Powering up progressive political language

Picture this fictional scenario: a telecommunications representative knocks on your door trying to sell you television and internet services. Part of the sales pitch is that the service works only half the time, is subpar when it does work, and forget about customer service. The rep would more than likely get the door shut politely in his/her face. Who would knowingly spend hard-earned money on such a shoddy service? What kind of salesperson makes such a pitch?

Consider that career Republicans and their media representatives are constantly beating the bad-government drum. “You want the government running your health care?” they scoff. “Government can’t do anything right,” the pundits joke. Now consider that they are the government. And they want your campaign contribution dollars so that they can continue purposely running the government poorly, self-fulfilling every bad government prophesy ever told.

This Hitchcock-like universe is the one we currently live in, according to retired career Republican Mike Lofgren who says of the Republican agenda:

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.

When Republicans win elections, they consider themselves victorious in some fictitious war against big government. This, even though they spend most of their time in office throwing wrenches into government cogs and the rest of the time making government bigger in individual lives–or non-existent where it is vital.

Lofgren summarizes GOP logic:

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

And while we bemoan the failure of the mainstream media to “catch on” to these self-incriminations, they are doing the same thing. In their case, they are considered successful failures due to high viewer turn-out. Fox consistently wins the ratings war though they are arguably the least trustworthy (and most biased) source of news and information in the mainstream media lineup.

The talking heads on Fox regularly warn viewers about the so-called liberal bias in mainstream media while they are so obviously being biased in the other direction…and part of the mainstream media they pretend to reject. They perpetuate the GOP stratagem that both parties are equally awful, that the only good government is an invisible, unheard, and benevolent government.

The Republicans, as well as their corporate and media cohorts, have successfully violated information security. This breathtaking hypocrisy has so permeated the political landscape that some voters either fail to see it for what it is or dismiss it as part and parcel of the system. People are now quick to assure others that they don’t watch cable news or that they think “both parties” stink. They have bought the Republican snake oil and thirstily drank it down.

Mike Lofgren calls these folks “low-information voters”:

There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

Good news for progressives

Republicans are great at convincing people to vote against their self-interests and that free market money-handlers have the best interests of this nation well in hand. Lofgren explains how they accomplish it and in doing so offers the only solid piece of advice in his exposé:

How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? – can anyone even remember it? No wonder the per jorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

Language is a powerful political tool and we are finally getting it. President Obama named his 2011 jobs bill the “American Jobs Act” and polls show enormous public support for it. The phrase “earned benefits” instead of “entitlements” is getting a lot of play with online media in light of Rick Perry’s attacks on Social Security. And Stephen Colbert satirizes the use of language to manipulate voters by hiring Frank Luntz to sell his Super Pac to the public.

While we [liberals] generally oppose the use of slogans and catch phrases as condescending “dummy-speak”, members of the GOP are using them to evade real answers and lie. Sometimes we are loath to call a good idea a good idea because it is being used in unethical ways. Understood. Lofgren boldly explains why this approach isn’t working for us and how we can harness the power of good ideas–in an honest and positive way–to accomplish great things. I agree. I think the President does too.

Stacy Mergenthal Stacy Mergenthal (40 Posts)

Stacy Mergenthal is an activist for progressive causes and voice for the working class. She currently resides in Missouri with her family.