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October 29, 2008


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Something interesting I found on the Volokh Conspiracy, not exactly known for its liberal-leaning views:

---It's true that most Americans, when asked by pollsters, think that it's emphatically not the government's job to redistribute wealth. But are people so stupid as to not recognize that when politicians talk about a "right to health care," or "equalizing educational opportunities," or "making the rich pay a fair share of taxes," or "ensuring that all Americans have the means to go to college," and so forth and so on, that they are advocating the redistribution of wealth? Is it okay for a politician to talk about the redistribution of wealth only so long as you don't actually use phrases such as "redistribution" or "spreading the wealth," in which case he suddenly becomes "socialist"? If so, then American political discourse, which I never thought to be especially elevated, is in even a worse state than I thought.---


As an aside, my impression is that the posters and commenters on the Volok site have a generally respectful attitude toward Obama's constitutional-law chops.

A topic for a future post might be how "above my pay grade" suddenly came into vogue. I know that Obama used it in a less-than-stellar answer to Rick Warren in the Saddleback church debate.

Did it get picked up by the Republican party at that point and then jump into common parlance? Or am I wrong and it's always been used and I just never noticed it before?

What's been identified as "code-switching" linguistically is really nothing more than scare tactics made accectable by using apparently harmless words. For example, everyone knows that it's illegal and dangerous to scream "fire" to cause a panic. Getting the same result by screaming "hot" is basically what is being done. It would be illegal to cause a panic by saying," he is a terrorist", but you can get the same result by legally saying, "paling around with". I still cringe when I think of Bush's call to a holy war (answered by millions of normally practical people, including McCain and Clinton) by using the phrase " axis of evil" completely uncalled and unchecked. Suddenly it didn't matter about the details, such as the existance of mass destruction weapons.It became a "good" war fighting against "evil". Young men and women are becoming "heros" by fighting in that war. We are all still fighting against "evil" without protest while the rest of the world cringes. Who will be next? Who is paling around with the axis of evil? No one complains. Code-switching incites people to act without thinking.

@Mike: Thanks for that Volokh link. As George Lakoff likes to say, it's all in the framing.

@Martin: "Above my pay grade" originated in the military and drifted into civilian use. I actually admired Obama's use of the term; I took it to mean that only the Commander-in-Chief-in-the-Sky knows where life begins; it's presumptuous for a mere mortal to make such judgments.

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