Many commentators decry the state of political debate complaining about the polarization and the ever increasing gap between the right and the left. They tend to see nothing to be gained as gridlock and harsh discourse is all they are able to see but there are lessons if not in the actual debates, then in the way the arguments and validations are fashioned. Language is probably most defined by the position of the user’s politics more than any dictionary could ever intimate. There are key words whose meaning is in doubt until one realizes whether the user is arguing from the right or the left of the political spectrum. One such word which is brutalized by both sides is equality, especially when applied to the economy and the consequences of the different degrees of wealth as well as opportunity. Where one side using equality it means that the result after everything has been said and done and the government has acted will result in near equality in levels of wealth while the other side defines equality as everybody working in the same system under the same rules on a level playing field thus having the same opportunity and any difference is determined by many factors of which they will stress the extent of effort and natural abilities. One side believes that equality means leveling out the inequities resultant from the disparate outcomes while the other believes that at birth we all start with the same potentials for the most part and any differences result mostly from efforts and being able to grasp opportunities and that government should not be there to take from the successful to give to the less successful.
Another word which has unique definitions is charity. One position is that charity should be left to the individuals or to religious and private organizations and should never be a consideration of government as government enforcing charitable giving through taxes and redistribution is simply a form of theft. The other definition claims that the inequities are too great and that many are too greedy and selfish resulting in the necessity for government to enforce some degree of charity otherwise the needy would end up neglected. The definition of a fair tax is another area of disagreement where one side would claim that a fair tax would levy the same percentage in taxation on every citizen while the other side holds that a fair tax would levy the percentage in such a way that those with more wealth and income would pay at a higher rate while those below a predetermined level of income would be left untaxed. Experiencing the uses of words in the political domain constantly provides examples of how varied and opposing words can be used in supporting opposing ideas and ideals. Probably the most mangled words are those used as the names of the sides in the political arguments. Somebody who is called a liberal no longer means that they are a libertine who believes in individual independence with minimal interference by the governing bodies. A conservative does not necessarily hold views which demand that things remain exactly as they are or desires a return to how they were in the recent past. Those claiming to be independent voters often have a voting record which would rival the most ardent party member of any of the parties and simply claim to be independent in order to avoid having to explain or defend the party which they actually support almost without exception. Another term which has been completely coopted to mean, in many cases, whatever position you desire to support is choice. Those who support the Second Amendment adamantly claim that people should be free to have the choice of whether or not they wish to own a firearm and that as long as the individual accepts all the responsibilities and consequences of carrying a concealed weapon, they should be free to exercise that choice. There is the pro-choice position which most are familiar with where it allows for women to have the option available to terminate a pregnancy. Many libertarians claim that people should be allowed to have the choice to use drugs and claim that the War on Drugs interferes with personal choice and freedoms. Libertarians actually are very liberal when it comes to choice as they support personal independence almost to a fault. The one place where choice is often restricted to the point of absurdity is within the walls of government where they seem determined to pass laws which restrict people’s lives to the point where there will be no opportunity for choice as they will all have been legislated out of existence.
The one place where words are most often twisted and manipulated in order to produce a predetermined and defined desired result is in polls. Many polls which are commissioned by PACs, organizations, political parties and virtually any other source one can determine what the end expected result is simply by inspecting the phrasing of the questions. Politics is a place where words are tortured and polls are where they are executed. Even the time of day chosen to take the samples or the location where the polling is taken also will determine the results. Often polls will use emotional phrases which engender a certain reaction early in the poll in order to skew the rest of the answers to the poll questions. This is not to say that there are no polls which are crafted fairly with great attention paid to using unbiased wording and phrasing and avoiding hot topic words which might skew results, but these types are usually commissioned by businesses and not political entities. Polls can be slanted by having qualifying questions which limit those who are questioned and included in the tabulations, often this is done by age though whether one is employed or regularly votes are other qualifiers often implemented.
The other thing which is often related to polling that is mutilated and twisted in order to portray a particular political position is statistics. As the old saying goes, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Statistics when utilized in politics is the precise science of massaging numbers to produce a predetermined result. One easy to understand example is the wealth gap. If one takes the statistics of those who are in the top ten percent of income earners and those in the bottom ten percent of income earners over a period of years the result will currently show that the income gap is growing significantly. But if instead one takes the people in the initial year who were in the top ten percent and those in the bottom ten percent and followed these individuals over the same time period the income gap will be shown to have shrunk. The reason for the disparity is simple, the people in the top and bottom ten percent change from year to year and those initially in either extreme will both slide towards the median income over time while other people take their place at the extremes. Thus, if one wished to exaggerate the income inequality they would use the first set of statistics while if instead one desires an accurate description of the fluctuations in income and the constant flux with people changing their income potentials as they move through life and their opportunities and conditions change, then the second set of statistics will serve you better. Another way of misrepresenting numbers but not necessarily statistics is by comparing apples to oranges, as the adage states. An example was the claim that Warren Buffet’s secretary paid greater amount in taxes than her boss. There is a very logical reason but the emotional response to this truth is being played for all it is worth when this unequal and unfair comparison was used. The taxes they were referring to were payroll taxes which are levied on one’s salary, not one’s wealth. Where Warren Buffet has great wealth and most of his wealth comes from investments, he thus has little salary per se but has wealth which would be taxed under capital gains while the secretary does have a salary and pays income based taxes but she likely pays negligible if any capital gains taxes compared to her boss. Language, statistics, numbers, emotions and truth all take a back seat in the political arena if not a total vacation. The real lesson is we need to take care and carefully inspect anything we are presented with which has political implications as when politics is in play the truth takes a well-deserved holiday.
Beyond the Cusp