No Weasel Words

It’s been awhile since the language and rhetoric in a presidential campaign has undergone such public and media scrutiny, as this 2016 primary, with the added dimension of portending contested GOP convention in July. A former bureau chief for the Associated Press once cautioned her correspondents of using “weasel words.” Webster defines it this, “words or remarks that are equivocal or deliberately ambiguous or misleading.” For example, rather than stating, “Critics claim that Bill Clinton is a womanizer,” Ron Fornier, Fox News contributor, and columnist for Atlantic magazine, recently wrote a scathing column on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, excoriating both with vituperative invectives, suggest to state unequivocally, “Bill Clinton’s a serial womanizer.” A fact so well documented, only the utterly naïve or politically duped supporter would deny. Fornier worked for the AP, and the Clintons in Arkansas.

GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump has dominated the media and polls with his “non PC” straight talk. His “in-your face rhetoric,” has attracted millions of “little Trump,” minions. His signature attack on Cruz, “Lyin’ Ted,” and misogynist remarks seem to resonate with his base, and recrudescent observers. When attacked, he brags, in his pugilistic style, “I’ll counter punch ten times harder.” Contrastingly, the “anyone but Trump” crowd has called for more civility and “presidential like” language, to end the indecorous conduct. We’ve witnessed how far that strategy advanced the campaign of decent, above the fray, soft spoken Dr. Ben Carson. Shockingly, to many Carson supporters, after suspending his campaign, he jumped on the “Trump wagon.” Overlooking Trump’s provocative language, “setting his hair on fire” approach, and numerous political missteps, Carson posited there are “two Trumps.” Many are still looking for the other. Fearing neither colleague nor foe, Trump’s an equal opportunity offender, spewing vitriol at either. Hillary called him “the donkey of the decade.”

Ignoring history obscures the barbs that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson hurled at each other in their 1796, campaign that’s been labeled as, “America’s first dirty presidential campaign,” in a race to succeed George Washington. A warning label should have been issued, “Hide the ladies and children.” No “weasel words.” This election pitted Vice President John Adams against another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson. This was the first presidential race in America of two political parties: the Federalists, led by Adams and Hamilton, and the opposition, later to be called Republicans, or Democratic Republicans, led by Jefferson and James Madison. At one point, numerous letters were produced and circulated, written by Hamilton, exposing Jefferson’s slave holding.

That incident today would be called “playing the race card.” Jefferson’s supporters accused Adams of being a hermaphrodite, “with neither the force or firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman,” according to research author, Lara Brown, in a 2012, in a column in U.S. New & World Report. Not to be out-done, Adams launched a counter assault, accusing Jefferson of being the son of a half-breed Indian Squaw, and mulatto father. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. In the 1828 campaign, John Quincy Adams, called Andrew Jackson a murderer, his mother a prostitute, and his wife an “adulteress.” Civility 101?

Brown pointed further that in 1876, Democrats accused Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes of two heinous atrocities: shooting his mother, and purloining the pay of dead soldiers while he served as a Union general. No indication of “weasel words.” Most are familiar with the old bromide, “Calling a spade a spade,” extolling one to call something by its right name-use plain, blunt words. There’s certainly a time for directness. Such exchanges may seem to be the exclusive realm of American politics. They’ve no corner-on-the-market.

Those in the Pro-life movement who’re convinced that abortion stops the beating heart of an unborn baby, snuffing out a life, ask why shouldn’t doctors who savagely end that innocent life be labeled murderers? They’ve hamstrung us with “weasel words” because Roe v. Wade is considered “settled law.” The late Dr. George Tiller gained the name of “Tiller the baby killer,” performing thousands of late term abortions in Kansas. Most hotels omit the “13th floor” on elevators due to triskaidekaphobia-renaming it the “mezzanine.“ It’s still the 13th floor. So is murder! Calling it a “woman’s choice” doesn’t alter the facts. No “weasel words.”

The New Testament chronicles a “non-PC” stinging monologue from John the Baptist. Scores from Jerusalem and the district around Jordan, gathered and were being baptized, confessing their sins. He saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism. His address to them, in Matthew 3:7, must’ve shocked their pride. He said publicly, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Ouch! Declaring one’s a “venomous snake” could hardly be interpreted as anything but a stinging rebuke. He curried no favor. We know in today’s vernacular it’s one who’s spiteful or malicious.

Jesus was as direct in Matthew 23:13-33, blistering the scribes and Pharisees, as hypocrites, describing them as “whitewashed tombs.” No good thing’s inside a tomb-full of dead men’s bones. They majored on “outward appearance.” Ostentation. Focusing on façade, and self-indulgence. Jesus majored “on the inward.” In verse 33, he reiterated John the Baptist’s earlier rebuke, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” That’s in stark contrast to the liberal portrayal of “Sweet Milk Toast Jesus.” No glossing over. He spoke unvarnished truth. No “weasel words” in His lexicon.

Consider, in part, C.S. Lewis’s contemporary description of Hell, in his The Screwtape Letters, “We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment…On the surface, manners are normally suave. Rudeness to one’s superiors would obviously be suicidal…Everyone wishes everyone else’s discrediting, demotion and ruin.” Even in Hell, it’s all about self. Eternal things are too vital for sophistry or “weasel words.” No languishing. We’ve a choice. What do you think?

Mike Pyatt’s a resident of Natrona County, WY. His email’s roderickstj@yahoo.com

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