Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Political Speak: American Politics and the Break Down of Communication

Today’s world of 24-hour news has forced politicians to be hyper aware of the language that they use. This extreme sensitivity to language has led to the development of a complex form of dialogue widely known as Doublespeak. The development of this dialogue has paradoxically fractured the foundation of communication; which is the bedrock of an open society. And, consequently political parties use this new form of dialogue to misrepresent events, and in some cases change the meaning of existing words altogether.
The word Doublespeak, which was coined in the early 1950s, is often attributed to George Orwell’s novel 1984. Although, he never used the term, he did, introduce the use of –speak as a suffix. The characters in 1984 did use a unique language called Newspeak that resembled some of the philosophy of doublespeak. An example of Orwell’s newspeak is that in the book the Ministry of Peace is actually in charge of war. Like doublespeak, newspeak is not simply a language to be spoken; but it should be ultimately believed by those who use it,
“deliberately constructed for political purposes:
words, that is to say, which not only had in every
case a political implication, but were intended to
impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person
using them.”
-George Orwell 1984

Like Orwell’s newspeak, doublespeak is so carefully constructed to mislead or deceive that it essentially ceases to function as a social language,
“Doublespeak is insidious because it
can infect and eventually destroy the function
of language, which is communication
between people and social groups.”
-William Lutz

This destruction of language then breaks down the function ability of an open society based on the debate of public issues. As this happens parties involved become preoccupied with saving face to prevent the despotic cycle of government from occurring. They then compensate by using more doublespeak to reaffirm their commitment to the reestablishment of the public trust while neglecting important issues of national policy. Senator Susan Collins recently highlighted this trend after new lobbying legislation was passed in the Senate,
“We cannot tackle the big issues facing our
country if the public does not trust us to
act in the public interest.”

When there is a break down like this, in the foundation if communication, there is an inherent growth of mistrust between the people and those meant to represent them. This mistrust and the over use of doublespeak can have a negative impact on the iconic language most utilized by political parties. Because these words no longer have a fixed definition they, they cease to have a discernable meaning. Words like Freedom, Peace, Democracy, and Patriotism become casualties of this language of deception.
Doublespeak is most often a tool used by the majority party, usually to down play an event or statement that could have a negative impact or the party or its members. This can be seen in the contemporary use of phrases like “collateral damage,” rather than saying civilian casualty, by the military and politicians. Both parties tend to engage in the use of this form of dialogue, and its usage usually increases in an election year. In the 2004 Presidential election candidates even came up with a new word for doublespeak. They instead used the word “waffling” to describe an opponent, who tries to appeal to as many voters as possible by appearing to be on both sides of an issue. We can even see this now as our nation approaches a mid-term election year. Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean recently stated, “... Americans committed to changing the status quo this year;” this statement however ignores the fact that, according to the Democratic Party’s official website, the Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the world. During the election cycle there is typically a back and forth exchange of doublespeak; as well as, accusations of engaging in the use of doublespeak from both parties. Too often though parties and politicians use the complexity of doublespeak as a form of rhetoric, to confuse their audience.
“Our aim is to build and preserve a community
of free and independent nations, with
governments that answer to their citizens and
reflect their own cultures.

And because democracies respect their own
people and their neighbors, the advance of
freedom will lead to peace.”
-President George W. Bush

In order for contradictions to exist within American domestic and foreign policy, doublespeak is used as an affective means of concealment. This can be seen by our open support of the establishment of Democracies around the world; while at same time our government shuns governments, elected by their people, that we disagree with. Under the guise of National Security both parties have interfered in the internal affairs of foreign nations, in order to replace these governments with a government that supports our needs. A couple of examples of this would be the House of Saud monarchs of Saudi Arabia, and the so-called Presidency of Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf who, despite opposition from their people, have supported the United States’ War on Terror while severely limiting the civil rights of their citizens.
Although political parties and their members are not the groups that utilize doublespeak , the impact of our national leaders using a language designed to mislead is counterproductive to the foundations of our government. Their willingness to engage in this type of dialogue in an effort to intentionally deceive their fellow citizens has directly led to a growing mistrust of elected officials.
There is no clear solution to rebuilding the trust lost as a result of the usage of doublespeak, but it is apparent that the people must demand that their representatives openly discuss the social realities of our nation in order to prevent a further disillusionment. Only when this is done can we evaluate the damage caused by doublespeak, and begin to try to rebuild our trust in our government.
“I draw my idea of the form of government
from a principle in nature, which no art can
overturn, viz. that the more simple any thing
is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and
the easier repaired when disordered.”
-Thomas Paine, Common Sense

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