There is an old saw that if you torture statistics enough, they will tell you whatever you want to hear. Words are like this, too. In the interest of clarity during the current campaign season, here is a brief lexicon of how Democratic officials use words:

cost curve, bending down of. n. phrase. a way on paper to reduce federal spending without actually having to reduce federal spending

draconian. adj. any proposed reduction, however minor, in the long-term growth of federal spending

entitlement. n. a government formula to provide benefits to people who are not otherwise entitled to them

extreme. adj. 1. any political position supported by conservatives

fair share. n. phrase. indefinite number; any number greater than the current top tax rate

gridlock. n. Congressional inactivity caused by Republican obstructionism. See special interest

investment. n. any federal spending, especially any federal spending where an actual economic return cannot possibly be measured

leadership, American. n. phrase. a process in which American leaders reach out to Russia and China, in order to give them a UN Security Council veto over American foreign policy

loophole. n. a provision of law, either deliberate or inadvertent, in which an economic activity has somehow escaped taxation

mandatory spending. n. phrase. spending which Congress pretends cannot be changed by simple passage of a new law

meat ax. n. phrase. any attempt to reduce spending proportionally across the board. Opposed to a scalpel, carefully and thoughtfully crafted spending cuts which will never occur

out years. n. phrase. a mythical future time when politicians do not need to display courage to reduce the federal deficit

shared sacrifice. n. phrase. when some Americans are made to pay more of what is theirs while others receive less of what is given to them for free

special interest. n. phrase. any individual or group which supports Republicans

subsidy, oil company. n. phrase. allowing oil companies to reduce their large tax payments in order to encourage exploration. As opposed to the English word subsidy, meaning a grant of money. See tax expenditure

tax expenditure. n. phrase. an occasion when the federal government allows you to keep a portion of your own money. See Orwell, George. See Kafka, Franz.

waste, fraud and abuse. n. phrase. in Washington, an inside joke; in the rest of America, a lie

Is this too cynical? Is it really possible, as Alice learned from Humpty Dumpty, that elected officials use words to mean whatever they want? That, of course, depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

Jeff Bergner has worked in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. He recently coauthored a book, Branding the Candidate (Praeger), on the 2008 presidential election.

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