Labor Day Reflections on the Language of Politics

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A word or a phrase can become the rallying cry for a generation or a political movement.

By the late 1960s the word “Vietnam” signified much more than that Southeast Asian nation – it stood for the war that brought about a sea change in how many Americans view (or mistrust) our political and military leaders.

The right has lately used the word “union” as code for much that is wrong with our country. The trouble with public education? The answer comes quickly, and the tone is pejorative: “The teachers’ union.” (Although a Democrat, my personal opinion is that the teachers’ unions should demonstrate more flexibility on some of their stances.)

Speaking of unions, an email arrived on Labor Day afternoon from Henry Vandermeir, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, in which he recalled “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of this country.”

He pointed out that even those who don’t belong to a union are likely enjoying the benefits of “their hard-fought wins on behalf of all workers in this country.”

Among those advances are lunch breaks, sick leave, maternity leave, paid vacations and holidays, Social Security, Medicare, and the minimum wage. I support Vandermeir’s conclusion:

“That’s why Democrats stand with our brothers and sisters in Labor. We share the belief that every worker deserves a job that pays a living wage and that no one who works full-time should have to live or raise a family in poverty. It’s time that Americans recognize and appreciate the work that unions have done – and continue to do – on their behalf instead of villainizing them for standing up to corporations that continue to whittle away at workers’ rights.”

So I look askance at the conservative sport of taking words like “union” and attempting to poison their full meaning. Locally we have some fairly breathtaking examples of how words can be manipulated politically: Take last year’s tempestuous attacks on the “dock tax.” To utter the word “tax” in certain circles is to guarantee a visceral reaction, and so it was that the leasing fee for residential docks sitting on public tidelands was emotionally hijacked into the term “dock tax.”

Once the word “tax” entered the dialogue, rational debate became impossible as conservative candidates for public office tried to “out-conservative” one another.

Headlining a letter in the August 30 edition of the Daily Pilot from Michael Glenn, a former Newport Beach City Council candidate, is this line: “Newport Beach City Council isn’t nearly as conservative as it claims to be.”

For evidence Glenn offers this argument: “The current council members are not fiscally conservative. A majority of them have passed the largest proportional increase to property owners in Newport’s history: The so-called dock tax is a whopping 500% increase for dock owners I know.”

There’s so much misleading about this argument, where to begin? Which dock owners? No names are mentioned. Nor are any dollar amounts listed. Why? Because after 23 years of no increases (the true malfeasance), the City Council raised the fees from an annual rate of $100 to $250-300. Hardly a “whopping” increase. And no mention that the increase was mandated by the State.

The City Council was on the receiving end of these shoddy arguments, but it has not been above taking a similar deceptive approach in its advocacy of Measure Y, asking residents to believe that the proposed 500,000-plus square feet of office space in Newport Center will result in a decrease in traffic congestion.

You don’t have to be a Democrat to find this insulting. As one staunchly conservative friend (who wished to remain anonymous) put it, “For once, I agree with you. I don’t take this stuff as seriously as you do, but when I read something the supporters of Measure Y had put out recently, I must admit that my reaction was the same as yours. Common sense says more square footage equals more trips per day. I thought the numbers I read were very misleading and I don’t like that approach.”

In this supporters of Measure Y, namely the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce and the City Council, have dealt the people of the city two serious injustices.

First, of course, is the unacceptable increase in traffic that Measure Y would permit. The second injustice is flagrant: Measure Y’s obtuse wording has offended the intelligence of the city’s residents and angered them. It has consequently undermined the trust that residents should have for our elected officials.

Hold the City Council accountable in this and vote a resounding “NO” on Measure Y.

Jean Hastings Ardell is the President of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club. She can be reached at [email protected]

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Jean Ardell states:
    There’s so much misleading about this argument, where to begin? Which dock owners? No names are mentioned. Nor are any dollar amounts listed. Why? Because after 23 years of no increases (the true malfeasance), the City Council raised the fees from an annual rate of $100 to $250-300. Hardly a “whopping” increase. And no mention that the increase was mandated by the State.

    You claim the language of politics is misleading, but you call taxes a “fee”. There is no “fee” involved– this is a tax to support the entire harbor for use by everyone in it– nothing to do with the dock itself. If you are going to split hairs, split them properly. Especially in an article about splitting hairs.

    Why did I not list names of people who are not involved in politics? Come on. You know the answer to that one. Do you drag the names of your a-political friends into your public political commentary?

    Finally, you claim that the “500%” is misleading? Here is the GIS map, showing that the prices hit all the way up to $3400– far beyond the $500 for the dock owners I know. I was doing this in the name of being fair, and not to glamorize the fees. To the effort to insinuate that my understatement is somehow an overstatement is outstandingly misplaced.

    http://nbgis.newportbeachca.gov/NewportHTML5Viewer/?viewer=pierpermitsinfo

    You claim the state “forced” Newport Beach to increase taxes– can you please cite a source with this? Because Newport Beach hasn’t been able to in nearly 2 years of arguing about it.

    Feel free to clarify your position.

  2. It’s very nice to be an advocate for the rights of workers, but unions understand that they need unhappy workers in order to be powerful. If workers are happy, the union will find ways to change this (“you work too many hours,” “your millionaire bosses are making money off of you,” “you can only trust who we want you to trust.”) This union-created division empowers the union, and provides the unions their principal product: a bloc of voters – that’s where the real power is. The Democratic party also requires division among citizens in order to be powerful. It panders to subgroups – playing each against “everybody else” -rather than citizens in a shared society. An entity that requires and fosters division and dissatisfaction is not a friend of a free society. Thank you, AF.