Words matter to those of us who arrange them for a living. Amid the gusher of lists we see at each year’s end, I always take note of the various selections for Word of the Year.
“Austerity,” attempts at which sparked riots from the Acropolis to Big Ben, is Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s choice for 2010. The New Oxford American Dictionary went in a slangier direction with Sarah Palin’s unintentional coinage, “refudiate.” Edgiest of all, not surprisingly, is the online Urban Dictionary’s pick: “gate rape,” inspired by the feds’ new, more-invasive airport security measures.
But 2010 is nearly past. It’s time to look forward. And so, in the spirit of forecasting next year’s Heisman Trophy winner right after this year’s award ceremony, or placing way-early odds on the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee in the hours after the midterms, I offer this suggestion for semantic significance in ’11: “Unwind.”
The word could apply to a nation that’s been pretty tightly wound for a few years now. But I mean it mostly as a substitute for one of my fellow conservatives’ favorite words in nearly any year: “cut.”
Cut taxes, cut spending. Cut the deficit, cut the debt. Cut waste, cut pork, cut regulation. Cut, cut, cut.
Some of these uses are appropriate, if I do say so myself (a search of the AJC’s archives reveals I used the c-word in 26 of my 93 columns this year).
“Cut,” more than “unwind,” connotes the urgency we need in shrinking government. It also fits better on a bumper sticker, or in a tweet.
But as a precise description of the work ahead of us, “cut” doesn’t quite cut it. “Unwind” is a better way to think about attacking the tangle of federal programs, regulations, laws, loopholes and subsidies.
Oh, there are silly government expenses we could eliminate tomorrow with no ill effects. Take the millions Washington has spent on such study topics as male prostitutes in Vietnam and vague speech by American political candidates — both examples from “Wastebook 2010” by Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican.
And there are common-sense measures that ought to be taken in these dire budgetary times, such as a true freeze on all federal worker pay hikes.
But much of the rest is trickier. There are functions better suited for the state or local level, such as paying for transportation infrastructure, but which states and counties can’t afford to assume fully as long as Washington takes the lion’s share of tax money.
On that note, expect Democrats to carp loudly the next two years about “hypocritical” GOP spending — even as they know President Barack Obama’s veto pen would block the devolution of these functions, and a commensurate share of tax revenues, to the states. (Republicans should push for such a shift anyway, and make the White House defend the practice of spending Georgians’ gas-tax dollars on highways elsewhere.)
What’s more, the truly big-ticket items — entitlements — are very difficult to tackle swiftly. Dealing with programs that over time have morphed beyond their designs may be the best example of unwinding.
Even on tax reform, with the need to flatten and simplify the code — and then lower rates — unwinding is a more apt description of our priority.
If all this sounds more rhetorical than substantive, think again. Previous generations of leaders have allowed our problems to pile up for so long that our solutions must be timely, yes, but also precise and orderly. We cannot afford unintended consequences that undercut public support for unwinding big government.
So, here’s my resolution for 2011: Don’t just talk about cuts. Let’s be kind and unwind.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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