Buckley, thou shouldst be living at this hour!

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If you want a sense of just what a hole the right finds itself in these days, consider the recent press release from the anti-abortion American Life League  headed "KRISPY KREME CELEBRATES OBAMA WITH PRO-ABORTION DOUGHNUTS." It goes on to say:

The next time you stare down a conveyor belt of slow-moving, hot, sugary glazed donuts at your local Krispy Kreme you just might be supporting President-elect Barack Obama's radical support for abortion on demand… The doughnut giant released the following statement yesterday:

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc. (NYSE: KKD) is honoring American's sense of pride and freedom of choice on Inauguration Day, by offering a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day, Jan. 20. By doing so, participating Krispy Kreme stores nationwide are making an oath to tasty goodies — just another reminder of how oh-so-sweet "free" can be.

…The unfortunate reality of a post Roe v. Wade America is that "choice" is synonymous with abortion access and celebration of 'freedom of choice' is a tacit endorsement of abortion rights on demand…. Celebrating [Obama's] inauguration with "Freedom of Choice" doughnuts – only two days before the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to decriminalize abortion – is not only extremely tacky, it's disrespectful and insensitive and makes a mockery of a national tragedy.

A number of anti-abortion bloggers have joined the ALL in urging readers to make their indignation known to the company, while others have confined themselves to suggesting that the promotion was at best clueless. "To a majority of Americans," the commenter on one blog wrote, "the words ['freedom of choice'] do not connote liberty, or 'tasty goodies' or patriotism at all.  These words are synonymous with the painful tragedy of abortion."

And conservatives wonder why their movement is in trouble?

"Freedom of choice": for more than a century, conservatives have been proudly marching under that device, for better or worse. It was in the name of workers' freedom of choice that they opposed compulsory Social Security contributions, the 40-hour week, and the closed and union shop; in the name of the consumer's freedom of choice that they opposed protectionism and truth-in-packaging regulations; in the name of hotel and restaurant owners' freedom of choice that they opposed laws prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations; in the name of the patient's freedom of choice that they've opposed single-payer health care; in the name of parents' and students' freedom of choice that they've supported school vouchers. And above all, they've persistently — and properly — extolled freedom of choice as the motor force of capitalism, "the immutable law of the free marketplace," as George Romney said in a 1959 Rambler advertisement.

And now after thirty years of conservative ascendancy, a donut company uses "Freedom of Choice" in a promotion and the only thing that comes to the mind of numerous people who style themselves "cultural conservatives" is the slogan used by abortion rights groups? Karl Rove has got a lot to answer for.



31 Comments

  1. The other Mark P said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 4:09 am

    Well, we've seen words limited to specific uses like this before thanks to political or social connotations: "gay" and "liberal" (at least in America).

    I doubt "choice" will though. If it does then perhaps the pro-Choice lobby has won a little victory, since "Life" is unlikely to become quite as stringently applied.

    Brave of you to leave comments open. I don't imagine it will be long before the fur starts to fly though.

  2. Avner Kashtan said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 5:05 am

    This reminds me of the recent PETA campaign to redefine "fish" as "sea kittens", which I'm surprised LL didn't cover. Linguistic determinism at its best.

    If a word as common as 'choice' can be so totally overwhelmed by connotations, imagine what a determined campaign can do for any other word? I vote for starting a massive grass-roots internet-driven push towards redefining "chair", or "bread", or something.

  3. Mark Liberman said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 6:12 am

    In other news, Milton and Rose Friedman will be hanged in effigy at the next ALL rally.

  4. Sili said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 7:54 am

    Don't forget the freedom of choice for federally licensed pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions.

    The also seems to miss the fact that "tasty goodies" and "abortions" need not be antithetical. Far from it. (Babies are a sometimes-food.)

    What I find offensive is that your constitution is now held in so low regard that it's considered fit for wrapping donuts.

  5. sharon said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 8:27 am

    Actually, as I understand it, Krispy Kreme haven't used the expression 'Freedom of Choice' at all – that's the antiabortionists' invention. The quoted press release simply says 'a free doughnut of choice'.

