‘Reform’ in eye of beholder

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

At the end of each year, many lists are released — from top stories of the year to best pictures of the year to most overused words of the year.  I would like to nominate the word “reform” for that last list.

“Reform” seems to have become the magic word in Lansing. If you want support for a proposal, call it a reform. If you are putting out an agenda, call it a list of reforms. Why? Because polls and focus groups have shown that the word “reform” resonates well with the public. 

I thought I knew what a reform was, but because it seems to be used in so many different ways these days, I thought I’d better check. According to Dictionary.com, a reform is “the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory.” So I guess a reform really depends on your perspective—whether something is wrong, corrupt or unsatisfactory in the first place.

I suppose if you think the state provides too many services to its residents, then you would consider it a reform to eliminate some of those services. But on the other hand, if you think the state needs to do more to help vulnerable families, it would be a reform to provide increased and improved services. 

If you believe that people who make more money should pay a higher percentage of taxes, you would find a graduated income tax to be a reform. But if you believe lower taxes for businesses is more of a priority than tax relief for families, then you would support business tax reform.

Maybe you are in the camp that sees police officers and firefighters as being overpaid and think a mandated across-the-board pay cut is an appropriate reform. Or perhaps you see the need for greater investment in our communities and would support a reform that increases that investment.

I think you get the point. There are a lot of plans and lists floating around Lansing right now under the banner of “reforms.” They might only be a reform in the eye of the beholder, however. It’s important to take a close look and decide if they meet your definition of reform.

–Karen Holcomb-Merrill


3 Responses to ‘Reform’ in eye of beholder

  1. Rick Haglund says:

    Great point, Karen. I used to have an editor who went crazy anytime someone used the word “reform” in a story, when it, in fact, what was being proposed was simply a change in a program, rule or law.

  2. Luanne Beaudry says:

    Well said, Karen. From my perspective of reform, our state lawmakers would invest in Michigan and its citizens by passing a graduated income tax, closing tax loopholes, and taxing services and entertainment. I believe these are just a few diverse strategies that can lead Michigan to once again being a leader among states which care for their citizens throughout their lifespan.

  3. Andrew Farmer says:

    I’m glad you bring the subject up. It resonates with my observation of “reform” having many years ago fallen victim to Orwellian usage; meaning to destroy something, not the definition you found still in the dictionary. People like the term because of the correct definition. More of us need to steer more people back to the dictionary so they can find more accurate verbs and adjectives to describe what’s really going on, especially when speakers and writers need the editing. Maybe there should just be a big public education campaign on the definition of Reform?

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