A Terminological Exactitude

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Standards of parliamentary civility are maintained in the Mother of them all in London by a convention that excludes the following words from the floor of that House: blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, ignoramus, liar, rat, swine, stoolpigeon, and traitor. Her cousin in Belfast prohibits calling members papish bigots and protestant bigots, to disguise the fact that few of them are anything other than one of the two. So there; Honorable Members can never be so described, without the speaker being severely censured. Churchill, early in his career, wanted to call someone a liar but settled on the substitute phrase "terminological inexactitude" so as to bypass the prohibition--thereby gaining for it an honored place in the language.

One of Mother's wilder children is the US Congress, so one would expect to see members there more raucous and outspoken, but it's not so. Is there catcalling across the aisle? Are there rude interruptions? Groaning, hissing and booing? As often as not a speaker speaks only to the C- SPAN camera, all his colleagues having found better uses for their time than to listen. What a shocker, therefore, when Joe Wilson (R, South Carolina ) interrupted the Prez last week in full flow and shouted, "You lie!"

His immediate apology was graciously accepted and that should have ended the matter, but no, Black Caucus members harrumphed and insisted by an amazing twist of logic that the accusation had been racially motivated, and demanded another apology for disrupting the dignity of Congress. All credit to Joe Wilson for turning them down flat.

What all the media reports of the incident have carefully avoided pointing out is that Mr. Wilson was telling the plain truth, although not much of it--and for the wrong reasons. Of course President Obama was lying; all politicians seldom do anything else but lie. Wilson 's were possibly the two truest words spoken in Congress all year. So the first thing to notice is that if you tell the truth in Congress, you're expected to apologize.

Let's count the lies, in just the few words Obama spoke prior to the interrupt:

"There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."

Yes, there are plenty who claim that. Let's pick a few key words from these three sentences.

1. "Reform." Oops! Lie! (Or rather, terminological inexactitude.) True, in a literal sense any change to anything is a "reform", because it necessarily re-forms it; if you break somebody's nose, you are re-forming him, giving him a different shape. But in most contexts including this one of health care, the word carries the connotation of improvement, not just of re-shaping; and that's where the mendacity makes it entrance. Over a century ago, government prohibited the practice of medicine by any without a license it approved, so limiting competition and causing costs to rise ever since. Again and again government has intervened in the industry, to mandate this and prohibit that, each such intervention boosting the price spiral every time; as I wrote here recently, the very notion of making health care appear cheaper than it is causes demand, and therefore total cost, to rise. So government participation has been an unrelieved disaster, and Obama is proposing more of it; therefore, without a shadow of doubt, his proposals or any variant on them are the very opposite of "reform" and he was lying absolutely, and Joe Wilson was right.

2. "Insure." No, it's not; that's another lie. An insurance contract is about a slight risk of large loss, with a low premium paid each by many so as to prevent any one party being wiped out; and it's a contract, a voluntary and rational way to spread that risk. It became popular among ship owners a few hundred years ago; to lose a ship at sea would be a disaster that might affect any of them--but most probably, it would not. Lloyd's coffee house in London gave birth to the solution. Discussions in today's coffee houses are less creative. Today's health "insurance" charges often impossibly heavy premiums, and pays for risks which are usually minor and very likely to occur; it has turned the concept of insurance exactly upside down. Everyone needs to visit the doctor's office from time to time; all that insurers do is to pay the charge and charge a profit.

How did that madness begin? It did so in the mid-20th Century, when government taxed wages so heavily that employers competed for workers by offering non-taxable benefits instead of cash, including free or subsidized health care. Among other ill effects, that single decision brought about the demise of the then-prosperous US automobile industry half a century later. One of the others is that the coverage is often not portable; if you want to change jobs, you may lose health benefits. There are people today who take a job solely or primarily because it provides them, since individual policies are now prohibitively expensive, when they'd really much rather be home minding the children or building a home-based business. To the extent that that deprives young children of parental care and leaves them to the mercy of the government's youth indoctrination system, the distortion goes on and on.

3. "Illegal" immigrants. The idea that a human being is somehow culpable if he chooses to offer his labor at Point B on the surface of the planet instead of Point A (where he might happen to have been born) is repugnant to the whole idea of self-owning, free human beings. How can such a thing possibly be "illegal"? Yet it often is, so I suppose I must reluctantly concede that here, technically, the President was not actually lying--though he would have been lying if (as he often does) he described this country as a "free" one, while prohibiting such mobility of labor. Yes, government has erected a legal barrier to such movement, and the Constitution allowed it, so don't just blame the modern border Nazis; the concept was in at the birth of this State and the outrage is that it (or the Constitution) should ever be confused with liberty.

Notice, immigrants lacking certain government paperwork are doing no harm; their "illegal" status is a victimless crime, every bit as much as selling pot or sexual favors. They are not forcing anyone to employ them against their will, and if nobody chooses to hire them, they will migrate elsewhere. They are, however - as Anthony Gregory recently pointed out in another forum--being forced to pay for benefits they may not receive, and are therefore subsidizing us, contrary to the fiction that anyone here might be subsidizing them. That such harmless people should be branded as criminals is a lie, even though it's not a lie that they are, in fact, so branded.

4. "Not Apply". President Obama said his health-care changes would not bring benefit to these contributors to the wellbeing of this society, as if that were something to be said in their favor, and of course Joe Wilson agrees with that. For the reasons just stated, I do not. But Obama was lying again, because while some benefits may be denied to them, it's impossible to deny them even the benefits being delivered already by the government-controlled health care industry. If an "illegal" five-year-old breaks an arm and reaches the emergency room, she will have it set regardless of her parent's government paperwork, and very likely without charge. Just recently I had occasion to visit an ER, and saw a notice on the wall to the effect that all there present had a "right" to treatment regardless of our ability to pay. That's another lie, of course, government cannot confer any such "right"--but it can and does force other people to pay for it anyway, in part by denying operating licenses to hospitals that do not treat the penniless. In practice, since they mostly obtain Social Security numbers, driver licenses and government paperwork other than a valid visa, there is no way to stop such immigrants finding free treatment, and the more government manages the operation, the more it will designate such treatment as a "right" and so the less it will be able to charge for it in practice. He knew all that, and so he was lying; Joe Wilson knew it too, and so was correct to call him a liar.

So there we have it: truth-telling in Congress is hazardous to one's reputation, making a terrible system even worse is an improvement, massive theft is redesignated "insurance", offering one's labor for sale is a criminal act, with-holding medical care from the needy is recommended by our nation's President, but when he promises to do so he is lying, and the guy who names the lie must be a racist. Alice , welcome to the wonderland that government built.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"