John Leo

Disability is famously expandable, too. Infertility, AIDS, and many diseases and illnesses have been pushed into the category of the disabled. Canada's transportation agency decided that allergies qualify as serious disabilities. This is an outgrowth of peanut allergies -- a serious matter -- but it means passengers may be barred from Canadian flights because of their perfume, aftershave, flowers, pets, or any carry-on item anyone might be allergic to.

Broad definitions by advocates have given us some odd concepts. We have the nonbattered woman's defense (the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that battered-woman's syndrome does not have to include any physical violence -- verbal abuse will do), rape-free rape (some feminists say that touching a woman's breast qualifies as rape), and nonviolent domestic violence (name-calling, unilateral economic decisions, treating pets badly and "limiting access to information" have all been listed as examples of domestic violence).

The changing of definitions is now a normal (and slippery) part of our politics. Under pressure from advocates, the definition of political asylum has been stretched to cover women fleeing abusive husbands and homosexuals eager to reach gay-tolerant America.

Another example: The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a broad and dubious conspiracy statute, was supposed to be used against organized crime. It has been used to target abortion protesters and aggressive political fund-raisers, most notably the Clintons and Republican congressman Tom DeLay. The Clintons and DeLay may not be political saints, but racketeers?

The redefiners are at work in the welfare debate, too. The 1996 welfare-to-work reform has worked spectacularly well, so the anti-reform lobby is reluctant to attack it head on. Instead they want to redefine work to include training and education and other work-delaying measures of the pre-1996 status quo. The Bush administration is playing this game, too, defining work to include family time, sports, and programs sponsored by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Good idea, but this isn't work any more than sassing the luggage handlers is air rage or spreading rumors is bullying.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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