Obamacare Becoming Battle of Buzzwords

Image: Obamacare Becoming Battle of Buzzwords S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, 27 Dec 2013 07:35 AM

By John Gizzi

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At his news conference last Friday, President Barack Obama three times used the word "problems" to refer to the situation that has developed nationwide with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

But with the number of Americans losing their healthcare coverage in the millions and rising, more than a few White House watchers are beginning to ask why do the president and his top spokesman Jay Carney use such a tame word as "problems" to characterize such a serious situation?

And some are starting to wonder if by characterizing the millions of people losing healthcare coverage as "problems," that the administration is winning the Obamacare "buzzword battle."

The person who could probably answer these questions has been dead for 21 years.

S.I. Hayakawa is best remembered as the two-fisted president of San Francisco State College who faced down student demonstrators in the 1960s and went on to serve as a Republican senator from California from 1977 to 1983.

But before he took those career paths, Dr. Hayakawa earned national renown as America's premier semanticist, a scholar of language and words and how to properly use them.

In his 1968 book "Choose the Right Word," Hayakawa might well have been referring to the present choice of words in describing Obamacare when he wrote of the critical importance of using appropriate language.

"Nothing is so important to clear and accurate expression as the ability to distinguish between words of similar, but not identical, meaning," Hayakawa wrote. "There are occasions in which we have to make choices between transient and transitory, mutual and reciprocal, gaudy and garish, inherent and intrinsic, speculate and ruminate, pinnacle and summit, because in a given context, one is certain to be more appropriate than the other.

"To choose wrongly is to leave the hearer or reader with a fuzzy or mistaken impression."

So "problem" is deployed repeatedly by the president and his spokesman to define a situation in which, according to Fox News, more than 5 million Americans have lost their healthcare coverage since Obamacare's individual mandate took effect October 1.

An American Enterprise Institute study warned that as many as 100 million Americans could be without coverage by next fall because their employer's plans do not meet the standards of Obamacare.

Newsmax spoke to the man closest to Hayakawa and asked what his close friend and longtime boss would say about this word as it is being applied by the White House.

"He would redefine a 'problem' as a 'crisis,'" said Dr. Gene Prat, former business professor at San Francisco State, and top aide to Hayakawa when he was college president and senator. "He would quickly agree that what is going on now is far more than a 'problem.'

"When a physician and his patients do not connect, the crisis is compounded and this could lead to the failure of the entire system. And if one is not sure of the outcome of a situation in which things aren't working, Dr. Hayakawa would say 'stop doing what you're doing and correct it.'

"And if you can't correct it, he would say 'Abandon it.'"

It is not likely that the White House will abandon the word "problem" to describe what is happening in the process of its implementation. But it may well be that those who want it changed should be mindful of the "buzzword battle" and begin calling what is happening with Obamacare a "crisis" instead of a "problem."

As S.I. Hayakawa wrote, "To choose well is to give both illumination and delight."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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