A rose by any other name?

My contention is that neither the benefits or costs associated with T-SPLOST, the transportation special purpose loca option sales tax, had anything to do with how voters felt and why it failed. Nor did things like how the dollars would be spent or who would manage the process. In fact, nothing truly important mattered. T-SPLOST lost because of its name.

There have been few worse names than T-SPLOST. It sounds like one of the countries that resulted when the Soviet Union split up. It sounds like one of those streets in New Orleans that you can never pronounce. I think I have actually seen it as the driver’s name in a New York cab. Or it could be what the doctor prescribed for my uncle’s rash. The word “LOST” actually makes up more than half the name! In short, it is a really bad name.

Names can be important. If you heard that a guy’s name was Irving Cohen, wouldn’t you picture someone different than if his name was Prescott Farnsworth III? “Aquamarine” and “flax” sound so much better than “blue” and “tan.” “Distressed leather” and “distressed furniture” sound so much better than “old leather” and “old furniture.” Would you rather spend a week in “The Land of Lincoln” or “America’s Playground?” I’d lay odds 99 percent of the public doesn’t understand what “organic” means, but put it in front of other words like lettuce or baby powder and listen to the cash registers ring.

Names can be especially important in matters associated with political issues. “Social Security” is a much better name than “paycheck reduction program.” Who can argue with “the war on drugs” or “affirmative action?” You’ve got to give Newt Gingrich credit for “Contract with America” and Richard Nixon for “the silent majority.” In fact, many of Nixon’s top guys, including Bob Haldeman, were ex-advertising agency executives. Now there is a man who understood that sizzle was so much more impactful than substance. Whoever came up with “senior citizens” to replace “old people” deserves a medal.

Most politicians now understand that any really meaningful aspects of a program are irrelevant, and that facts and details should be ignored. What voters really want is something that sounds positive and good, something they want to be associated with, something that has a good name.

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If you want people to be in favor of a government or political program, then the name must include words that no one can criticize. Some of these are “protection,” “children,” “save,” “healthy,” “future,” “skinny” and “Betty White.” One thing is certain: nowhere on that list will you see T-SPLOST.

Joel Babbit is CEO of Mother Nature Network MNN, an environmental website.

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