This was a good week for Orwellian speech.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in his ongoing stand-off with the Minnesota Legislature, insisted that I-35W Mississippi bridge reconstruction financing doesn’t require a special legislative session. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his recent controversial Columbia University speech, announced that Iran has no homosexuals.
I’m hard pressed to improve upon either leader’s delusion.
The term “Orwellian,” inspired by English author George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian novel, “1984,” typically refers to the political manipulation of language. Propaganda, the large-scale selective presentation of emotionally-charged persuasive information, is an example.
Orwell was a contrarian lefty. Both British and Soviet Union intelligence agencies kept files on him. The British distrusted him because he was an avowed democratic socialist; the Soviets considered him a Trotskyite threat.
“1984” enriched the English language with terms such as “Big Brother,” “Thought Police” and “Newspeak.” Orwell’s examination of the totalitarian state’s propaganda is as instructive today as it was in 1949. It traces concentrated power’s wishful thinking to its studied, dark, logical end.
Ahmadinejad’s “we have no homosexuals” remark speaks volumes about modern Iran. We read the truth by reversing his declaration. In other words, “Iran has a homosexual population, just like every other part of the world.” The real question is: Why does Ahmadinejad insist the opposite?
Pawlenty would probably never say anything that idiotically inflammatory. He is, however, a fine doublespeak practitioner.
In the bridge collapse’s wake, Pawlenty was a model of purposeful action. His early willingness to consider overdue transportation infrastructure investments was quickly cast aside for unyielding adherence to his conservative policy agenda.
Unsurprising. Still, there’s the tricky matter of paying for a bridge.
Federal money, while promised, isn’t all in hand, leaving Minnesota with a likely short-term financing obligation for the bridge. Congress has delivered $55 million of the $250 million it authorized days after the bridge collapse, less $1.8 million for the Navy salvage divers’ time. That leaves $195 million authorized but not appropriated. In other words, the check isn’t even in the mail, which could leave a lot of unbuilt bridge a few months down the road.
Pawlenty rejected new transportation infrastructure financing as part of the recent special legislative session. He now insists that the eight-member Legislative Advisory Commission appropriate the missing $195 million, just to get things moving.
Legislative leaders reasonably feel that the other 193 elected legislators should be involved in appropriating $195 million in spending.
As a former state House majority leader, Pawlenty should understand this. His request to short-circuit approval of a huge spending commitment, framed as an inconsequential, procedural step, is disingenuous at best.
Like Ahmadinejad, Pawlenty is best understood through the Orwellian window. In other words, the governor knows he needs to raise taxes to fund infrastructure. He just doesn’t want to say it.
All hope is not lost. Minnesota is not Orwell’s Oceania nor, thank heaven, Iran. Pawlenty will yield. His recent rural economic development proposal adopted many of Minnesota 2020’s recommendations. My colleague, Lee Egerstrom, is widely quoted praising the program’s good qualities.
Before the initial federal I-35W bridge reconstruction funds run out, I hope that Pawlenty reads and follows our other policy suggestions. They’re not Orwellian, but they focus on what really matters.