The next time I hear someone call for “smart” regulation, “smart” growth, “smart” boards, or “smart” anything I’m going to have to pull a Dr. Evil and get them to zip it — zip it good.
Appending “smart” before something for which you are advocating is not only a very worn and tired tactic, it is also — for lack of a better word — stupid. It’s stupid because simply labeling something as smart does not make it so. Even worse, adding the label “smart” is intentionally ambiguous, allowing the audience to imagine that the “smart” adjective includes whatever people prefer and excludes whatever they oppose, even though everyone is imagining a different set of what is included or excluded by “smart.”
A lot of normally smart and good people have fallen into the “smart” rhetorical ditch. Mike Petrilli over at Flypaper was rightly opposing efforts to re-regulate education when he urged: “But the answer is not a return to old-fashioned regulation, but a move to smart regulation.” That’s like fingernails scratching a smart board.
And sometimes the addition of “smart” negates the noun it is modifying in an Orwellian fashion. So, “smart” growth really seems to mean no growth or at least highly restricted growth. That’s a fine position to take, but it is just bullying to imply that all other positions are not “smart.” Rather than bullying others and disguising what one is really advocating with the “smart” trick, people should just come out and say what they prefer.
Mike Petrilli prefers less regulation in education. The proper term for that view is de-regulation, not smart regulation. Saying de-regulation at least specifies the direction in which he thinks policy should go, while advocating for “smart” regulation reveals nothing about the preferred direction. That doesn’t mean he favors the elimination of all regulation. It’s just that in general he prefers less. And he makes some effort to tell us what kinds of regulations he would like to eliminate and which should remain.
I agree with him. But I have one regulation to propose. Let’s stop talking about “smart” regulation. Or, if we have to develop vapid and deceptive marketing slogans for our proposals, I suggested that we follow the spirit of DJ Super-Awesome and let’s replace “smart” with “super-awesome.” If we start talking about “super-awesome regulation” the stupidity of “smart” will be more obvious.