Consider the power of political euphemisms. Giving wealthy families billions is not an “estate tax” cut; it’s a “death tax” cut. Sending more American kids to Iraq is not an “escalation” of the war, but merely a “surge.” Public appropriations are prudent “investments,” not “spending.” Granting preferential treatment to some trading partners is not “most favored nation” status, but rather “permanent normal trade relations.”
Words matter, a lot. When the media adopts the alternative semantics pushed by political PR people, casually engaged citizens, and you know whom you are, often begin to view the issue differently. After all, most of us oppose punishing dead people and escalating unpopular wars, but are staunchly in favor of things being “normal” and making prudent “investments.”
This morning on MPR I woke up to a new one: “haircut.” As in, Governor Pawlenty is going to have to give the appropriations bill a “haircut.”
Note that the Governor is not going to “slash” publicly popular programs in that bill, such as the Central Corridor light-rail, funding for arenas in Duluth and St. Cloud or flood relief for Browns Valley citizens. No, he is merely going to give the overall bill a sensible haircut.
The “haircut” label works for Governor Fee Not Tax on several levels. First, it’s colorful, visual and provocative, which makes it very tempting for reporters desperate to spice up an otherwise tedious story about finances.
Second, it frames the issue perfectly. After all, a haircut is what you do with something that is unkempt and out-of-control. Conservatives often characterize social programs as being hatched by naïve hippy utopian types, and this metaphor works famously on that front as well.
The haircut is also vaguely condescending. Haircuts are what responsible adults give to undisciplined children. Nobody is directly calling legislators children, but it is implied.
Finally, haircuts are temporary, because hair grows back quickly. So, what’s the harm in a little haircut?
While I disagree with the policy behind the term, I admire the PR shrewdness behind it. So, listen to the news over the next few weeks and see if the news media adopts the term in their coverage. If they do, it will trim the Democrat’s chances of winning the debate in Minnesota’s kitchens, break rooms and barber shops.