Changing the name of the rescue plan

October 1, 2008 8:09:29 PM PDT
Some Americans are still trying to understand what did and didn't happen in Washington this week. How the House failed to act in a time of crisis on a bill first called a "bailout" instead of a "rescue plan".

For Americans with bank accounts, it was another day of waiting for Washington. What it is they're waiting for is still a matter of debate.

"It's really going to be a big band-aid, I think," said a man.

Maybe you've noticed how, in the past week, or so the subjective nature of this money crisis has changed. It began as what most politicians called a "bailout."

"It would be in my view if you accept the bailout?" said Senator Diane Feinstein (D) of California.

Then they found other descriptions.

"It is just a blank check for a huge amount of money," said Senator Charles Schumer (D) of New York.

"This is a huge cow patty with a piece of marshmallow stuck in the middle of it," said Representative Paul Broun (R) of Georgia.

And now, somehow, it has become a "rescue."

"On Monday, over the course of a few hours, the failure to pass the rescue plan," said Senator Barack Obama (D) of Illinois.

"If the financial rescue bill fails once again," said Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona.

So, what's going on?

"'Bailout' is not a good word," said Rich Silverstein, from Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, an advertising executive and expert on marketing.

Silverstein regards the selling of Henry Paulson's plan to be a communication disaster. Americans can see through the posturing and staged moments, he says.

"We're in a perfect storm of all the characters hating each other, and all of America hating them," said Silverstein.

Viewed analytically, the word 'bailout' is not positive, which probably explains its recent disappearance. George Lacoff understands the nuance better than almost anyone. He is a professor of political linguistics at U.C. Berkeley.

"In a bailout, the person bailed out is responsible, may do it again and you don't feel good about it and it's going to cost you. With a rescue, it's heroic. The person you are recuing is not nessesarily at fault, usually not, you've done something heroic and it's all over," George Lakoff, Ph.D.

Either way, this is not a matter of words, but confidence. People walk away after rescues, and forget about them.

"Rescue, you save someone you like," said Silverstein.

After bailouts, they face consequences.


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