Lake Superior State University provides a useful public service each year when the college, in Sault St. Marie, Mich., publishes its "Banished Words List," words that should be banished because of their obnoxious overuse.The 2011 list (www.lssu.edu/banished) is heavy on words derived from youth culture and social networking, including "viral," "epic," "fail" (and by extension, "epic fail"), "wow factor" and "just sayin'."
The next time their list comes out, at the top should be "socialism."
Right up there with other greatly overused "isms" and "ists" - like "sexist/sexism," "racist/racisim" - "socialist/socialism" has become the epithet to throw at someone with whom you disagree in attempt to invalidate their views without having to frame a substantive argument.
It all started seriously enough, with conservatives warning that the Obama administration is steering the country toward socialism.
You won't get any argument from me there. President Obama's attempted takeover of health care, bailing out banks and auto companies, and funding failed "green energy" companies puts us perilously close to a system in which the government owns or controls the means of production, a key factor in a socialist economy.
But I knew the term was reaching "epic" levels of overuse when a reader said columnist Tom Crawford's comments about Georgia education cuts was "socialist."
In a recent column, Crawford pointed out that governors during the past decade, starting with Sonny Perdue when he was running against incumbent Roy Barnes, latched onto the SAT as the standard by which school success should be judged.
There are all sorts of reasons why that's a bad idea, but never mind: Perdue set it as the benchmark because the score had fallen under Barnes. Whoops: SAT scores then fell under Perdue, and continue falling under Nathan Deal.
At the same time, state funding for public education has been cut. A coincidence, or cause and effect?
One thing it is not: Pointing it out isn't advocating a "socialist" solution - unless you'd like to argue that more funding for cops is "socialist," or more transportation funding is "socialist."
As a community, a state or a nation, we could choose at any time to stop providing any tax-funded services. We could eliminate public schools and let parents figure out their children's education. We could eliminate emergency services and let everyone pay for their own private security and fire protection. Roads? Just dodge those potholes.
Citizens have long established the desire, and the need, for specific government services, including public education and law enforcement. None are more "noble" or deserving than the other.
In fact, Sheriff Otis Hensley, Columbia County's first Republican sheriff, often praised the schools and recreation department; he believed the more successful they were, the less his services would be needed - and vice-versa.
I'd love for someone to call him a "socialist." He'd come back from the grave to punch your lights out.
Criticizing a perceived lack of government spending in one area is not automatically a call for higher taxes or higher overall spending. Any one of us, I'd bet, could quickly make a list of government spending that we would like to see reduced or eliminated, especially if we could decide how to spend it elsewhere.
I'd rather see better border security, for example, and fewer Gestapo-lite wannabees in airports. How great would it be if illegal aliens dreaded sneaking into the country as much as I hate going through TSA security checks?
None of us individually get to decide those priorities, however; in our system of government, that's why we elect people to represent us. It's messy, it's inefficient, and it often results in the election of people who do not share our priorities.
But those people are not automatically "socialist," any more than an opponent of the president automatically is a "racist." If we can stick to arguing on substance, and avoid devolving into calling names, we'd probably have much better political discussions in this country.
And we'd also avoid running our poor, beleaguered language any further into the ground.