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{Colorado Springs Gazette, 2012-10-04}

“When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean …” Humpty Dumpty can afford to think that way; he’s a fictional character. Unfortunately, politicians aren’t. Real politicians pass real laws with real consequences for America.

Those consequences are seldom what we expect, because politicians of both parties use words we think mean one thing but describe something very different. This is called “lying”. We shouldn’t stand for it.

Take for example the word “earn”. When you and I earn something, we chose to do something someone else valued, and in we got something as a result. It’s an honorable idea. Many things, like respect, recognition, and a living, are meaningful only when earned.

But ads for this election cycle insist that any program people pay taxes into is an “earned” benefit. That’s complete hogwash. Paying taxes is not a choice; we didn’t do anything we didn’t have to. The only connection between what you pay in taxes and what you get out in benefits, is determined entirely by the political process. More often than not, it’s completely disconnected from reality.

None of us have “earned” our Social Security or Medicare benefits. The law says we put money in, and the law says we get money out. That’s not earning. It’s something else.

Ditto with the phrase “trust fund”. When you and I talk about a trust fund, we mean an actual account with actual money in it. That’s what it means for funds to be placed “in trust”: They are placed in the hands of someone we trust to look after the future interests of someone else.

But for defenders of the entitlement state, “trust fund” means something completely different. Most defenders of the Social Security status quo will speak of the system’s “trust fund”. That makes us think of actual money being saved for the future. Bzzzt, wrong answer. The “trust fund” is actually a pile of government bonds. That’s the only thing Social Security surpluses can be used for.

But government bonds are simply promises to pay in the future; a claim on the U.S. Treasury those who purchase them can make later. They’re just a pile of IOUs to future generations. To call that a “trust fund” is pernicious and wrong.

Or consider the word “defense”. When you and I talk about defending something, we mean using it to oppose an offense, to protect something from harm. We defend our homes from intruders, our children with our lives.

But only a tiny fraction of the “defense” budget protects America from threats. The rest goes to security guarantees to other nations, nation building, and the projection of American power. We spend more on “defense” than the next ten wealthiest countries combined. Is America really ten times harder to “defend” than everybody else? Let’s call defense spending what it really is. It’s military spending.

But my favorite Orwellian Humpty-Dumptyism is “cut”, as in “budget cut” or “spending cut”. When you and I talk about having to cut something, it mean we have to make it smaller. A 10 percent cut from a $100 entertainment budget means you’ve now got $90. Everybody got that?

Not if you’re in Washington. There everyone assumes a starting baseline of increased spending, typically around 4 percent. When Democrats talk about “cuts”, they’re proposing to reduce the rate of increase to, say, 3 percent, which becomes a 25 percent “cut”. Only in Washington does “cut” mean “smaller rate of increase”.

But that’s not right. To say otherwise is lying.

Don’t let them get away with it. When you catch a politician trying to change the definition of a word (or a newspaper columnist, we who trade in words should fight much harder for their integrity), call them on it. Fight back: Don’t let truth be a casualty of politics.

Tell them to stop lying and call things what they are. Not what Humpty Dumpty pretends them to be.