May 28th, 2011

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#378 – Dick Bernard: Words

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

This morning a friend of mine came in to the coffee shop about the time I was leaving, sat down at the table next to me and opened to the Opinion Page of the Wall Street Journal for May 28-29 weekend edition. The banner headline was “Word of the Decade” ‘Unsustainable’ “ by Peggy Noonan. A featured photo was Rep. Paul Ryan.

Noonan is a well known writer, former member of the Ronald Reagan administration, and chief speechwriter for George H.W. Bush when he ran for President in 1988.

Earlier, before coming for coffee, I’d read a piece by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, in which certain public ‘facts’ from said Rep. Paul Ryan about medical costs were challenged. That article is here.

The previous Saturday, I heard former U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar, a veteran of 18 terms in the House of Representatives, talk with encyclopedic knowledge about things like Medicare and Social Security. Ryan and Oberstar could as well as have been on different planets.

Into this mess of interpretations of data comes the unsuspecting citizen, not knowing what to believe.

Peggy Noonan, on the conservative side, writes well – she was a Presidential speech writer after all. She knows how to lay out words.

Paul Ryan, another conservative, seems like a nice sincere intelligent young man. Certainly he wouldn’t lie, especially to his younger cohort.

Ezra Klein, a liberal, is a very young but recognized columnist for Washington D.C.’s main newspaper – he’s a young man who has access that the rest of us cannot imagine.

Jim Oberstar, another liberal, knows the real data probably better than any of the others from having lived within the institution that is the Congress for 46 years.

Each of these persons, and everyone else who uses words or images in print or in voice or visual media, seek to make a convincing case that their particular ‘spin’ will become policy.

Of course, policy can be tilted in a direction that will prove anyone’s point. If you wish to make something ‘unsustainable’ – to “starve the beast” as government was once described – you seek policies to make that result happen. You can’t starve someone, and make the victim stronger.

If you believe that certain government policies can be of value, and protected for the long term with relatively minor changes, you seek that result.

There is a war of words going on, and it is the task of the citizen, the voter, to attempt to discern somewhere the truth of the matter, and the protection of his or her best interest. But peoples eyes glaze over at words. “They’re all lying” is too common a mantra.

For the common person, which most of us are, discerning truth can be very difficult because Big Money controls in very substantial part the media of this country. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, is not the champion of the little guy or gal.

So, who’s truth is the truth? Noonan’s? The Wall Street Journal Editorial Pages? Paul Ryan’s? Ezra Klein’s? Jim Oberstar? And on and on and on and on.

Caveat Emptor.

UPDATE: I keep these columns brief on purpose – even the above 513 words (a regular newspaper column is about 600 words) is too long for many people to take time to read, much less to think about. Besides, I’m just an ordinary person: what do I know? (by implication, I know less than the four experts cited above). I beg to differ, but who cares….

But sometimes you need length. And just a few hours after I published the above came this much longer post by a Los Angeles blogger , on essentially the same topic of Words, in this case, focusing on the recent visit on the topic of Israel/Palestine. (I mention the words “Los Angeles” because this makes the blogger seem more important, coming from a bigger city than I. Of course, “Los Angeles” can be spun in different ways as well. Words….)

In this Twitter and Facebook Generation, sparcity of words is most essential.

But this will certainly kill us all, if we don’t begin to think things through.

Consider reading the longer post…and really consider the implications, to you, of official lying.