Photo by Steve RhodesIn advance of tonight’s State of the Union address, Michael Shear notes that Obama is strategically using the language of business in order to show he is business friendly but in such a way as to maintain constituency support. Shear:
…Obama is using codewords which have long histories, double meanings…and is less fraught with political baggage than the alternatives.
Language not only shapes how people receive what we communicate, it shapes our own thoughts, literally creating what we think of as “common sense”. While Shear argues that Obama is adopting this language tactically as part of a broader strategy to perhaps retake “the center” I am not so sure. The reason why the language of business is less fraught with political baggage than other alternatives is not solely because both parties use the language innocuously. Rather the reason the language of business is less fraught with political baggage is because corporate business language has itself colonized politics. It isn’t a coincidence the first example of the phenomenon Shear sites is in 1981, a year after Ronald Reagan is elected and the first president to fully embrace the neoliberal turn. Not every business benefits from this process, and some sectors benefit far more than others. But to the extent corporate interests and the public interest diverge, the colonization process privileges corporate interests almost every time.
It’ll be interesting to see how he actually deploys the language. But in the contemporary context the best way to make businesses competitive is to cut labor costs, and to cut benefits. Ford recently turned a $2.7 billion profit largely off of cost cuts. Wal-Mart too saw its profits come largely from cost-cutting measures. As more and more Americans are looking for work, looking to save their homes, what costs will Obama be looking to cut?