'Precision in language is an expression of accuracy in thought — or, as Orwell put it, “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier to have foolish thoughts.”'
Excellent article, although I had a few quibbles with minor points.
Reading it led on to these thoughts. I leave it up to you whether they pertain to imprecision, or precision! From almost the word go, Mark Steyn noted that Barack Obama was not offering 'Hope and Change', but the same exausted and compromised socialist/big state policies that had been tried across much of the world in the twentieth century. Socialism may be new in America, and to many Americans, especially the young. But most of the ideas incorporated in socialism at least a hundred and fifty years old, and some much older than that.
Virtually the whole Democrat establishment, including large swathes of the old media, cooperated in maintaining the 'Hope and Change' illusions. It was not just the complete absence of tough questions about Obamas policy positions, character or suitability for the most important job in the world. More importantly, it was the uniform presentation of Obama as a Jesus/Buddha figure, above and beyond trivial partisanship, political bickering and the norms of a run for president. This presentation allowed Obama virtually a free run into power. Never has an American president been elected with so little scrutiny.
What did Americans think underlay 'Hope and Change'? What did they think there was hope of? What would change in America? Among the myriad things people imagined, how many imagined what has actually happened? Some intellectual lefties, I imagine, but what percentage of the 68 million people who voted for Obama? A vanishingly small one, I believe.
The terrorising aspect of this process to me was not that Obama came to power promising to solve problems he knew he couldn't, or to take responsibility for things that are outside the powers of even an American president. Those are the normal lies, the normal stock in trade of men and women who want the worlds top job. What is terrifying is that he came to power by promising a completely different set of policies and actions and behaviours to the one he intended to perform while in office. It was a completely and wholly false prospectus.
Looming very large in his speeches Obama promised bipartisanship and healing of the partisan devide- a concern for large parts of the electorate. He constantly promised to look forward and not back. For many millions of non-partisan centrist voters, that was his primary selling point. After the extreme partisanship of the second Clinton term and the second George W Bush term, what they wanted was someone who would truly lead America, not lead Democrats at the expense of Republicans or vice versa. Someone who would take the best ideas from the left and the right and combine them in a way largely acceptable to all. It is a compelling dream. And that is what Obama proffered.
What he knew he was going to do was follow an extremely partisan program which no Republican, not even the most 'moderate' RINO Republican would ever consider helping with. He was going to enact a far-left program which no modestly intelligent, informed non-partisan centrist voter would ever vote for. Not only that, but he was going to constantly insult, provoke, belittle, misrepresent and browbeat his political opponents. Ex-President Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, current Republican congressmen and women, Tea Partiers, Town Hall protesters, FOX news, right-wing talk show hosts and many others have all been subject to this treatment. I'm not talking about insults and provocation from Daily Kos, Code Pink and the lefty big-mouths- but specifically from the Barack Obama White House and the upper tier of the Democrat congress. If I were a moderate centrist non-partisan voter who specifically voted for Obama because I wanted the partisan devide healed, I would be livid.
Obama provided very few meaty policy commitments during his campaign- the core of it were the rather nebulous offerings: unite the country, heal the partisan wounds, treat other countries with respect, re-connect with our allies, maintain the rule of law, re-establish fiscal responsibility. Who could possibly object to that? Nobody. So sixty-eight million people voted for Obama, feeling very secure that this was the American president they wanted. And that warm, positive vibe was largely the work of thousands of American journalists purposely mis-using language to convey the image of Barack Obama as a conventional, mainstream, establishment figure. The idea that outside of a repressive tyrannical regime set up by a cynical oligarchy all the large media outlets would cooperate to promote a completely false prospectus and hide the true intentions and policies of a political candidate never crossed peoples minds.
Seen in that light, the plummeting stock prices of the big old TV networks and newspaper brands are not surprising. Once you discover that your sleepy local newspaper is actual peopled by amoral sharks, it is hard to maintain your loyalty to it. Ditto the network news channel your family have always turned to for sober reportage and analysis. Cf CNN's plummeting ratings. A huge question looms now in America- who can be trusted to tell people what is really going on?
It is a burning question- the 'new media lack' at least two of the necessary ingredients for getting out the news. They mostly don't have full time journalists to dredge up the raw material, and they don't have an established code of ethics. Some of the new media do hold themselves to high standards of evidence and straight reportage, but a huge number don't. So we find ourselves in a situation where large sections of the 'old media' are now the conscious propaganda arms for a particular ideology, and the 'new media' are not in a position to replace them competently.
While the 'old media' have one set of problems, for example their Stalinist monolithic commitment to left policy and personnel, and their tendancy to only employ the like-minded, the 'new media' have almost as grave ones. Many bloggers seem to think that they are doing journalism, when in fact they are simply commenting on news stories. Very few bloggers break new stories, and if they do, it is once a year, or less. Real news organisations have to do that dozens of times a week to justify their existence. Many bloggers are only interested in a very small slice of life- islamist misbehaviour, partisan behaviour or the Obama White House. Real news organisations have to cover the rest of life too, or fail in their overall responsibilities.
What we need is a new 'new media' prepared to take the job seriously- with all the cost, work and effort that that will entail. And a commitment to the founding principles of all proper journalism- objectivity, probity, up-front admission of any bias, and covering all the stories that need covering. As with the Obama election fiasco, it becomes quickly evident the risk that is being run if we don't have proper reporting.