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RapidBlog: That Which We Call a Rose, by Erin Wilson



Erin Wilson posts essays and media at thevirtualimage.com. Wilson is board president of arts-advocacy organization ArtPeers, and director of Wealthy Theatre. Wilson took part in ArtPrize 2009 and through ArtPeers has been involved with Art.Downtown and ACTIVESITE. He moved to Grand Rapids from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he met his partner, Amy, who has co-founded groundbreaking Grand Rapids modern dance collaborative Dance In The Annex (DITA).

Proposed legislation gets named twice. Weird, but true.
 
The first name is based on sequence. Simple, accurate. For example, "HR 123" might be the 123rd resolution in the legislative cycle of Michigan's House of Representatives. What's the bill about, you ask? Well, read it!
 
The second name is designed by lobbyists and special interest groups, and it's more descriptive -- and a real time saver. For instance, HR 123 becomes the "Save The Baby Kitties" Act of 2012. Still don't understand the bill? Well, do you love baby kitties? 
 
If you read it, the bill could be anything. It could grant Gov. Rick Snyder authority to sell Lake Michigan to a conglomerate of militias who need fresh water to cook meth. But since you love baby kitties, so you don't have to waste time reading the bill. 
 
There are more examples, like "Freedom to Work." Who wouldn't want that? 
 
The point is, bills often have nothing to do with their second names. Which kind of makes the process feel like consumer fraud. 
 
Second names are used to compel two different reactions: agree ("Freedom to Work"); or do not pay attention ("Title M7 Abatement.") 
 
The caption bills with boring second names are trouble! They're intended to fly under the radar, to ensure committees are cleared, without objection. Then, at the last minute, awful things get added.
 
Second names (for bills) feel like "bait and switch." And maybe we're entitled to some consumer protections, since half the government refers to us as "customers." 
 
We'd lose nothing if "second names" disappeared. Self-selected names are meaningless anyway. Let's say I steal a Koala bear from John Ball Zoo and put it in a wood chipper. But! Let's say I've got a tattoo of the Japanese symbol for "goodness." Should the judge let me go, disregarding my crime? No. People with Japanese tattoos should be punished.
 
Second names are like product taglines: they screw with our ability to trust. Many of us react with disbelief to claims made of products in advertisements. Skepticism has become a reflex. 
 
Ideas are products and summary names can cause more harm than good. "The right to choose" and "the right to life" both sound terrific! Yes please. But! Their goals are mutually exclusive. You have to pick one or the other, like in sports. Would you pick a team based on how their animal names stack up? Would you bet the Bears were going to beat the Falcons based on their hierarchy in the animal kingdom? Of course not. You'd check rosters, records, injury reports, etc. 
 
But that's the thing: "second names" play to people that don't dig for details. I think we should help them, to help themselves. Teach these men to fish! 
 
We should propose legislation that bans "second names." And that bill's second name should be the "I Love America And Beer Is Awesome" Act of 2012.
 
And perhaps journalists could stop propagating "second names." Just stop using them. The sequence names (i.e. "HR 123") are dry, it's true. So dry that they create the need for... journalism. 
 
And it makes sense for us, as consumers. Err, citizens. When a bill's name is manipulative, it poisons the process. It imprints something. If we were at a party, and you introduced me as "This Self-Absorbed Egomaniac," I would want a chance to say, "There's so much more to me."
 
Bottom line: the "second names" for bills are unnecessary, and the effect is toxic. We can moderate this without injury to democracy. In fact it might help. And West Michigan loves moderation (in all things except commerce and religion, God knows we love our supply-side economics). Even commerce, though, has basic protections for the consumer. That's us! The "bait and switch" rules should apply to politics. 
 
In the words of a famous writer, "If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers." (George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946.)

Photo of Erin Wilson by Epiglotic Photographic. 


Disclaimer: RapidBlogs are lightly edited and honor the stylistic decisions of the writer. Views and opinions expressed in RapidBlogs do not necessarily reflect the views of Rapid Growth Media or its staff. 
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