An exercise in spotting and correcting slanted language

Here's an exercise in spotting intentionally slanted language.  Michelle Malkin, commenting on Republican victories, finds that she must use the most divisive language she can in order to explain them.  I'll highlight four of five places in her opening two paragraphs, but I'm restraining myself:

Do Americans share President Obama's desire to impose redistributive social justice on the well off? In liberal Washington State, of all places, voters gave a definitive answer this Tuesday: No! The resounding rejection of a punitive "Robin Hood" initiative shows that it's not just red-state Republicans who oppose extreme tax hikes on the nation's wealth generators.

As Capitol Hill resumes debate on whether to extend the so-called "Bush tax cuts," the White House should pay special heed to the fate of little-noticed Initiative 1098. Its defeat by a whopping 65-35 margin doesn't bode well for Team Obama's class warriors still clinging bitterly to their soak-the-rich schemes.

Lordy. Would it kill Malkin to even try to lead with a fairly articulated argument before the framing starts? First, it's distributive justice, because it's about justice in the distribution of goods.  To call it "re-distributive" either implies that the current distribution meets standards of justice (it doesn't) or that redistribution, regardless of the current distribution, is counter to justice.  Calling it social justice is conservative double-dipping, as 'social justice' has become a new watchword up there with 'secular humanism,' 'liberalism,' and 'progressive' among conservatives.  Malkin, with this one, is showing she's too eager to talk the talk.

Taxing the rich is taken then to be punitive measures on the nation's wealth generators.  I just don't get it.  How is it a punishment, when their standard of living isn't being drastically effected, and yet their wealth depends on the proper functioning of the rest of the society?  Wealth-generators?  Wealth-generators?  Seriously.  I dare all those so-called Atlases to shrug.  None of these Atlases now-a-days are captains of industry or developers of ideas, as idealized by Ayn Rand and her huffy bunch of crazies.  They're skimmers of cream off banks and their holdings, people who encourage over-worked representatives to push mortgages to people who can't afford them, people who shuffle stock packages to hide debt.  Generators?  Overgrown ticks.

So-called "Bush tax cuts'.  So called… by everybody. Because they were tax cuts.  By President Bush.  Bigger than anything imagined by Reagan.  Mostly for the wealthy.  Shameless.  Better phrase: So-called 'So-called "Bush tax cuts" '.

Soak the rich schemes.  Schemes, indeed.   Schemes dreamed up by scheming schemers who dream of nothing but skimming the cream and reaping the bling of Atlases?  Schemes.  Schemes, as in plans.  Soak the rich, as in requiring those who've benefited the most to give back.   Schemes, oh, please.

The lesson: slanting can be fun, but it's really just an exercise for pretending you've got good arguments for what you're saying.  I wonder if Malkin has any of those?



9 thoughts on “An exercise in spotting and correcting slanted language”

  1. Meh.  I'm not sure I agree with your take on the redistributive/distributive difference.  I mean, goods are in a state of distribution, so changing their state is in fact redistribution.

    But then, I'm really pedantic, so again, meh.

  2. Hi PT,
    I see your point.  A quick diagnosis of the rhetorical issue is that the 're' does some damage to the original usage 'distributive justice'.  Malkin's made two changes: she's called it RE-distributive justice, and she's added 'social'.  My thinking is the phrase 'redistributive' carries with it antecedent connotations that 'distributive' does not – namely, that either the current distribution is fine or that re-distributing would be a worse option.  Literally, most efforts at taxation are RE-distributive, but you know, any commitment to a market economy is about RE-distribution of wealth… it's just what means there are to it.  But that's not what Malkin's saying, is it?  She's saying there'd be something wrong with it, yes?

  3. Seriously?

    This is asinine.  You object to the use of "social" in conjunction with "justice"?  Take it up with the myriad professors that teach the courses of that "discipline" by the same name.  Don't embarrass yourself by whining that Malkin is attempting to tilt a hand that has long been on the table for all to see.
    And distributive justice is not "redistributive"?  Are you so desperate for something to say?  If property is already distributed, and it is taken up and then distributed again, is it not thereby re-distributed?  I don't know why I'm asking this.  If you honestly thought this was a worthwhile thing to say in the first place, then you're likely impervious to the point.
    And the goods are NOT "justly" distributed, you say?  You know… there is some historical precedent for this being a debatable point.  In a little known book called the "The Republic," a guy named Plato takes it up.
    But I suppose you would prefer it be called "The Public."
    Full success dude. 
    Full success.