  6. Jeremy said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 8:49 am

    I am semi active in various pro-life activities, and everyone seems to think that this is just a poor choice of words. Krispy Kreme does use the wording 'Celebrates the Freedom of Choice on Inauguration Day' on the news release title. Given the concern over Mr. Obama's pledge to sign the 'Freedom of Choice Act', it is not difficult to see where some concern might come from.

  7. joedvg said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 9:09 am

    There are two different announcements on the Krispy Kreme website, one which does not use the phrase "freedom of choice" and one which does.

    1) Statement regarding the Inauguration Day promotion: http://www.krispykreme.com/inauguration.htm

    "Krispy Kreme Doughnuts' Inauguration Day promotion on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, is offering one, free doughnut of a customer's choice at participating Krispy Kreme locations nationwide. No purchase is necessary. The promotion allows customers to commemorate Inauguration Day by selecting one free doughnut of any variety at local participating stores. On Election Day, November 4, 2008, Krispy Kreme ran a promotion that provided customers with one free star-shaped doughnut at stores nationwide. The Inauguration Day promotion is not about any social or political issue."

    2) Press Release:
    http://investor.krispykreme.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=359127

    "Krispy Kreme Celebrates the Freedom of Choice on Inauguration Day
    Customers Can Enjoy a Free Treat at Participating Stores Nationwide

    WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Jan 14, 2009 /PRNewswire-FirstCall via COMTEX News Network/ —

    Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc. (NYSE: KKD) is honoring American's sense of pride and freedom of choice on Inauguration Day, by offering a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day, Jan. 20. By doing so, participating Krispy Kreme stores nationwide are making an oath to tasty goodies — just another reminder of how oh-so-sweet "free" can be.

    "Krispy Kreme is taking the inaugural festivities nationwide," said Ron Rupocinski, executive chef for Krispy Kreme. "We're inviting our fans in cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., to commemorate this historic day with a favorite American treat."

    The Inauguration Day promotional offer is good for one doughnut of choice per customer on Jan. 20. No purchase is necessary."

  8. Karen said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 9:24 am

    @Avner Kashtan: and Steven Colbert's redefinition of "kittens" as "land fish" and promise to add them to his diet immediately…

  9. theophylact said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

    An odd feature of all this is that the Right is all too happy to use "choice" as a commendatory when it's school voucher plans that are at issue.

  10. sleepnothavingness said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

    'When _I_ use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

  11. AxelDC said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

    Looks like it's time to buy some donuts!

  12. Bill Poser said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

    Well, here in Canada the word "choice" is likely to make one think of "President's Choice", the in-house label of Loblaws, the largest food retailer in Canada. And I don't see why Americans aren't just as likely to think of USDA choice beef.

  13. joshua walker said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    Here's another example of the possible political neutrality of the phrase "freedom of choice," from a Federal Times article (1/18/09):

    Supporters say Sunstein's positions are misunderstood. His politics are undeniably progressive: His most recent book, "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness," favors government regulation to deal with challenges like the environment and health care. And a 2004 book, "The Second Bill of Rights," argues for universal rights to education and health care.
    But Sunstein is generally critical of regulations that impose absolute bans or excessive costs, a more libertarian approach.

    "Sensible Democrats certainly hope that public institutions can improve people's lives," Sunstein wrote in "Nudge." "But in many domains, Democrats have come to agree that freedom of choice is a good and even indispensable foundation for public policy."

    …. it would seem that there's a lot more work to be done for the vigilant pro-life bloggers before this insidious phrasing washes all of our brains.

  14. Randy said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

    You've noticed a contradiction in politics, and that's news? Couldn't you pick a group from any location on the political spectrum and point out the contradictions the group makes, and thus try to make a point that they are in such a sad state because they're contradicting themselves. I see the contradictions in my own political beliefs and I can see just as many contradictions in people whose political beliefs are very different from mine, or anywhere in between.

    I agree that the state of the political right is not great these days. The fact that they contradict themselves, however, is no more proof of this than tripping over one's words is a proof of Bush's stupidity, a topic that's come up on Language Log a number of times.

    Geoff Nunberg said: I no doubt should have expressed myself more plainly. The point isn't that I noticed a contradiction, but that the ALL people and other cultural conservatives didn't, either unaware of or indifferent to the rich tradition that "freedom of choice" has had as a conservative credo. Which suggests that the coalition that people like Rove and Weyrich were able to build is going to need some work to before everyone is humming the same tune again.

