cited is not the one in common usage today. It is utterly different.
He asked Palin, “Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?”
She responded, quite sensibly to a question that is ambiguous, “In what respect, Charlie?”
Sensing his “gotcha” moment, Gibson refused to tell her. After making her fish for the answer, Gibson grudgingly explained to the moose-hunting rube that the Bush doctrine “is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense.”
The New York Times reported: “Ms. Palin most visibly stumbled when she was asked by Mr. Gibson if she agreed with the Bush doctrine. Ms. Palin did not seem to know what he was talking about. Mr. Gibson, sounding like an impatient teacher, informed her that it meant the right of ‘anticipatory self-defense.” One can taste the condescension in that description.
►Finally, there’s “American Exceptionalism.” The term refers to the fact that, as the freest country on the planet, the United States for more than two centuries was the beacon of liberty, the nation that all advanced societies sought to emulate, the place where the world’s most talented and hard-working people came so that their talents could bear fruit and they could attain a level of success impossible in backward countries. The Left has long hated the idea of American Exceptionalism, but rather than argue against it, they simply twisted the meaning of the term.
Here’s an example of what the Left thinks of the concept, from Micheal Jean Sullivan of the Huffington Post:
I’ve never understood the concept of “American Exceptionalism.” What is it, exactly, that we are an exception to? It seems to mean, basically, that whatever rules apply to all other countries should not apply to us. No one should have nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons — except us, and we can use them whenever we like. Offensive military action, attacking a country that has not attacked you, is absolutely wrong … except when we do it. Then it’s unquestioningly hunky-dory. No country should interfere with the internal political workings of another country, try to influence its elections, or assassinate its elected leaders without declaring war. Except the United States, which has used all those weapons and more to undermined every government — democratically elected or not — that we cannot profit from. “American Exceptionalism” is simply the belief that internationally recognized rules, morals, and ethics should apply to everyone — except the United States.
Asked if he believes in American Exceptionalism, Mr. Obama once replied: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” That suggests that American Exceptionalism is no more serious that, say, rooting for your high school in a football game because, well, it’s your high school and not the other guy’s high school. (As usual for Obama, in situations ranging from his Palin/lipstick-on-a-pig joke to his “You didn’t build that!” speech to his initial remarks on Benghazi and his claim that “The future does not belong” to critics of Islam, he quickly, deliberately contradicted himself in a way that allowed his followers to claim he didn’t really mean it. Nevertheless, William Galston, who was an advisor to President Clinton, later referred to the comment as Obama’s “dismissal” of American Exceptionalism.)
The President seized on American Exceptionalism as a justification for strikes against the Assad regime in Syria, declaring that, “when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.” He added: “That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.” It was the Left’s definition of American Exceptionalism, mixed with the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) concept popularized by Samantha Power, now the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
The R2P concept is known to the public as “being the World’s Policeman.” So, of course, in the sentences prior to declaring a unity of R2P with the concept of American Exceptionalism, Mr. Obama declared that “America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.” As they say where I come from, he’s both fur it and agin it.
Vladimir Putin, in a New York Times op-ed, proceeded to let us know what he thinks of the Obama version of American Exceptionalism. It’s pretty much the same as the opinion from that Huffington Post writer: that it means the U.S. can stick its nose anywhere it likes. “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” Putin noted. And, of course, he’s right—if one accepts the Left’s idea of American Exceptionalism as “we can do what we want ’cause we’re better than everybody else.”
That’s the problem with twisting the language. Sometimes it twists right back around and bites you.