A former colleague and I would routinely confuse each other in the simplest of office exchanges. When we needed to change a meeting time from, say, 2 to 3pm, I would request this by stating "let's push the meeting back an hour." He'd describe this as "moving it ahead."
This misunderstanding stems from a conceptual difference. If you see yourself in relation to time moving past you, it makes sense to say that a later meeting time is ahead. It's in the future, after all. Conversely, if you view yourself moving forward with time as the stable element, you'd call the desired change a movement back. It's further removed from the present.
A similar difference is happening in labeling the cutting taxes/not raising taxes deal that seems (excuse my pessimism) all over but the shouting. If we stick with the "tax cut" label, we imply that the norm is one where the rich pay more than they do today. The opposite is true about conservatives' cries about an imminent tax increase. This language has current rates as the baseline.
It seems obvious, then, from a progressive perspective that "tax cut" it is. The rich are paying too little; they had a decade of chances to generate jobs and they didn't. Why should they get rewarded for a job very poorly done?
But "tax cut" brings the citizen as payer of funds, not recipient of services, to the foreground of the frame. This is a familiar trick. It obscures the reciprocal role we play, via democratic government, in each others' well-being. It activates the schoolyard "that's mine" instinct we all need help and practice to tame.
The point that needs to be emphasized doesn't come through in calling this a tax cut, no matter what pejorative for rich people we use to modify it. We need to convey that this is a major loss of life-sustaining services. Brutal in any situation; cruel and self-defeating at a time like this.
Even attempts to evoke our ire at this train wreck of a policy like "billionaire bailout" or "millionaire bonus" still don't profile the new round of damage we're about to inflict on ourselves. To get at this, I'll start off the brainstorm -- consider this a call for entries and please add your own:
1. Make the recession permanent policy
2. Bring on the Depression policy
3. Economic roadblock policy
4. Economic raid
Anat Shenker-Osorio is an Oakland-based communications consultant.
*The name of this series derives from Frank Luntz’s book, Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.