Dance of the dialectic
After finishing second in the Iowa caucuses, Ron DeSantis decided he would depart the Republican presidential race, saying he was “suspending” his campaign. At first, I thought the verb he used was a weasel word that would allow him to reactivate his run. Then I realized that he was just going with the flow in public pronouncements by using a euphemism.
A similar subterfuge has infected the business world. When a chief executive officer leaves abruptly, he’s said to be “stepping aside.” Is he still on the executive floor and attending important meetings? I think not. But it’s better to do a lateral arabesque than suffer with a more accurate description of what the board of directors did.
This kind of sashay rhetoric is not new. During the Second World War Prime Minister Mackenzie King managed to walk both sides of the debate about conscription by saying, “Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.”
I’ve had my own foray into wordplay. In the run-up to the 1972 election, when I was working for Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield, the federal and provincial governments announced a second international airport would be built east of Toronto in Pickering. I wrote a report on the issue that said while there was some support, most people in the Toronto area were against the plan.
In the midst of the election, Stanfield declared he would hold a news conference on the topic the following morning. That evening, as I travelled on the press bus toward our overnight hotel, I was pestered by several journalists about what Stanfield planned to say. It was easy for me to remain silent. Stanfield had not yet decided his position. Several of us were meeting that very night to come up with something he could safely say.
The meeting began around 10 p.m. and included Stanfield staffer Bill Grogan, campaign chair Finlay Macdonald, guru Dalton Camp, Research Director Geoff Molyneux, and me. Debate was protracted and went on until dawn. Finally, I think it was Dalton who came up with a phrase: “The case for a second airport has not yet been made.” Perfect! Stanfield was neither for nor against and he’d thrown the ball right back to the proponents. As Mark Twain has said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is like the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.”