Apocalyptic Language

The other day, in reference to the President’s recently-offered package of business-stimulus ideas, Senator Orrin Hatch (R – UT) had the following to say: “If we don’t get this moving in the right direction, you guys, your future’s gone, you young people.”

Let’s dismiss immediately the idea that Hatch was being totally literal. While occasional national security hawks will speak of nuclear war and the actual destruction of the United States as an entity, it’s less common for business leaders to mean it when they claim an end to the world as we know it.

Hatch instead seems to be offering a vague warning about the economic effects of the President’s plan as compared to Republican policy. (Or issuing a threat, but we should perhaps dismiss that possibility, as well.)

Let’s begin by unpacking Hatch’s dual dualities. He offers two false choices: first, that there are two directions, one Obamian and one Republican. He implies that Obama’s plans are the wrong direction, and his are the right one. So far, par for the course. No one who sets up a false dichotomy will then go on to claim that their plans are the bad ones.

The next step of Hatch’s formula is a little more complicated. He’s pretty clear that picking Obama’s plan will lead to diminished future prospects. The phrase “your future’s gone” conjure the image of an economic wasteland, populated by out of work, angry teenagers and no hope for revival. It’s apocalyptic.

He doesn’t reveal what picking his future will bring. He might, if pressed, say that his plans will bring about a profound pr-market renaissance, or something, but note that he doesn’t have to. This quote is designed to spur fear, not hope.

This is what I mean when I say that Republicans are the only party with a consistent, well-honed message. They don’t offer details of a future or reasons to vote “R” on your ballot. Instead, they want you to image a World Without America, and tie that future to Democratic policies. They suggest in every area, economic; voting-rights; gun rights; etc., that voting against them will bring about the collapse of all that we love about the United States.

To be fair, I’d like to unpack this description on a policy level. Republican plans, at the moment, center around two major policy drives: a reduction in corporate taxes and cuts to entitlements and educational spending. The argument that they bring to the table is that, with more money and certainty about the future political direction, corporations will feel more comfortable hiring workers, and with growth should come more middle to high wage jobs as growth requires management. With cuts to entitlements should come a government that doesn’t get in the way of small business, allowing businesses at the other end of the spectrum flourish and thrive, also adding to hiring.

Forget for a moment that only new (as opposed to large or small) businesses are shown to significantly impact hiring. I’m not sold on the idea that cutting access to education and the social safety net will really spur enough hiring to offset the risk-shifting that’s occurring. These changes seem to me to be survival-of-the-fittest reforms: those least able to support themselves now will be cut off, and those who already have access to education or health care will continue to be supported.

That doesn’t seem like the future I had in mind. Even if you charitably agree with Hatch that sufficient growth in business will create jobs that don’t require higher education, the overall trajectory of the country requires an educated population, with technical and theoretical knowledge and good communication skills. To me, Hatch’s policies seem pro-growth only in the sense that they will encourage the growth of inequality, with 90% of the returns going to the top 10%.

A two-tier society sounds closer to “your future’s gone” than one that emphasizes access to social goods. For all.

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