Naming Laws

Marketing is everywhere, and politicians learned to use it long ago. This is why the US Congress gives its laws catchy names. As a disclaimer, I am not a US citizen and this is not a commentary about the political situation in the US. It’s not my place to comment on that. With that in mind, I want to present a few examples on how naming affects the public perception of the law.

The patriot act. Signed into law in 2001, the act gives the law enforcement agencies broader authority to monitor communication and other personal records; to regulate financial operations and to act on possible terrorism suspects. While it created better ways for the state to protect its citizens, it also attracted a lot of criticism for rights' violating proneness of the law. The law is controversial but the name is marvelously chosen. It sends the idea of sacrifice for higher ideals and anyone who is opposing this law is immediately marginalized as unpatriotic.

The no child left behind act. Also signed in 2001, the act sets measurable goals in the US education system. It received overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, nevertheless critics started pointing out many flaws in the system. But again, this is a great name as it also diverts attention from the content. Who is heartless enough to leave children behind? The level of discussion moves from the intellectual debate to pure sentimental mist. A wordplay of “No Man Left Behind”, the ossified idea in the minds of Americans about the honor and the sacrifices required in war, subconsciously triggers an whatever-it-takes response.

Internet freedom act. The proposition of senator John McCain should restrict the powers of the FCC thus creating the opportunity for companies to tax the Internet differently. Think of it as the opposite of the net neutrality idea. Everybody likes freedom but the law will not be the just arbiter of this, it will be the indifferent buffoon.

Patient protection and affordable care act. The 2010 signed law promises to create a better health care system in the US. The official name, long and cumbersome, is forgettable while Obamacare, the immediate dubbing of the law, became the de facto replacement. The name is using the President’s reputation as an anchor and not principles and ideals like the other examples do. The problem is that now the act is easily dismissible: “I don’t care about Obama!”. In the end, regardless of the benefits or the downsides of the act, its popularity will decline in par with Barack Obama’s.

These examples show marketing in its finest most mischievous form: the substitution of fact with idealistic propaganda. In none of these examples does the name reveal anything about the actual content of the law. They are gimmicky and believable at the same time. As much as I hate the way people let themselves influenced so easily it also highlights the importance of good naming, the importance of good marketing.

On a side note, the way I learned the difference between Deutsche Demokratische Republik(German Democratic Republic) and Bundesrepublik Deutschland(Federal Republic of Germany) is remembering that the one containing the word Democratic in it is the Communist one.