Barack Obama wanted to be a transforming figure in American history and there are few better ways to transform a society than to fundamentally alter the way people speak. During his last year in office there seems to be a pattern developing along these lines, particularly when it comes to how Americans talk about criminals and crime in general. The latest entry in this effort comes from the Department of Education, where Secretary John King sent out a “Dear Colleagues” letter to the nation’s colleges and universities encouraging them to stop referring to students and applicants with criminal records as… criminals. It’s such a disparaging term, isn’t it? In order to avoid the stigma that comes with breaking our laws, we should now call them justice-involved individuals. (Kyle Smith for the New York Post)
It’s only May, but I think I’ve found the euphemism of the year: According to Team Obama, criminals should now be declared “justice-involved individuals.”
The neo-Orwellianism comes to us from the bizarre flurry of last-minute diktats, regulations and bone-chilling threats collectively known to fanboys as Obama’s Gorgeous Goodbye.
In another of those smiley-faced, but deeply sinister, “Dear Colleague” letters sent to universities and college this week, Obama’s Education Secretary John King discouraged colleges from asking applicants whether they were convicted criminals.
An accompanying pamphlet was called “Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals.”
So rapists, burglars, armed robbers and drug dealers aren’t criminals anymore. These folks are simply “involved” with “justice,” according to Obamanoids.
If this were some one-off glitch from an overly enthusiastic intern it could be passed off as little more than yet another funny story for bored political junkies, but as I said, this is clearly part of a pattern. The push for justice-involved individuals terminology comes on the heels of a decision at the Justice Department not to refer to people as “felons” or “convicts” because of the negative implications of those words. At the time, the author of that decision seemed a bit confused as to what should replace such terms and he suggested phrases along the lines of “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated.” Those were a bit too wordy, though. You need something shorter and crisper which rolls off the tongue. Now, justice-involved individuals isn’t really all that tight and the acronym is simply awful. (JIIs? How would you even pronounce that?) But hey.. it’s a start. I’m sure the creative team in the Oval Office can do better over the next seven months.
Keep in mind that this wasn’t the first case of forced language evolution either. We previously watched in amazement as the Library of Congress scrapped the term “illegal alien” in favor of “noncitizen” which I still maintain should be hyphenated.
Kyle Smith seems to feel that there’s a lot more ground to be explored here. Perhaps some historical figures could do with 21st century branding initiatives.
When you think about it, Jack the Ripper was merely a “cutlery-involved individual” while Jeffrey Dahmer was simply a “unconventional dietary-options-involved individual.”
All of this sounds like fine fodder for jokes, but Smith is correct in identifying these moves as neo-Orwellianism in the most obvious sense of the term. If you want to change people’s thinking, you modify their language and the desired effect seeps into the collective subconscious. It’s a tried and true marketing technique which has elevated or crashed companies in the advertising wars for generations. When applied to governance and power it’s a story as old as recorded history. The trick is to nip it in the bud before it spreads too far.