"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. ... Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements."
Now millions of innocent lives are destroyed in the womb, even before they see their first light of day, and this is called abortion rights.
In our time, those same abortion rights are celebrated at a rally in front of the state Capitol. At this one, as Orwell would not have been surprised to see, the air was thick with euphemisms. ("The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details.") Giving a detailed description of what happens in an abortion would have been considered in bad taste, but performing abortions -- by the millions year after year -- isn't.
This rally at Arkansas' state Capitol got to hear a statement from a professor at UALR's law school that could have served as model for modern Newspeak. It defended "reproductive rights and the right to choose...." Because, according to the professor, those rights are of fundamental importance for "women of color and poor women." As if half the babies aborted in this country every year weren't female. And since when is being born into poverty -- like a long line of Americans from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs -- grounds for the death penalty?
But such thoughts come too close to being subversive in a society in the grip of what Pope John Paul II named the Culture of Death, a phrase that must be avoided at such rallies. Like so much else in the real world we live (and die) in, rather than the euphemized world in which abortion on demand has become just a subsection of our Reproductive Rights.
In his statement on this year's anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which has turned out to be a death sentence for millions, our president managed to defend abortion without actually using the a-word: "We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman's access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom."
The president's oldspeak may have grown rusty since he was swept into office in a different decade, but his Newspeak remains fluent. Just call it doubleplusgood, to use an adjective Orwell cited in his "The Principles of Newspeak," an appendix he attached to the text of "1984." "The purpose of Newspeak," he explained, "was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible."
A phrase like "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" from the Declaration of Independence would be unthinkable in Newspeak, at least in the way we understand it. It would have to be replaced by something like "reproductive freedom, security and the pursuit of equality." Or just blanked out, for it is a perfect example of forbidden oldspeak. And crimethink.
Winston Smith, slaving away somewhere in the bowels of the Ministry of Truth in 1984, would surely have approved of the president's statement on this year's anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Like so much of the language used at that Rally for Reproductive Justice, it's a classic example of goodthink. Newspeak even has a verb to describe the kind of orator who can rattle off such catch phrases without actually having to think about them: duckspeak. Let's just say our president is a doubleplusgood duckspeaker.