- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

When President Bush used the recess appointment to send John Bolton to the United Nations, we chided those Democrats who labeled the entirely legal move an “abuse of power.” We are of course well aware that this manipulation of language is part and parcel of Washington politics, which is why the media often ignores such hyperbolic rhetoric. In this case, that’s unfortunate, because “abuse of power” used to mean something — say, when Thomas Jefferson described the King of England’s “long Train of Abuses and Usurpations.” That was then; the phrase has since been adopted by the Democrats to describe anything President Bush does which they don’t like.

This actually is more than simply a case of one party’s failure to come up with more imaginative — and less silly — ways of expressing their disapproval. As Byron York noted this week in the Hill, the phrase “abuse of power” has been what public-relations consultants call “focus-grouped.” In other words, the Democrats spent money trying to “come up with a new vocabulary to make Democratic positions seem more attractive to voters.” Apparently, “abuse of power” resonates as strongly with the American public as it did in 1776, even if Democrats have exploited it for their own purposes.

Democrats trotted out their “new vocabulary” last spring during the debate over judicial nominations. “Voters far preferred the argument that, in using the filibuster, Democrats were trying to preserve the basic checks-and-balances fairness of the system,” Mr. York writes. And so, there was Sens. Harry Reid and Charles Schumer, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, all talking about the Republicans’ “abuse of power.”

The next big test for the efficacy of “abuse of power” occurred this week. Sens. Reid, Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Barbara Boxer (who said “arrogance of power”) and Democratic Chairman Howard Dean all reacted to Mr. Bolton’s appointment seemingly in one voice: “abuse of power.” Where, we wonder, will the next “abuse of power” arise?

The cheapening of a phrase which used to mean something quite sinister is regrettable, even though politicians do it everyday. But if from now on the stock response to whatever the president or Republicans do is “abuse of power,” then the very phrase itself has been rendered totally meaningless.

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