  15. Jeff Walden said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

    @ theophylact: the difference is that school vouchers increase choice for children and parents while not impairing the choices of others, whereas what's typically meant by "freedom of choice" now impairs the choices of the most vulnerable in society by making those choices entirely impossible to make. You may see a contradiction, but I don't — some choices, because they impair the freedoms of others, are better not existing at all. Just because something offers a "choice" doesn't mean it's good, and I think we can both come up with examples (likely disjoint!) demonstrating that.

  16. James Kabala said,

    January 18, 2009 @ 11:17 pm

    While I doubt if Krispy Kreme meant anything political by this, I actually the word "choice" and even more so phrases like "right to choose" and "freedom of choice" have been infected (or a more positive word meaning the same thing, for those who believe that way) by abortion connotations for quite some time. When I was a teenager and didn't yet know who Milton Friedman was, I saw his book on a library shelf and assumed at first that it was about abortion. Googling the phrase mainly turns up abortion-related pages, although the number one hit is Freedom of Choice jeans (!)* and there is apparently also a Devo album of the name. It feels very strange to me to hear the phrase in a non-abortion-related context.

    * I wondered if maybe this was a line created as a NARAL or Planned Parenthood fundraiser, but apparently it is not.

  17. Fran said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 5:55 am

    @Jeff Walden said "the difference is that school vouchers increase choice for children and parents while not impairing the choices of others"

    Surely even school choice limits the choice of others as there must be some limit on the number of palces at popular schools, so one person's prompt choice may deprive another of a place.

  18. Chris said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 9:09 am

    Which suggests that the coalition that people like Rove and Weyrich were able to build is going to need some work to before everyone is humming the same tune again.

    The idea of a conservative coalition including people like Eisenhower or Rockefeller has run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible. It is an ex-coalition.

  19. John Spevacek said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 10:37 am

    Mathematicians already have the answer: they use the "Axiom of Choice".

    How long until that phrase is hijacked by some political movement?

  20. Merri said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 11:14 am

    The last time I heard the words 'freedom of choice' was between softwares. And I know Yves well enough to know he didn't mean more that what he said. The next-to-last, IIRC was about energy providers. I can tell zillions of situations where I'd like to have (and occasionally not to have) freedom of choice.

    Who's right is it to decide what the other guy meant ?
    Isn't there just a tiny suspicion that this exercise in word-fiddling was intended as an easy but low bashing at the President Elected ?(forget the last word if you're reading this a bit late)

    I must tell this to Yves. Hope he has Freedom of Laughter.

  21. Grep Agni said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    A friend of mine said something like "The next time someone tries to sell me life insurance I'll tell him that I can't buy it because I'm pro-choice.

  22. Jeff Walden said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

    Fran, a few ways to look at that.

    First, as we're usually talking about those who stay at public schools complaining about those who use vouchers to go elsewhere, use of the voucher doesn't impinge on the other student's choice to continue attending the public school. That's the key distinction between no vouchers and vouchers. In a no-voucher system, the cost may prevent even the one who would use a voucher from going elsewhere, while in a voucher system he can; the student who chooses to stay is not denied his choice due to his compatriot's being able to use a voucher.

    Second, regarding crowding out, if two students both prefer to use a voucher over attending a public school, and both want to use it to attend the same private school, isn't letting one attend better than letting neither attend? Making one person better off while not making the other any worse off (an extra choice for one with no change in choice for the other) is a Pareto improvement in my economics books.

    Third, a voucher is not a guaranteed ticket to the school of your choice; it merely is a guarantee that any ticket the student might purchase in the market will be less expensive by some amount. A student who doesn't want to attend a public school still has to compete in the marketplace to find a satisfactory alternative. (Of course, especially for non-elite schools, it may be more likely the private schools will be competing in the marketplace for students rather than the other way around; I have no data on enrollment rates or admission criteria at private schools, let alone what they would be in a society where voucher availability were the norm rather than the exception.) Not every student can or even should go to the Stuyvesants or Thomas Jefferson High Schools (both good schools, although one or both may not be private; I don't remember offhand) of the world.

