Top Ten: Most politically contentious terms of 2011

The vitriolic language political partisans use to oppose each other’s priorities has grown more contentious and polarizing than ever. Photo: Communites @WashingtonTimes.com

WASHINGTON, December 30, 2011 ― The year 2011 was tumultuous for politics. With both ends of the political spectrum deeply committed to their ideologies, the rhetoric and vitriol each used to attack the other side’s priorities have been more contentious and polarizing than ever. 

All year, each party wrangled for control of the narrative and tried to dominate the dialog. In this battle over messaging, some terms were so overused, they became ingrained into the collective psyche of news watchers and the general public alike. Below are the ten most often used and abused words of 2011 that became part of the political lexicon this year.

1. Obamacare: This is a pejorative for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, a highly contentious piece of legislation which aims to enable all Americans to have healthcare coverage.

Since being enacted, the law has enabled seniors to retain prescription drug benefits during a Medicaid coverage lapse, permitted older children to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans after aging out, and has provided a host of preventative tests and screenings to be available to private insured without a co-pay. Opponents say the law drives up insurance premiums and costs for health practitioners. They also argue it is overreach into private lives of individuals and claim the states would be better equipped to handle healthcare needs for their residents. 

The portion of the healthcare law requiring all Americans obtain health insurance by the year 2013 or face a fine will be reviewed by the US Supreme Court early next year. It is unclear whether the court which is dominated by strict constructionist and justices who claim to champion non-activism from the judiciary in creating law will interpret that the federal government was within its authority when passing the law. Time will tell. Oral arguments are slated for spring and we could see a decision by summer, well before the 2012 general elections. 

2. Job Creators: This is a term many in the GOP use to describe small businesses and entrepreneurs. They say the private sector is the engine of the economy and will power the nation’s economic recovery, so “job creators” includes business owners, managers and executives who control hiring. 

Republican leaders and fiscal conservatives say those in this group should not be taxed during an economic downturn because higher taxes will create uncertainty and preclude them from creating more jobs. 

The opposition says that business owners, while influenced by tax burden and regulatory certainty, are sitting on billions in dollars of reserves and would not be dissuaded from creating new jobs if subjected to a modest tax hike. Business owners are reluctant to hire because there is uncertainty about demand. And as subdued consumer spending shows, tough economic times dissuade people from spending.

3. Taxes (and “tax payer,” “tax hike,” “tax cut,” etc.): Americans seemingly have been reduced to their lowest common denominator, that of tax payer. Since the rise of the Tea Party movement founded under a unified cry for smaller government, less government spending, states rights and lower taxes, many frequently speak out against government spending they do not agree with or do not benefit from. 

They disregard they benefit from certain government provided services such as road maintenance for automobile commuters, for example,  to the exclusion of others whose tax dollars help fund that maintenance (e.g. the person who doesn’t have a car and takes rail transportation). 

Consequently, any federal or state legislation or measure that would be funded by raising taxes was met with extreme opposition this year. As we’ve seen as recently as last week, any attempt to increase taxes or not extend a tax cut, such as the payroll tax cut, was met with extreme opposition. Tax raising measures, whether on the rich or middle class, were thought of as poison pills and politically dangerous to any elected official up for reelection. 

Members of the US Congress who backed any measure that raised taxes arguably would have to return home district or state on recess and explain to their respective constituents why they voted to raise their taxes. Clearly, the Democrats won the narrative in this debate because in the end, taxes were delayed for at least two months, thereby causing that proverbial can to be kicked down the road for a few more weeks.

4. Class warfare/ Class-Middle Class: Members of the Democratic Party have declared themselves the protector of the middle class, a socio-economic category of people which makes up the bulk of the American population and electorate. Economists say a strong middle class is needed to stimulate economic growth as the members in this class stimulate demand. Meanwhile, members of the millionaire and billionaire class are thought of as those owning businesses that create jobs and supply the goods and services to meet consumer demand.  Members in that class also include those who make their money investing and profiting from gains realized in investments and not necessarily from direct ownership of businesses or entities that create jobs. Nonetheless, recently members in this group drew the ire of critics who have accused the republicans of shielding them from tax hikes. 

They’ve asked for those in this class to succumb to higher taxes to assist the government deal with the budget crisis. 

The Democrats called it shared sacrifice while the Republicans said asking them to pay more taxes to help out the government was akin to class warfare – taking the  hard earned money from the rich to fund programs for the poor. They argued it was akin to punishing hard work. It should be noted that there are several in the millionaire and billionaire class who are trust fund babies and inherited their money, not necessarily working for it, but benefiting from the luck of the draw of being born a wealthy heir.

