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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 96 12:39:39 -0800
Subject: Substantiatively Ludicrous
CERTIFIABLY INANE December 15, 1996
(c) Patrick C. Ross
Speaking of Steve Forbes, much of George Orwell's 1984 did not come
to pass, of course. One prediction of the late writer has manifested
itself, however, and to paraphrase the famous Watergate tattletale John
Dean, it is a cancer upon our society. No, I don't mean the election of
Dan Quayle as the U.S. Vice President in 1988; that was frightening, but
he's well out of harm's way now. I mean the rise of doublespeak.
Doublespeak is spouted not only by our politicians, as predicted by
Orwell, but by our industrial society's true leaders: its white, balding,
middle-aged business executives. Workers aren't fired, or even laid off;
they're "downsized," or even more ominously, "rightsized." That almost
smacks of Soviet "re-education camps," better known as gulags.
Of course, the late Soviet Union didn't corner the market on
government doublespeak. Thanks to various U.S. Senate hearings into White
House misdeeds, we've heard such loquacious phrases as "plausible
deniability" and that passive evasion of responsibility, "mistakes were
made." (PR's Rule # 572: Somehow I just can't hear George "I Cannot Tell
a Lie" Washington, while standing over the axed cherry tree, instead telling
his father that "mistakes were made.")
Under President Clinton, the doublespeak in government has escalated
wildly. Since taking office four years ago, the Administration has hired
an untold number of management consultants to "reengineer" the federal
government. The results have not always been pretty, but they have been
consistently unintelligible. I was lucky enough to land an interview with
one of Clinton's leading consultants, Frank Hokum (he had read several of
my columns, but fortunately had not figured out I write satire). To help
me as a translator, I brought with me to the White House the nephew of New
York Times columnist William Safire, Ersatz Safire, who claimed to copy edit
each one of his uncle's grammar columns.
"You know," Hokum said as we met in his cosy White House office,
"if you can mention in your column that I'm single, available, drive an
Audi, and maybe make me out as a cross between Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin,
I might be able to facilitate a transfer of some after-sales services."
I turned to Ersatz.
"He's offering you a kickback," the young Safire replied.
"Oh," I said, turning back to Hokum. "My column is not a dating
service, sir; I can't advertise your obvious availability. I'm here to
ask you how things are going in your reengineering of the federal government."
Hokum nodded. "We are cautiously optimistic of short-term gains
with a hedged assurance of longer-term rewards."
I looked at Ersatz; he just shrugged. "I asked about the U.S.
government, not AT&T stock projections," I said. "With the economy in
pretty good shape, is the pressure on you the same as it was four years ago?"
"One can never overlook the possibility of a meaningful downturn in
"Recession," Ersatz interjected.
"...but I believe we can streamline the paramount functionality of
the executive agencies while maintaining maximal corporeal presence."
"He doesn't think he'll have to can all that many people," Ersatz
"Well, that's good news," I noted. "But wouldn't you say that your
very presence could be a waste of tax money, or as you might put it a 'poor
resource utilization,' and that you're the one who should probably be
"That's a reality augmentation! I..."
"Lie," Ersatz sang.
"...have never heard such a strategic misinterpretation..."
"Lie," Ersatz repeated.
"...in all my years as a consultant! I've written half a dozen
books that, when weighed, come to a pretty substantial collection of mass.
I've worked with Fortune 500 companies. I've lunched with Steve Forbes.
Your implication is without a doubt a terminological inexactitude!"
"Lie," I said, before Ersatz could jump in. "Look, Hokum. Knowing
how excited Al Gore gets about all this reinvention stuff, I doubt you need
worry about your contract with the Executive branch." I put my feet up on
his desk while eyeing admiringly his White House paperweight. "But it might
not be a bad idea to get some of your White House baubles off-premises while
you have a chance. You know, quietly amass something to remember the place
by via some temporarily displaced inventory."
Ersatz looked stumped.
"He means stolen goods," Hokum informed Ersatz as the consultant
slipped the paperweight into his briefcase.
Certifiably Inane (C) Patrick Ross 1996
© 1996 Peter Langston