    (Now of course there's an argument that usually gets made that the voucher user denies the public school the funds equivalent to the value of the voucher. One natural response is that the public school is serving one fewer student, so it shouldn't require the revenue to support a student that doesn't attend it. That answer doesn't flow naturally from a choice perspective, but as I hinted in my previous comment [and as might be divined from the mess of "choice" wording described in the last paragraphs of the original post], choice isn't necessarily a universal ruler by which to measure alternatives.)

  23. IronMike said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

    Two questions:

    a) When did this wonderful "linguistics-y" website get so political?
    b) Why do the actions of one conservative group mean that all (not ALL) conservative groups are the same?

  24. Emily said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

    Admittedly, I've come to see "freedom of choice" as a somewhat vapid, one-size-fits-all political slogan– like most political buzzwords, really. But it does seem fair to ask whether no one at Krispy Kreme thought about the abortion-related connotations, since the phrase "pro-choice" and related slogans have arguably forged a link between "choice" and abortion in the popular understanding(I'd go on about how being "pro-choice" doesn't mean "pro-abortion" at all, but that rant belongs elsewhere).

  25. The other Mark P said,

    January 19, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

    But this isn't really a political discussion! It's a discussion about how words can change meaning, or rather, can be assumed to have meanings that they never used to have.

    Yes it can stray into real-life issues, but most any discussion worth having can.

    I actually [think] the word "choice" and even more so phrases like "right to choose" and "freedom of choice" have been infected by abortion connotations

    Only in the USA (perhaps Canada, I don't know).

    "Choice" has political connotations in New Zealand, but relating far more to issues like school vouchers.

    It is a dead giveaway that someone is toeing an imported US abortion line if they use "choice" or "life" in abortion contexts in NZ.

  26. Michael Maxwell said,

    January 20, 2009 @ 10:32 am

    As James Kabala said, the overwhelming usage of this phrase at present in the US has to do with abortion (if you throw away the "jeans" hit on Google). (And I fail to see the relevance of usage outside the US–I doubt that Krispy Kream is giving away donuts for the US inauguration in Canada or the UK or NZ.)

    Reminds me of Lakoff's rants about the conservative side usurping terms like "relief" (in "tax relief"). Only this time, it's the other way around: the liberals who have taken over a term formerly used by the conservatives. Had we an internet time machine that could go back to 1985, instead of just the mid-90s, we might be able to demonstrate the shift.

  27. Derrick said,

    January 20, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

    It seems unfair to omit the first two sentences after the quotation and then later insinuate through the use of the word "while" that the rational course was taken only by other bloggers. In a blog that has consistently called attention to the misuse of quotations in news stories isn't this a little hypocritical? Or was there a purpose behind the omission?

    Geoff Nunberg said: Well, I think it was clearly loopy for the ALL people to imagine that the Krispy Kreme promotion could possibly have involved a deliberate reference to abortion; hence the "while." But the interest of all of this — which is borne out by a lot of the comments — is that that reading of the phrase is indeed the most salient one for a lot of people, despite its long history of use by conservatives. Which doesn't testify just to the success of the abortion rights movement in using the phrase, but also to the failure of classical conservatives to make their case among those who rightly should be part of their broader consituency.

  28. greg said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 8:27 am

    This is almost as bad as the anti-abortion activists' use of "genocide" to describe abortion. Their definition of "genocide" didn't match any definition I could find of the word in any dictionaries. Maybe something similar has happened here to the meanings of "freedom" and "choice". Or maybe to "of"?

  29. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 11:17 am

    Quick case in point: On Dec 17, 2005, the US House of Representatives saw the introduction of the "Health Care Freedom of Choice Act." The bill had 108 sponsors and cosponsors. 107 of them were Republican.

  30. Boris said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

    When I think "Freedom of Choice" the first thing that comes to mind is the religious sense of the phrase, as opposed to predestination or some such. No doubt, this is because I'm religious, but would the "religious right" not think among those lines? I see no abortion connotation to this phrase at all as opposed to, say, right to choose or pro-choice.

  31. Ann Burlingham said,

    March 2, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    It seems to me it would be awfully foolish of the ALL and other conservatives to abandon "freedom of choice" to people they oppose by assuming all usage refers to abortion. They should be the first to support a wider variety of uses, just as the left should not allow anyone to claim "pro-life" as limited to a subset of people who are pro-, well, life.

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