I was recently at the American Enterprise Institute for an event in which the economic advantages and disadvantages of the "estate tax" (many of you will know this better as the death tax) were debated. This got me to thinking about language and politics. At this event, it was stated that when asked essentially identical questions (something like "do you support an estate/death tax on estates worth mover than 3 million dollars after death?), when the word estate was chosen over death, the tax was a full 10% more popular. People aren't so much in opposition to a tax on estates after death as they are to some ethereal concept known as a death tax. Even though the estate and death tax are the same thing, people are more likely to support an estate tax, even when given a description of what the tax is.
Are we really so illogical that labeling changes our opinion of something? Absolutely. End of life counseling v. death panels. Cap and trade v. cap and tax. Government takeover v. health care reform. Social security. Medicare. Temporary aid for needy families. Food stamps v. electronic benefits transfer program.
If it didn't work, politicians wouldn't do it. But the incredible power of rhetoric can be used to stir up the people. Would it be likely that Social Security ever would have been passed had it been called the massive government ponzi retirement scheme? But who opposes society? Or security?
Frankly, I have no idea of what to do about this. But it's very interesting to see the power that nice and nasty words have over people.