Let’s take a break from all the manufactured hype about the government shutdown (something like 83 percent of it was operating throughout); the alleged whisker-thin avoidance of the catastrophe of default (the government could still have made interest payments, since the debt ceiling simply means it can “only” spend the trillions it already takes in); and the “glitch”-filled rollout of Obamacare.
Let’s wander instead into one of the classrooms of the George Orwell Memorial School of Communication for the latest lesson in how to say something other than what you mean, since what you mean is, uh, well, not getting a very warm reception from the public.
Today’s class comes to us courtesy of the American League of Lobbyists, which will soon, if two-thirds of its 1,200 members approve, drop its defining term – “lobbyists” – and become the Association of Government Relations Professionals.
All very positive words these days, don’t you think? “Association” calls up images of “community,” or maybe “community organizer.” And we all love them, don’t we?
Then “Government,” which as our beloved former community organizer and now president has told us, “is the one thing we all belong to.” Yes, in our “fundamentally transformed” America, the government does not belong to the people. The people belong to the government.
“Relations” is nice, too, bringing up images of family and friendships. And, finally, “Professionals.” Just what we all strive to be – professional.
I wish the former league luck. The group’s president, Monte Ward, told the Washington Post that the change is being made in part because its members, “do lots more than walk the halls of Congress and try to shape legislation.”
Ward claimed that it was also because of what he called the, “misconception that lobbyists are walking around with a pocketful of cash and that’s about it.”
Sure. Lobbyists never promise politicians donations or other “in-kind” support from their clients, do they?
But if they are hoping this will result in any long-term change in the way people perceive lobbyists, I’m afraid they may be disappointed. Even in “1984,” when the government’s war department was called the Ministry of Peace, the citizens living under that tyranny knew what it really was. They just couldn’t talk about it.
The soon-to-be former league certainly has a lot of company – I wouldn’t call it good company – but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of groups or associations out there that have tried to cloak or disguise the reality of what they are or what they do.
Some of them are outright comical. There is an Independent Living Center not far from where I live. Its name is the exact opposite of what it means. It exists for the purpose of assisting people who cannot live independently. I applaud its mission, and I suppose it is relatively harmless to want to pretend the clients are not dependent. But I don’t think anybody is fooled.
Then there is race. I’ve lived long enough to have been told about a half-dozen different terms I should use for those we now call African American. Supposedly, each new label was going to make people perceive them differently and bring an end to discriminatory actions and thinking.
Yet, this past week, in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, advocates for African Americans and other minorities argued passionately that affirmative action (discrimination based on race) is still necessary to “protect minority rights against a white majority.” After lots of different labels, we apparently have the same old problem.
I recall nearly 40 years ago when an earnest mother came into my newspaper office to tell me that a new state law was going to eliminate labeling mentally handicapped children as “retarded,” and to call them “special needs” instead. This, she said, would lead to a new, and more accepting, perception of those children.
If only. It took just a couple of years for me to hear one school child tell another, in a derisive tone, that a classmate who was unable to understand the subjects they were learning was “special needs.” New label – same old perception.
It goes on and on, unfortunately. Does anybody really think that calling someone a senior citizen makes everybody think they aren’t old? What do you think when you hear the phrase, “a woman’s right to choose”? I can tell you what you don’t think. You don’t think of her right to choose to carry a handgun, or to choose to send her child to a charter school. You think of one thing – abortion – because that is what it means.
Those on the left refer to “patriotic millionaires” when what they mean is simply wealthy people who support higher taxes. The obvious implication is that those who dissent on this issue are not patriotic. Remember when those on the left called dissent, “the highest form of patriotism”? Meanwhile, those on the right want us to think that every wealthy person is a “job creator.”
It would be refreshing if those who keep trying to cloak what they mean with a misleading label would work to change those alleged “misconceptions” by changing their own behavior.
If lobbying really is an honorable profession, then make sure everybody knows it by being completely transparent and honorable about your activities.
If lobbyists are simply trying to “educate” members of Congress about the consequences of pending legislation, and there is no money – indirect or otherwise – involved, then their slimy reputation will eventually improve.
Changing their name won’t do it.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.