What we have here is a failure to communicate

Updated

As the government shutdown’s wraps up its first full week, a debt-ceiling crisis looms, and the breakdown of the American legislative process continues apace, it occurs to me the problem isn’t just ideological or partisan. As debates continue, it’s also become clear that Democrats and Republicans no longer agree on the definition of basic words and phrases.

With this in mind, I’d like to offer a handy glossary of eight commonly used terms in the hopes of helping the political world communicate more effectively.

1. Compromisenoun

What the word means to most English-speaking people: a compromise settles a dispute by mutual concession.

What the word means to Republicans: a compromise is a resolution in which Democrats meet some or all of the Republican Party’s demands, generally as part of a larger extortion strategy in which Republicans are threatening the public with deliberate harm.

2. Negotiateverb

What the word means to most English-speaking people: to negotiate is to try to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion with others.

What the word means to Republicans: to negotiate is to create a framework through which Democrats will meet some or all of the Republican Party’s demands, generally as part of a larger extortion strategy in which Republicans are threatening the public with deliberate harm.

3. Concessionnoun

What the word means to most English-speaking people: a concession is something that is granted, usually as part of negotiations or in response to demands.

What the word means to Republicans: a concession is something Democrats make in order to try to make Republicans happy. Alternatively, a concession can be something Republicans make, but only by reducing the severity of their demands as part of a larger extortion strategy.

4. Dutiesplural noun

What the word means to most English-speaking people: duties are moral or legal obligations, generally synonymous with responsibilities.

What the word means to Republicans: duties are obligations Republicans will honor in exchange for concessions from Democrats.

5. Surrenderverb

What the word means to most English-speaking people: to surrender is to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

What the word means to Republicans: to surrender is to reach a compromise the Tea Party disapproves of.

6. Debt ceilingnoun

What the phrase means to most English-speaking people: the debt limit is legal limit on government’s borrowing authority, which must be raised in order to pay the nation’s bills.

What the phrase means to Republicans: the debt limit is a weapon that can be used to extract concessions from Democrats.

7. The federal budget processnoun

What the phrase means to most English-speaking people: the federal budget process allows members of Congress to create a spending framework for the government for one year.

What the phrase means to Republicans: the federal budget process is a weapon that can be used to extract concessions from Democrats.

8. Leveragenoun

What the word means to most English-speaking people: leverage offers a user positional advantage and the power to act effectively.

What the word means to Republicans: leverage is a mechanism through which Republican policymakers threaten deliberate harm in exchange for concessions from Democrats.

Too often, it seems Democrats and Republicans are simply talking past one another, seemingly speaking different languages. Here’s hoping this glossary of terms will help bring their disputes into sharper focus.

Note: The debt ceiling and federal budget process are not proper nouns, so the text has been edited accordingly. Thanks to the readers who caught this.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Updated