On Doublespeak: Words Are Our New Great Divider

What ever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.– Buddha

It is just a word. A simple one really. It comes from the old French word destreit meaning “straits.” And at one point in time it was synonymous with American ingenuity and prosperity. Now, it has become a strange focal point for two political camps who have now taken semantics into the dark, vile recesses of American political discourse.



How can one word invoke such confusion? Well, if you read all the comments of posters on the left and the right, it is really all about doublespeak. You know, “downsizing” not firing. “Gone to meet their maker” not died. “Detroit” is now in the lexicon of what is is.

On the one hand, the right argues that when Obama said, on 13 October 2012, that “We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt” he meant the city of Detroit. Seems logical to assume that since he did mention Toledo and Chicago later in the address. Here’s a link to some funny right wing comments from The Blaze the home of some right-wing thinking.

However, the left is claiming that the word “Detroit” was a metaphor? parallel? simile? for the auto industry. When the President said “We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt” he meant GM and Chrysler. Here’s a link to Media Matters (“A non-profit progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the media”) on the subject.

So, which is it? Did Obama mean Detroit the city or Detroit the automaker? Well, this is where our media, our politicians, and our own handlers (those people we chose to follow in the media be they movie stars, musicians, athletes, bloggers [yep, like me], or journalists) prefer us to remain, stuck on one word.

Honestly, I can see it both ways. Like I said in my intro, Detroit was synonymous with the auto industry. No, Detroit itself didn’t build cars, but our largest manufactures called it home. And, Detroit is a city. It is a city facing and urban blight, mass-emmigration, and now bankruptcy. I also think this was a clever way for the President to handle the situation. If he came out and said “We will not let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt” he has put the onus on his administration to see to it that those two companies succeed. If they fail, then his opposition has words to damage him with. But by saying “Detroit” he’s created a cleaver doublespeak that leaves him relatively undamaged in the eyes of his constituents (go the to Media Matters link to see that evidence), and gives him leverage in any assault from the opposition.

However, there was a flaw in his speech; a flaw that seems to be going unnoticed by all the message board hounds, bloggers, journalists, and talking heads. If you go back to his speech, it would appear that the President did mean the city of Detroit, and for that matter, every city in America.

More than a million jobs across the country were on the line – and not just auto jobs, but the jobs of teachers, small business owners, and everyone in communities that depend on this great American industry.

“And everyone in communities that depend on this great American industry.” By saving the auto industry with his bailouts, the President was, in turn, saving our communities, our cities, our jobs. Without these secondary jobs where would the tax support for our communities come from? Our communities would go be the way of Stockton, CA, San Bernadino, CA, and now Detroit, MI. Obama wasn’t going to let either GM or Detroit go bankrupt.

This is not to cast Detroit’s bankruptcy at Obama’s doorstep. Detroit needs to own its bankruptcy like it owned being the center of American auto-making for decades. But, the President needs to own his own words, also. Detroit is Detroit. It was an auto-manufacturing city, but it is still just a city. A broke one. (See… more doublespeak!).

No matter. The left will say that Obama meant GM and the right will try to lay Detroit’s bankruptcy at the President’s doorstep. Either way, words are becoming more and more politically divisive each day.

The language of friendship is not words but meanings. –Henry David Thoreau


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