Political Euphemisms

November 9, 2015

By State Senator Joe Markley

Acerbic comedian and commentator George Carlin hated euphemisms, believing they weaken language and muddle discourse. He used Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as an example—an eight-syllable phrase so unwieldy it became an acronym: PTSD.

The affliction now known as PTSD was originally called Shell Shock. Coined in World War I, these two alliterative syllables perfectly communicated the cause, nature, and severity of the diagnosis. During World War II, Shell Shock became Battle Fatigue; in Vietnam, Battle Fatigue got dumped for PTSD.

Those four letters are so ill-defined that now they can apply to car crash survivors as well as tortured prisoners of war. Frankly, I wonder if our veterans would get better treatment if they had Shell Shock instead of PTSD, which I’m afraid is just one more of the thousands of acronyms now clogging our language.

Most euphemisms are political, and liberals are especially addicted to them. A few familiar examples: gun control is gun safety; government spending is investment; tax increases are revenue enhancements; illegal aliens are undocumented immigrants; and prisons are correctional facilities.

Physician-assisted suicide is an important issue on which reasonable people disagree, but the debate will be more illuminating if the terms are honest. If we are uncomfortable with the act of suicide, changing the word for it doesn’t solve the problem, but in fact obscures it. Yet that is what advocates attempt when they discuss “aid in dying” as an “end-of-life-choice.”

Fortunately, most political euphemisms are easy to see through. When Dan Malloy touts “gun safety,” he is clearly not referring to the button on your shotgun. But one particular word has puzzled me for a while: “progressive.”

Many on the left began calling themselves progressives after the 1988 presidential election when George H.W. Bush turned the word “liberal” into a pejorative. But “liberal” and “progressive” have never been synonyms, and still are not.

Progressives in the early 20th century embraced causes from both the left and the right sides of the spectrum. The movement was unusually successful, achieving such goals as women’s suffrage, direct election of U.S. senators, federal oversight of food and drug safety, and even the prohibition of alcohol by constitutional amendment.

After watching the recent Democrat presidential debates, it is clear that the term progressive have become a euphemism for socialist.

There have always been socialists within the Democratic Party. President Johnson once quipped, “No member of our generation who wasn’t a Communist or a dropout in the thirties is worth a damn.” But the closet socialists who favored using the state to redistribute wealth were drowned out by more moderate democrats, who simply believed in a very generous welfare state.

Now it seems that the socialists have taken over under the banner of progressivism. They want to take from the rich because they are rich. You don’t need to listen to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to hear this; the same argument is made at our state capitol. Last session, progressive Democrats passed a complicated bill to funnel car taxes from the suburbs to the cities. When asked to justify the bill, its proponents said it was “fair.”

I’m afraid that’s another euphemism. Here’s my advice: If a progressive tells you something is fair, hold onto your wallet!