Words Matter

Words do matter. They can be used to praise or hurt. They can be used to lie or to tell the truth. They can be used eloquently, or they can be mumbled. In our youth, we were taught to think before we speak – a lesson most of us chose to ignore.

In February 2008, while campaigning in Wisconsin, then candidate Barack Obama spoke of how words matter. In a speech, applauded by many as his most eloquent to date, he quoted The Declaration of Independence, FDR and Jack Kennedy – none of whom used teleprompters. Unfortunately, when he signed the 2300 page Dodd-Frank bill, he predicted it would “lift our economy,” provide “certainty to everybody” and end “too-big-to-fail banks.”

Two years later, we remain stuck in the slowest recovery in the post-war period. There is no certainty, other than that we are facing a financial cliff, and banks have become bigger and more dangerous than ever. A few weeks ago, the President told entrepreneurs that their success was due to the State, not because of their initiative or the risks they took. YouTube and the internet provide a service in keeping people honest about the words they have used. They can run, but they cannot hide. History cannot be re-written or re-spoken.

What is it about politics that so often takes an intelligent person and turns her brains to mush? When Nancy Pelosi tells people, “trust me, we have to pass it (the healthcare bill) to find what’s in it;” or when the biggest liar of them all, Elizabeth Warren, tells people that she is Cherokee, and she knows it because one of her grandparents had “high cheek bones,” they are insulting the intelligence of the American people. They make jokes of themselves, and Ms. Warren affronted the Cherokee Nation.

Sandy Weill made hundreds of millions of dollars merging Travelers Insurance Company, of which he was then CEO and which owned Salomon Smith Barney, with Citibank to create Citigroup. In doing so, he violated the intent of Glass-Steagall, so he placed calls to Washington to get approval. With the support of a Republican Congress and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, he got President Clinton to sign legislation repealing Glass-Steagall, an event hailed at the time by the New York Times.

Ten years later, Citigroup’s survival depended on taxpayers anteing up billions of dollars, and the bank's subsequent success (if one can call it that) has depended on the Federal Reserve fixing interest rates at extraordinary low levels – again, at a cost that has become the responsibility of taxpayers because of the addition to our national debt, and ultimately will become a cost to be borne by all Americans, in terms of higher inflation. A few days ago, on CNBC, in words that bring new meaning to the word hypocrisy, Mr. Weill told his hosts and audience, “I am suggesting that [big banks] be broken up, so that tax payers will never be at risk.” So, now you tell us, Mr. Weill!

On March 27, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about Syria, and its President, Bashar al-Assad: “There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he is a reformer.” (Senator John Kerry was by far the most frequent visitor to the dictator and killer.) Two days later, Ms. Clinton backpedaled her remarks, but they were out there for all to hear and read.

After removing personal choice from New Yorkers in terms of what size drinks they can buy, Mayor Bloomberg has now taken another step into the netherworld of political idiocy. On CNN’s Big Story with Piers Morgan, in response to the shootings in Aurora, he said: “Well I would take it one step further. I don’t understand why the police officers of this country don’t stand up collectively and say, ‘We’re going on strike. We’re not going to protect you unless you, the public, through your legislature do what’s required to keep us safe’ (i.e. more gun control.) After all, police officers want to go home to their families.”

The Police Code of Conduct, issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, is quite clear in what they state are the fundamental duties of a police officer: “…serving the community, safeguarding lives and property, protecting the innocent, keeping the peace and ensuring the rights of all to liberty, equality and justice.” It says nothing about going on strike if legal weapons are still allowed to be carried by the citizenry. His irresponsible words, along with his disallowance of sugary drinks, help hasten the descent of a culture of responsibility into a miasma of dependency. The Mayor is now pushing back from that statement at a speed that would rival Liam Tancock in the London Olympics, but he said what he said. Words matter.

In regard to encouraging policemen to break the law by going on strike, how much more sensible were the words of then Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts in 1919, when Boston’s police force went on strike: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.” Eleven hundred police officers were fired after four days of strikes and 1574 replacements were hired, mostly out-of-work veterans of World War I. Coolidge added that to trust the public safety to “men who have attempted to destroy it would be irresponsible.” Again, words mattered.

There is no American who uses words more than the President. According to CBS, from inauguration through December 31, 2010, the President spoke 883 times, or about 1.3 speeches per day. Of course, that was before he began campaigning for reelection in early 2011! His words matter.

Daniel Henninger, in a must-read op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, described the two economies competing for America’s future – the public economy and the private one. Mr. Henninger quotes Mr. Obama in a July 9th campaign speech, “What’s holding us back…is a stalemate in this town, in Washington, between two very different views about which direction we should go in as a country.” He is right, and unlike some of his misquotes such as there being 57 states in the union, this time he meant what he said. He wants to take the country in a direction that enriches the public sector, but at the expense of causing the nation to become poorer.

Keep in mind, it is only the private sector that generates the income (tax dollars) that allows the public sector to exist. Government, at 24% of GDP, is the highest it has been since World War II, and is 20% above its average over the past four decades. Putting a governor on the productivity of the private sector (which is the consequence of higher taxes and increased government spending) ultimately harms us all – public and private sector workers alike.

Listen carefully and think about what is being said. Words do matter.


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