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Hey, Republicans, words matter and AP's 'Illegal immigrant' decision proves it

What a difference a word makes! Tuesday the AP announced changes to its Stylebook that embargoed the words “illegal immigrants” and “illegal aliens.” They explained that the decision was in keeping with other choices made to avoid “labeling,” such as describing “schizophrenics” as “people diagnosed with schizophrenia.”

So, let me get this straight -- an alternative might be “immigrants diagnosed with illegal behavior”? The AP is apparently recommending “living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.” 

I prefer Jay Leno’s choice: “undocumented Democrats.”

The word-smithing will not impress Janet Napolitano. The Homeland Security head last week dismissed controversy over the term. “I don’t really get caught up in the vocabulary wars” she told reporters. “They are immigrants who are here illegally. They are illegal immigrants.” Bully for Janet.

The decision by AP is, of course, intended to sway public opinion; if we drop the phrase, maybe we’ll forget the 11 million people who have snuck into the country or who have overstayed their visas have broken the law. Maybe we’ll imagine that they suffered an unfortunate attack of amnesia, or simply lost their way promenading along the Rio Grande.

It seems small potatoes, but the truth is – word-smithing of this sort is extremely potent, and Democrats are much better at it than Republicans. 

When Harry Truman charged that GOP stood for “Grand Old Platitudes,” he shot an arrow through the heart of the complacent Dewey candidacy, and went on achieve one of the greatest upsets in American politics.

The left has been especially capable of changing the nation’s dialog. Think of the word “entitlement.” We now accept that Americans are “entitled” to Medicare and Social Security – when once these programs were “earned.” 

The notion that you pay wages into such programs, to ensure retirement income and medical care after a certain age has been all but abandoned. 

This is not accidental. 

As sure as spring, the way we will ultimately make these programs sustainable – the way we will save them – is by curtailing benefits for high earners. 

There are already hints of this approach; it is clearly the only way that both Social Security and Medicare will survive. Is it fair to those who pay into these programs during their entire careers, and who are successful? Not really – but since we now consider these programs “entitlements,” no one will dare complain that our most successful citizens give up their payout to those who need the benefits more.

The word game has been highly successful for the Obama political apparatus. His relentless attacks on high-income Americans have been powerful in part because words like “rich” and “wealthy” conjure up Daddy Warbucks-type images of heartless exploiters. 

The president has enforced those perceptions by constantly talking about those who don’t “play by the rules” and don’t pay “their fair share.” Would Obama’s call for higher taxes been as powerful if he had targeted our “most productive Americans”? Or – our “biggest contributors”?

Doubtful.

Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to FoxNews.com. She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit LizPeek.com. Follow her on Twitter@LizPeek.