Sunday, November 06, 2005

Word Games

Is there really a difference between the two major political parties in America? Of course, they have policy differences. These distinctions are generally related to the interests of their base constituencies. Republicans propose tax cuts for those who think that government, in the words of President Reagan, "is the problem." Democrats propose federal spending on social problems for those who believe that government is part of the solution.

Yet there is a difference in how carefully each side reads its script. Democrats rarely speak with one voice. Republicans almost always do.

This effort to control the vocabulary, to define the terms of the debate, is something the Republicans have become quite good at. Now, everyone tries to put their arguments in the best possible light while simultaneously suggesting that counterarguments are flawed or insufficient. After all, that's what debate is all about. Yet the Republicans have refined the technique to a point that it resembles the Newspeak of Orwell's 1984. The purpose of Newspeak in 1984 was to limit a citizen's vocabulary in order to limit his thoughts. The purpose behind controlling a citizen's thoughts is to control political power. Do I really need to spell it out for you?

The GOP strategy is best represented by the likes of Frank Luntz. His approach is to pull together a "focus group" of potential voters and then test out various words and phrases on them. This is politics as marketing research. Do you prefer the Whopper or the Big Mac? Yet it works. See if you can pick out which phrases are from 1984 and which from the GOP playbook:

WAR IS PEACE

COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATIVE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

SAVING SOCIAL SECURITY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Not so easy, huh? About the only time that you can catch them in the act is when a new issue pops up. Before they can settle on the words that work best, there is often a public flip-flop as they test-market their language. Once they settle on a word or phrase, there is remarkably little variation on the theme.

To me, the most obvious example of this effort to control the vocabulary is how Republicans refuse to use the proper name of the opposing political party. Haven't you noticed how they say "the Democrat Party" instead of "the Democratic Party"? Obviously, Republics (oops! It's contagious...) realized that "democratic" has a positive ring to it. It connects with something deep in the American psyche. And we can't have that, can we?

Despite the fact that this is doubleplusungood, the Mainstream Media fails to call them on it. Just watch any political talk show and listen to the Republican abuse the language. Then get a copy of 1984.

No comments: