A parody letter, ostensibly from a university to its students, reads in part, “After careful deliberation, we are pleased to report we can finally announce that we plan to re-open campus this fall. But with limitations. Unless we do not. Depending on guidance, which we have not yet received.”

I say “parody,” but it could easily be genuine. It certainly nails the language: bureaucratic doublespeak, carefully calibrated to say something without saying anything, thus avoiding liability and covering posteriors. That can be problematic when the people you rely on for information are bureaucrats.

Unfortunately, bureaucrats aren’t really people. Not when they speak as bureaucrats on behalf of the bureaucracy. Then they’re just members of the hive channeling the hive mind. And the hive’s first instinct is self-preservation.

You may think the primary purpose of a bureaucracy is noted on the sign above the door. For instance, the school system exists to educate students, the DMV to issue drivers’ licenses, etc.

Not so. The first goal of a bureaucracy is to perpetuate itself. And the first goal of any individual bureaucrat is to make sure they have a job. Educating students and issuing licenses are important but secondary.

If you think I’m exaggerating, you’ve obviously never dealt with bureaucrats in their official capacity. If so, then you know very well the frustration I’m describing.

That brings us to our current situation, with the myriad COVID-19 diktats, “guidelines,” and restrictions, all issued by bureaucrats, many of them patently absurd. You can buy cannabis but not garden seeds? Run but not lie on the beach? Who decided that?

Bureaucrats, that’s who.

Today’s bureaucrat-in-chief is Anthony Fauci, de facto spokesperson for the president’s Coronavirus Task Force. But Fauci is a doctor, you say reverently. No, he used to be a doctor. Now he’s a bureaucrat with a medical degree.

Case in point: When asked by The Chronicle of Higher Education if colleges should prepare for “people getting sick and dying on…campuses this fall,” Fauci replied:

“That is extremely unlikely, but there are always outliers that are not the rule but the exception. From what we’ve seen and our experience thus far with this disease, it is very unlikely that a young, healthy college student is going to get into serious trouble to the point of requiring intensive care and dying. But we’ve seen that. It has happened. It happens rarely, but it happens.”

See what he did there? He answered in the first four words. The rest was classic bureaucratic doublespeak—essentially, butt-covering.

So what are we supposed to do when the bureaucrats in charge traffic almost exclusively in such gobbledygook? Maybe it’s time we fall back on that old standby of free, intelligent, responsible adults and start doing our research and making up our own minds.

Nah, that’ll never work. Unless it does. But it might not. Then again, it just might.

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Rob Jenkins is a college professor. The views expressed here are his own. You can email Rob at rob.jenkins@outlook.com.


(1) comment


I don't agree with the criticism of Dr. Fauci's comments. Yes, "That is extremely unlikely" answers the question. What Fauci is doing, is being extremely clear for those whose reading comprehension might not be stellar. He's speaking to the entire American public, not just you and I.

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