  4. Hello Nic,
    Welcome to the conversation, and now I hope you are ready for an education.  The first lesson, now slowly,… if you need to, mouth the words as you read them to make sure you understand them …. There is a difference between questions of distributive justice and those of social justice.  Simply: distributive justice has to do with questions of whether there could or should be a bare minimum of resources people have a right to in order to live; social justice is as to what the requirements of justice are for, say, equal treatment under the law.  They are different questions.  I see that you are ignorant of these distinctions because you scarequote the term 'discipline'.  So pleased to have you show up to correct me, Nic.  You are ignorant, but take the tone of someone who knows.  You are a failure, Nic.  You should be ashamed… but I know you aren't.  No matter.  Malkin's usage then is what I called in the post a 'double dipping' on the use of this loaded language.  That's the explanation, and now you might know something.  You are welcome for the lesson. 
    Second lesson.  Questions of distributive justice do not always entail that the current distributions are unjust.  It just turns out that they regularly are.  To term the issue re-distributive, again, puts the emphasis on the RE-, which to many people's ears, makes it sound invasive, and that's not the issue with distributive justice.  It's only an accident of the conclusions that the rich are taxed so that some may live.  Invasive?  Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't, but the issue is justice.  The point is that terming it in this fashion is slanted language.  I know you can see this point, because you're out to defend the RE-.  And, again, all market economies re-distribute wealth.  All.  And the question of distributive justice is what are the just distributions.  You're, again, welcome.
    Third, and finally, I hope your closing point was a joke, as the term 'republic' has nothing to do with doing something again, but is a shortened version of the Latin for 'public thing' or res publica.   Now, assuming your point was a joke, note that Plato's requirement that there be no or limited private property in the Republic was because this prohibition would prevent acquisitiveness, not because it provides the requisite means for all.  Plato's argument for taking private property was totalitarian, but the current liberal argument doesn't depend on any of those premises.  If you would like an education on this relevant to our discussion, I'd suggest that you read a book on politics written after the Enlightenment. But so far, you are a failure.  Full failure, 'dude'.  Full failure.

  5. Grand Master Aikin,
    First, how on earth did you know that I mouth words as I read?  That's incredible.  I do!  It helps me concentrate on what I'm reading!  It is the secret to my success.  In fact, I did it again as I read your recent remarks.  You have me down, cold, Sir.  Nothing gets by you.
    Second, the question of wealth redistribution can (without much harm to language, but with some harm, perhaps, to pedantic, insecure, professional distinction-drawers) be considered a question of social justice.  The latter, you say, is about – among other things – what "equal treatment under the law" consists in.  2nd premise:  Tax laws are laws.  (That one's beyond reproach, eh?)  Thus, it is not by accident that the sets of their advocates largely intersect.  Cooler heads recognize Malkin's innocuous phrasing as a recognition of this point.  It's those others, mentioned (parenthetically) above, that might not.
    Finally, no.  The Re-Public comment was not a joke.  How can you not see that both words share the same prefix?  Just look!  They begin with the same letters, don't they?  Obviously those two letters, in conjunction, must always function in the same way.  It follows as the night the day.  In fact, I don't even see what the joke could be.  Is it funny?  I'd sure like to know if I said something humorous.  And who better to point it out to me then an academic!! 
    You're the best, around, and nothin's gonna ever keep you down.

  6. Hello Nic, welcome back. 
    Despite the fact that you wrote a lot, you said very little.  Sad.  As far as I can see, you're now interpreting *Malkin* to be saying something about social justice, namely: the rich are being taxed at a greater rate than the poor, and this is an issue of social justice, because that demands equal treatment.  Now, this is right about Malkin's piece overall, but this is not what's being said with the words we are talking about, because she's talking about *Obama's* attitudes.  You see, using your preferred terms to describe the other side's views is called slanting.  That's what this post was about. How to recognize it, how to correct it.  Now, if you would like to discuss whether her description was correct, we'd have to establish which side of the debate is correct first.  Since we haven't done that, we should opt for less controversial language, because that distorts the argumentative context.  Again, that's what pointing out slanted language does — clears the decks of distortion.
    Now, given your style, I see you are fond of distortions that favor your views.  That's fine, but that simply means that you are intellectually vicious.  This website is up for people who are interested in improving their capacities to do logic, not people who are happy to be wildly flailing and insulting nincompoops. Good bye, Nic.  Don't come back.

  7. As usual with Malkin it's hard to even see what she's talking about through the haze of loaded language and distorted representations. The tax cuts are set to expire, and Obama advocates continuing them for what we call the middle class. Yet on her account such a proposal is a "soak the rich" proposal and "redistributive social justice." This is simple buffoonery.

    She argues by analogy that the defeat of I-1098 which would for the first time create a state income tax for some citizens is a indicator of the country’s rejection of Obama's proposal to extend some of the tax-cuts.

    Sure there are some similarities between the two, but the dissimilarities seem to significantly outshine the similarities.

    Given that there is national polling that suggests that the nation is pretty evenly split on the Obama proposal with about 50% wanting extensions for everyone and 50% wanting extension only for those earning under 250K, her analogy seems not just weak but undermined by stronger "direct evidence" of the nation's views on the Obama tax cut extensions.

    So in addition to Malkin's silly distorting language, her argument seems likely to be guilty of either hasty generalization or false analogy. I lean towards the latter. I also lean towards the falsity of her conclusion since we have some evidence of its falsity from more reliable and relevant sources (though as polling data it is obviously only inductive)

  8. And one other substantive comment. Am I wrong about this, or isn't it the case that even those who earn in the highest tax brackets receive the same tax cuts on the part of their income that falls below 250K? So even those who make more than 250K will preserve the same tax cuts as those who make less, they just don't get to keep the tax cuts on their income that exceeds the 250K. Everyone gets tax cuts, but some don't get all of the tax cuts that they received for supporting Bush. But everyone is being treated exactly the same under this description, since everyone gets a tax cut on the first 250K of income.

  9. The real question (and distinction) should be, given that a just distribution of goods has been determined, and that distribution does not match the world, should they then be redistributed?
    Colin: I think you are correct about the tax cuts. Those crying that it would be contrary to their interest to jump up a tax bracket, thus discouraging them to work harder, are full of shit.

Comments are closed.