Did you follow the news on Budget Director Mulvaney’s testimony before Congress yesterday? You’d have thought he committed murder before Democrats very eyes. Words were thrown around willy-nilly; words like “betrayal,” “inhumane,” “cruel” and “immoral.” Response to such rhetoric really deserves essay length discussion, but I just want to make two quick points.
Point One – those are powerful words, very powerful. That’s why they are being used. But in point of fact using them in this context only weakens them. For one thing those words are absolutes and at best the budget debate is one of degree, and I think it is safe to say that about any budget proposal any president has ever made. Thus the words are cheapened simply by context. This is also an attempt to more-or-less redefine those words. This is about money which is a morally neutral thing. The use of money has moral consequences, but not money itself. When you add or expand the meaning of words they become less powerful simply by virtue of the confusion related to the broad application of the word. A bullet to the heart is very powerful and generally deadly, but a shotgun loaded with bird shot is often survivable. Words like these should be reserved for bullet-like use, but they are trying to turn them into shotgun blasts.
Finally on this point when you apply words that have been applied to some of the most heinous acts in human history to a budget debate, not only do you cheapen the words, you evidence a moral confusion that is actually frightening. Is a federal government budget really anything like chattel slavery or genocide? I mean seriously. This is the argumentation of children, “Mommy, brother tried to KILL me when he threw the basketball at me sooo hard.” PUH-LEAZE!
Which brings me to my second point. The pervasive use of such language over the last 36 hours from multiple sources evidences amazing message discipline on the part of the administration’s opponents. Clearly the talking points memo was widely distributed, thoroughly read, and slavishly followed. This is both a good and a bad thing.