Douglas Andrews / March 9, 2021

Nice Names Make for Nasty Bills

The Left has become expert at framing bad ideas and bad legislation with sweet-sounding words.

It’s been said many times and across many cultures that those who win the war get to write the history. Similarly, it can also be said that those who win the war of words get to write the legislation.

In recent years, the Left has seemed to embrace this second lesson far better than the Right. Think about it: Hardly a week passes when the Democrats haven’t put forth a sweet-sounding bill that proposes the most radical assortment of ideas.

As W. James Antle III writes in the Washington Examiner, “Congressional Democrats are baking some of their most controversial policy proposals into American-as-apple-pie bill titles as they try to enact a stridently liberal agenda with razor-thin majorities in both houses. The For the People Act, the Equality Act, and even the American Rescue Act are all innocuous or even noble-sounding bills that polarize the deeply divided Congress and also allow Democrats to portray Republicans as opposing truth, justice, and the American way.”

If ever a trio of bill names deserved the title “Orwellian,” it’s these.

The first of them, the For the People Act, is also known as HR 1, and it couldn’t be any more dangerous to the notion of free and fair elections. As the normally reserved John Fund wrote last week, “It is the worst piece of legislation I have even seen in my 40 years reporting from Washington. HR 1 would cement all of the worst changes in election law made in blue states in 2020 and nationalize them. Federal control of elections would be the norm. States would be relegated to colonial outposts that carry out Washington DC’s mandates.”

Our Louis DeBroux offers an excellent assessment of HR 1 here, but suffice it to say, there’s nothing For the People about it.

As for the Equality Act, it gives the impression that its noble purpose is to simply guarantee equal rights for all Americans, including those in the “LGBTQ+” community. But at what cost? Discriminating against people of faith? Allowing biological males to access women’s facilities and forcing our daughters to compete against them in sports? The bill’s provisions turn “equality” on its head.

The American Rescue Act (or Plan) is equally deceptive. As we wrote yesterday, “[Joe Biden says it] ‘puts us on the path to beating the virus,’ which is flat wrong, because we’re already beating it. The vaccine rollout is accelerating, new infections are way down, we’re building up herd immunity, and, as our Nate Jackson pointed out Friday, ‘American businesses hired new workers at an impressive clip in February, adding an expectation-shattering 379,000 jobs.’”

Give the Democrats credit: They can look back through history and see the sort of words that work: Social Security. Affirmative Action. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Affordable Care Act. Women’s Health Protection Act.

How could anyone be against something as sweet-sounding as “social security” or as boldly alliterative as “affirmative action” or as uplifting as “recovery and reinvestment” or as attractive as “affordable care”?

When we think of history’s most destructive little books, Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto comes quickly to mind. But as a leftist primer for waging the war of words and ideas, it’s hard to overestimate the influence in recent years of a 124-page book published in 2004 by former Cal-Berkeley professor of cognitive sciences and linguistics George Lakoff.

His book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, explains how words and messages are framed and how those frames affect the way we see the world. To make his point, he takes the conservative term “tax relief” and explains why it works: “Think of the framing for ‘relief,’” he writes. “For there to be relief, there must be an affliction, an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction and is therefore a hero. And if people try to stop the hero, those people are villains.”

Similarly, think of the issue of abortion and how the Left has utterly abandoned that term. Instead, leftists frame it by using a far more pleasing term: “choice.” After all, who could be against something as freedom-based and commonsensical as choice?

This framing of the debate is the influence of George Lakoff, and it’s everywhere in media and in politics. And we should never let our guard down, nor turn our bovine excrement detectors off.

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