Consider; in the recent standoff between police and residents in Baltimore which led to days of unrest, shuttered stores, and a Major League ballgame played in a completely empty stadium, for the first time (maybe ever) those covering an event began questioning (and openly debating) the words they were using to describe it.
Was it rioting?
Was it demonstrating?
Or was it civil disobedience?
Use the second and they’re seen not unlike a bunch of sign wielding union members demanding higher wages or better working conditions.
But use the third and everything changes. Suddenly those involved are no longer rabid, uncontrolled and primal. Nor are they acting merely out of a sense of professional duty. They’re principled, thoughtful, and resolute, while exercising a right many watching or reading the news hold dear themselves.
That is why, for all we talk about the death of the printed word, the specific words our political leaders, reporters and news anchors use to define current events remain, arguably, the most important factor in determining how those events will be subsequently viewed by the public.
Once again the language of propaganda will be in full force and full-scale deployment by ambitious candidates, who will use language not to clarify issues, but cloud them.
And once again presidential hopefuls from Maine to Hawaii will be coming out of the woodwork with juicy words to try to fan the flames of public passion.
And of all those words set to be bandied about, none will be any more newsworthy or suggestive than the most salacious of them all.
And no jobs this election season promise to be any sexier or any more attention-getting than – you guessed it – manufacturing jobs.
But don’t buy it. As I’ve detailed countless times, a corresponding spike in jobs has not accompanied this manufacturing renaissance we’re enjoying. Yes, there have been jobs created. But they’re not the type many associate with manufacturing.
In today’s manufacturing, the physical act of molding, forging and assembling products is often being performed by precise, task-specific and highly calibrated machines. That’s, in fact, the main reason for this renaissance.
But the politicians won’t mention that because it doesn’t support their narrative.
The jobs being created, you see, are not only significantly smaller in number than a generation ago (albeit with far greater factory output), they’re more demanding and require a much greater degree of skill, expertise and training.
These days, in other words, you can’t drop out of high school and just walk into a job servicing precision factory equipment. And you can’t sit home, unemployed and watching Judge Judy and then suddenly find yourself qualified for one of the exciting (but challenging) next-generation jobs now being created.
Mario Cuomo once said we campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose. My friends, this year’s crop of presidential hopefuls is about to put on its Sunday best and start filling the skies with political poetry about his or her commitment to create jobs – especially manufacturing ones.
But don’t buy it.
Manufacturing jobs can happen; but not because some politician made them happen. They can only happen when politicians work with manufacturers to create an economic climate in which companies large and small can take root, grow and prosper.
They can happen when a country trains its workers, not for the industrial jobs they lost decades ago, but for the ones that are being created by seismic changes in the manufacturing processes of today
You want politicians to speak the truth this election? You want them to spell out exactly where they stand on key issues like the economy, unemployment or our shrinking middle class? Demand they use the right words.
Instead of jobs, let them explain how they plan to train workers with 20th Century skills to compete in a 21st Century job market.
And instead of jobs, let them detail how they’re going to help companies like mine – relatively small shops with big ideas, but only a handful of people and a finite amount of resources – compete against global competitors who often have the advantage of government price supports, cheap labor and little or no regulation.
It’s presidential election season, my friends. It’s open season for the hearts and minds of America. And it’s that time during which words, not actions, will once again go a long way toward determining who will be our next president.
Let’s just try to make sure that, when it comes to those words, the people doing the campaigning are using the right ones.