5. Stimulus: Congress approved  President Obama’s $787 Billion dollar  spending package full of various measures to stimulate the economy by infusing government dollars into various infrastructure, facilities-based, and other types of incentive programs and projects.  The efforts helped to stave the rapid and exponential job loss, however, it was not enough quick enough for many, neither did enough to ignite private sector job creation.  

6. Social and entitlement programs: Social Security and Medicare are social benefit programs funded by the government but which every American contributes to as a portion of his or her paycheck.  As the baby boom generation has aged, there have been more people taking out of the system.  And as the economy tumbled and with less Americans working, the pool has been dwindling. Clearly, there is a need for reform, but any reform measure that would turn the program into a private voucher system makes seniors and many Americans nervous.  

President Bush attempted to privatize Social Security during his second term but could not get much support for the endeavor. Especially now, with the stock market being so volatile and unpredictable given the failure of the European markets, the Arab Spring, the thought of investing a nest egg into the stock is very scary for those who rely on social security to supplement modest income during their retirement.

7. Amnesty: Any effort, legislation or measure that would provide any benefit, including temporary or permanent legal status, driving privileges or discounted in-state tuition is akin to rewarding law breakers, according to those who oppose illegal immigration. Also, this year, the Associated Press decided against changing its manual to require journalists to use the less incendiary word “undocumented” as opposed to illegal to describe people in this country without permission. The AP concluded that the term “undocumented” denotes a simple paperwork lapse and journalists are not in position to differentiate whether an immigrant has committed a civil paperwork lapse or a criminal act which warranted deportation.  The former definition may aptly describe someone who came into the country under a legal visa but remained after it expired.  

However, there are in fact immigrants in the country who physically snuck into the country hidden in trucks and by crossing the border without authority which is in fact against the law, the news standards organization concluded.  GOP primary contender Texas governor Rick Perry quickly plummeted in the polls after calling those who criticized his state’s plan to give in-state tuition to “illegal immigrants” as “heartless”.  Similarly, any indication that a GOP candidate had endorsed or promoted any form of amnesty in the past is greeted with disfavor among the core Republican electorate and others. Those who oppose amnesty see illegal immigrants as a drain on resources, allege that they collect WIC and other government benefits and share the social security numbers of their American born children, sometimes derogatorily described as “anchor babies” with those without status in order to further defraud American taxpayers. 

Those who support legislation like the DREAM Act say those who have lived in the United States for decades are quite American and as Newt Gingrich once said would be difficult to tear their families apart. Suggested solutions included cutting off employment opportunities to prevent illegal immigration and to mandate the eVerify sytems to ensure that only those employeed are here legally. 

8. Wall Street: Wall Street, located in New York City, home of the NASDAQ and NY Stock Exchange is the economic epicenter of the US financial district. The Occupy Wall Street movement, characterized by regional squatting in tent cities plotted on public parks in the major cities, were able to successfully demonize Wall Street in the eyes of many Americans, particularly because banks and financial intuitions benefited from tax-payer subsidized bail outs. The Occupy movement has formed several splinter movements and currently has moved to Iowa during the Republican caucuses. They have been instrumental in making Wall Street as a place synonymous with corporate greed, wealth created on the backs of the middle class and poor, and excess. 

 9. Bailouts: To slow down the steep economic downturn and save the economy from collapse, the Bush and Obama administration bailed out the banking industry and auto industry. They both were considered “too big to fail” and bailed out from fear of what would happen if these two power industries would go bankrupt. Not all supported the bailouts.

10. Lobbyist: These people paid by various association, corporate and others interests to orally present their respective positions to elected officials are not highly regarded. They are thought of as agents for purchasing influence and connections to the benefit of moneyed parties and at the expense of average Americans.  Particularly unpopular is the concept of the “revolving door” whereby lobbyist organizations recruit government officials and staff to work for them after leaving the public sector.  Similarly, when an official is promoted to a higher office, there have been instances of where these officials would hire those who formerly lobbied them into high ranking positions within their administrations.  There is a general distrust of lobbyists for what some believe they represent – unfettered access and influence of key law, policy and decision makers. 


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site Politic365.com while authoring her own influential blog JenebaSpeaks.com which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. JenebaSpeaks.com focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
 
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
 
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
 
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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