7 Dirty Words

Uproar Over Purported Ban at C.D.C. of Words Like ‘Fetus’ (NY Times)

• Diversity
• Entitlement
• Evidence-based
• Fetus
• Science-based
• Transgender
• Vulnerable

When the Washington Post broke the story that officials at the CDC were instructing employees not to use these seven words, the uproar among advocacy groups and left-leaning individuals was immediate. Further “clarification” from the HHS implied that these words not not “banned” in agency work, but shouldn’t be used in budget documents where they were soliciting funding from Congress. The question being raised at that point became: Did people over-react to the initial news, always assuming the worst? And does it matter in what context these words were being prohibited?

I agree that we progressives tend to be on tenterhooks right now and may be inclined to knee-jerk reactions of outrage to this kind of thing. But, for me, the problem is that there are real reasons for us to be so on edge. It’s not as though this is the first time this group has made efforts to subvert and marginalize these people and issues: science (EPA, climate change), transgendered people (military ban, bathroom bills), diversity (Steve King recently said “diversity is not our [country’s] strength”), entitlements (“reining in” Medicare and Medicaid is up next for the GOP, per Rubio, Ryan, Toomey), women’s reproductive rights (seriously can’t name them all in the space allowed here), and other vulnerable populations (inevitably “snowflakes” or “black identity extremists” per the FBI’s recent Intelligence Assessment).

And while the CDC story got significantly more press, this also isn’t the first time such words have been notably missing in a non-PR intense policy discussion. When I was submitting my comments on the HHS Draft Strategic Plan, 2018-2022*, which included plenty of “personhood” language and no mention of the word “fetus” btw, one of the things I found most egregious was the language in the objective focused on empowering people to make informed choices for healthier living (Objective 2.1). The document called repeatedly for the involvement of faith-based organizations to impart information that is “culturally competent”, “linguistically appropriate”, and “communicated effectively”, but adjectives describing the information provided as scientifically-accurate, medically-proven, or evidence-based were nowhere to be found in this section.

I found it very similar to the language described in the Washington Post article that broke the CDC story: “In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes””. And this was the Draft Strategic Plan for the HHS; an official policy document, NOT a budget document where they were *supposedly* trying not to draw the ire of the purse-string holders.

So, no, I don’t accept that explanation at face value. Even if it is true that that was the motivating factor around the CDC instructions, the fact that those are terms that are verboten in this Administration is highly concerning.

And, yes, I think we do need to be careful about not blowing every little thing out of proportion, and yes, we do need to pay attention to what he does not just what he says. But words do matter. Believe them when they tell you who they are and what they will do.

And I also strongly think that if we let crap like this pass by without calling it out, it implies consent, or complicity, or lack of resolve, or lack of vigilence, or any of the other things that shows them that they got away with it and can keep pushing the line further and further to the extreme right, because you know they will.

*Was at https://www.hhs.gov/about/strategic-plan/index.html, now archived at link embedded above