When Alice went through the looking glass she met a giant egg named Humpty Dumpty. After a brief discussion of their names, and what their names must mean, Humpty Dumpty informed Alice that “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
Conservatives call Obamacare “socialism.” The main component of Obamacare is the health care exchange, which is a web site where consumers can select insurance policies offered by a group of private insurance providers. The health care exchange is a marketplace of private insurance policies, and was developed as a conservative idea based on free market principles. Socialism began as the idea that the government controls the means of production, but has morphed into the idea that the government provides services once provided by private enterprise. Many countries have a national health service where the government runs hospitals, and therefore provides health services. That’s socialized medicine. A government website for private health insurance is little different than a city government providing a place for a farmers market. The fact that the Lexington Farmers’ market takes place at the city owned Cheapside Park doesn’t make it a socialist endeavor, any more than “Obamacare” is socialized medicine.
Many Republicans, including Representative Andy Barr, said that it was President Obama that shut down the government. This runs directly counter to recent history, which must be known to anyone who pays attention to the news. Conservative Republicans, led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, said for months that they could extract concessions from President Obama by tying changes to the Affordable Care Act to the fight over funding the government. They explicitly talked about shutting down the government months ago. And then when it happened they blamed Obama. “We’ll shut down the government” became “he shut down the government.” Not only is that supreme chutzpah, it also makes mush of words.
The health care exchanges under Obamacare went live on October 1. On October 3 Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul published an Opinion piece in the Kentucky business magazine the Lane Report, with the headline, “Kentuckians Not Buying Obamacare.” In the on-line version of the Lane Report the very next headline read: “Kentuckians file nearly 11,000 applications for health care coverage on kynect.” Kynect, in case you don’t know, is the Kentucky exchange set up under Obamacare. How does thousands buying coverage become “not buying”?
It seems pretty clear that Republicans’ words have no relationship to reality.
Imagine trying to live in a world where words have no fixed meaning. But we don’t have to imagine. We live in a world where the free market health care exchange is socialism, where “we’ll do it” become “he did it,” and where “not buying” means that thousands are buying. Buying is not buying, capitalism is socialism, up is down, black is white. As Alice said, it gets “curiouser and curiouser.”
But it’s not just amusing. There are serious problems when words lose their meaning. How can you agree on anything when the words you use have no fixed meaning? Precise definition of words is the foundation of the law, of contracts, and of most business relations. And, as many conservatives will tell you, a world where rules and values are subject to varying meanings is a dangerous world indeed. Conservatives often complain about moral relativism, or the idea that moral values have no fixed meaning but are relative to the situation or the person. How can values be absolute when the words that define those values are changeable? They can’t be.
Is it possible that Representative Barr and Senators McConnell and Paul are relativists? Anything is possible when you go through the looking glass into a world where capitalism is socialism, where black is white, and where right is wrong.