Politics and the English language: Lack of agency in Obama's financial "reform" plan
We've been been pointing to lack of agency as a key "tell" in the Official Style for some time:
The Official Style mucks up the issue of who did what. When writers do this accidentally, it's because they aren't thinking clearly or looking at what they've written from the reader's point of view. But when they do it intentionally, it's because they are trying to avoid having to flat-out admit who did what—what we refer to as agency. People faced with explaining mistakes frequently duck the question of agency, especially if they're the one at fault.
"Mistakes were made," a classic example of the Official Style, exhibits lack of agency in overplus: If indeed "mistakes," and not evil or indictable acts, "were made," then who made them? How? Why? The Official Stylist is silent. There is no answer, nor will there be, since to answer the question would be to assign accountability, which the practitioners of the Official Style seek to avoid at all costs.
Obama's language, at least when he talks about the financial crisis -- and not when, say, lecturing black fathers -- exhibits lack of agency consistently; see his pressers, and his interview with the FT. So it's with pleasure that I notice Simon Johnson, a chief economist of the IMF, and what passes for a leftist these days,* chiming in with the views of this obscure C list blog. Here's the first point Johnson makes in his review of Obama's lengthy "regulatory" "reform" proposals, about which the banksters are so happy:
But instead of defining this core problem, explaining its origins, emphasizing the dangers, and addressing it directly, what do we get in yesterday’s 101 pages of regulatory reform proposals?
A passive voice throughout the explanation of what happened (e.g., this preamble). No one did anything wrong and banks, in particular, are absolved from all responsibility for what has transpired.
My conclusion from the language? The next financial meltdown is already in the making. No accountability has been assigned to the perps for this one; and the same perps are still in power. It's all covered by A merry go round called denial, and Doing the same thing while expecting a different result. Yay!
NOTE * That is, Johnson doesn't want people driven insane by greed to keep on looting the economy, slaughtering the innocent for a few million in bonuses, and so on and so forth. That sort of attitude makes him next door to being a Dirty Fucking Hippie, and so he gets no traction in the Official Discourse. Oh well.
UPDATE At one point in the not-too-distant past, careful analysis of the administration's language was the blogosphere's stock in trade. FAIL.