Several years ago, Timothy Noah examined the phrase “morally serious” and found that it had come to be used as a self-congratulatory synonym for “neoconservative.” (Remember when the only “morally serious” position on stem cell research was, allegedly, to oppose it?)
A couple of weeks ago, though I missed it at the time, James Vega of The Democratic Strategist noted something similar about the word “adult” as used by the mainstream media in the budget debate. Just as morally serious meant neoconservative, adult now means, in Vega’s Biercean definition, “acceptable to the major business groups.”
Since the Reagan era…liberal or progressive views have come to be viewed with vastly more suspicion than comparable conservative views by mainstream commentators. As a result, proposals that feature liberal or progressive ideas are invariably treated as “partisan politics” rather than “serious proposals.” On subjects that the mainstream media consider inherently conservative—taxes, deficits and budgeting being prime examples—conservative opinions are automatically treated as being more serious, responsible and “adult” than liberal ones. … To most mainstream commentators today any proposal that provokes serious business opposition is, by that fact alone, proven inherently flawed.
This analysis is, of course, snarky and simplistic. This makes me wish that it weren’t dead right.