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How right-wingers use semantic tricks to kill government

“Semantic infiltration” is a term coined by the foreign policy expert Fred Ikle and popularized by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Ikle defined it thus:

Semantic infiltration means one undermines one’s own position in negotiations by adopting unknowingly the terms which the adversary “infiltrates.”

As a conservative, Ikle drew most of his examples of semantic infiltration from liberal usages that became mainstream, like “affirmative action” for race- or gender-based preference policies. But in recent years, it is arguably the center-left that has suffered the most from the successful semantic infiltration of public discourse by loaded conservative terminology.

Witness the two terms “the welfare state” and “entitlements.” The right has managed to turn “welfare state,” once a neutral description for a modern system of economic security for individuals, into a pejorative phrase.

An even greater triumph of semantic infiltration by the right has been the universal use of the term “entitlements.” As used by conservatives and liberals alike, “entitlements” usually refers to three social insurance programs — two of them universal (Social Security and Medicare) and one means-tested (Medicaid).

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