Another Good Word, Ruined.

Here in Washington, certain words don't seem to mean what they mean elsewhere. I remember some years ago, Christopher Hitchens pointing out that the word "perception" generally means insight or understanding. But in Washington, it means something false, as in "perception is reality," or "the perception of George W. Bush as a heroic president."

Ezra Klein noted a similar reversal a few months ago: In the external world, "reconciliation" means a peaceful reunification, as in the end of a family feud. But in Washington, the word represents "the most divisive thing you could do."

To that list, add the word "conscience." When Joe Lieberman tells Fox News, "If the public option plan is in there, as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote," he not only threatens the legislation, he strips a great word of all meaning. While there may be different views on a public option, or a public option with a trigger or a public option with an opt-out, none of them are matters of conscience. For Lieberman, the word now refers to his desperate need for attention, and to cloak himself in self-righteousness while finding a way to inflict maximum pain on the political party that he continues to claim to belong to.

-- Mark Schmitt

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