Monday, November 08, 2004

Pros And Cons

There is one aspect that Republicans have been beating the Democrats at for some time now and that is the power of framing language. They have systematically and purposely used words and phrases that over time give people the impression that the conservative groups are the good guys. It can also be described as Orwellian doublespeak.

Take "moral majority" for example. The group that uses this phrase for their title by numbers doesn't even come close to being a majority, much less the title doesn't explain what is meant by moral. Further, by staking themselves to this phrase, it implies that all other people are the "immoral minority' and who would want to be associated with them?

The religious right. Again they create the illusion that the political opposite is the non-religious left. By constant repetition of the phrase, everyday people would feel impelled to accept their message because the phrase has a ring of "correctness." The conservatives have always had that added implication of the word "right" with the other definition of the word, meaning "correct."

This is a problem for the left as that word can have the connotation of being strange. Out in left field. Left handed can mean sinister. Left behind, meaning unwanted. Whomever created the political yardstick and put progressives on the left side and conservatives on the right, I would guess they had to be conservatives grabbing that advantage of the subconscious feelings of the two words, left and right.

We can see the use of language to promote political programs by the Bush Administration in the last four years. The Healthy Forest Initiative, putting a happy face on the program whether it deserved one or not. The Clear Skies Initiative, again making it sound like they are clearing all the pollution out of our atmosphere, but did they?

In the last decade or so and certainly by George Bush this past election, conservatives have used the word Liberal as an insult, namecalling any Democrat as a person to be feared. Bush called John Kerry "the most liberal senator" repeatedly as if that is something to be ashamed of.

I think it is time for Democrats to start using the language to their advantage instead of being "left behind" in the war of words. The first place to start is to begin to refer to themselves as "progressives" at every opportunity. Every Democrat that appears on the talking head TV shows should slip it in the conversation frequently. In fact ALL Democrats should be doing this even in casual conversation. Eventually the word progressive would replace the word liberal in common usage.

Once progressive is being used as a replacement word for liberal or Democrat then abreviated form starts becoming natural as well. Progressives would be pros and conservatives would be cons. Democrats would finally have the language advantage. We all like to think of the pros rather than the cons of any subject. Pros are the positive aspect of any idea or issue, cons are the negative connotation.

The abreviated form would become normal on television graphics and on the lips of TV hosts. "Coming up next after the break, the Pros and Cons on Social Security," Wolf Blitzer might say. This is not as dumb as it may seem, any advantage that can be derived out of language should be pursued by the left, oops, I mean progressives. The cons have been doing this for a long time and it is time for the pros to start catching up.

I've weighed the pros and cons of this idea and I see nothing wrong with becoming a pro. So Democrats should start right now and take back the language, don't be left behind, be progressive.


Blogger Foston said...

Another great post.

I have known this for some time but have not commented on it or thought of it in a long time. Language is SO important to how we percieve our respective political parties, and using the word progressive is both accurate and positive.

It does remind me of a Russian history class I took. The "Bolsheviks" (Lenin, Stalin) meant essentially the winners, the bold, the strong. The dissenting Menshviks - all names known only by historians - were the weak, minus, wimpy idea. Please forgive me because its been along time since I was in college...

In any event, obviously the Bolshviks won handily. Historians credit this victory in part to the use of good language.

Your examples are excellent. "Religious Right" and "Moral Majority" are strong examples of a simple message being delivered without even saying a thing. It is simply a great label to atttach to yourself.

Progressive it is. Forget being a proud liberal. Be a strong (Bolshevik) Progressive.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Foston said...

Going to link to your blog. My very small readership will like your stuff.


1:34 PM  
Blogger R said...

I'm reading this book by a CIA analyst that also says that language is important. He writes that when Jerry Falwell or other Christian militants say that Islam is a wicked religion, it rolls off Americans' backs because we are used to an inherent separation of church and state.

Muslims, on the other hand, strive to have Islam in every part of their life. They cherish their religion more than even the most ardent Christians among us, so when this type of western language hits their ears, they don't ignore it like we do. They take it as a personal attack against everything they hold dear.

Language is powerful. Too many idiots in America today don't want to understand the Middle East and so we get things like 9/11.

4:57 PM  
Blogger jon said...

A good book about the uneasy cultural relationship between America and the Middle East is "Jihad vs. McWorld" by Benjamin Barber. Written in the mid-nineties and then updated after 9/11, it explores the objections of Arabs to the imposition of our exportation of capitalism to their region and all the problems that come with it. Much of our American style capitalism tends to be offensive to Muslims, the mass advertising of "anything goes" morality which is more sublet to us (because we are so used to it by now) but bold to them.

There is a feeling in the Arab world that not only are we dominating them with the power of our military with war or the building of bases, but also through global capitalism. On the other hand there is this respect for American democracy by Arabs, they can see a difference between political freedom via a democratic government and the economic system of capitalism practiced in the US. They are particularliy interested in freedom of press, most Americans don't realize for instance that the Arab TV station Al Jazeera is banned in many Arab countries.
I also read a decent book about the history of Islam called "The Shade of Swords" by M. J. Akbar. It covers much of the reasoning behind the political thought of today in the Middle East based on the nearly 1,500 years of the religion of Islam. Americans can't even fathom such a long history of the rise and fall of leaders, religious sects, wars (both defensive and offensive), political upheaval, and on and on.

We have a region of the earth called America that is only 200 to 300 hundred years old to look back at (and far too many Americans don't even know the history of that mere time frame) from our Euro-American dominated ideas. It probably is expecting too much for Americans to delve into the mind of Arabs, Persians and Muslims. And certainly a portion of our Christian population will look at the Middle East from a prejudiced viewpoint with no interest in trying to understand the Muslim world view.

A quick fact I learned from this book, Jihad as we have come to understand it is not what Muslims think of it. The first Jihad (or most important Jihad) is betterment of oneself through religious understanding. The Jihad we think of it as say in the "call for Jihad" by Osama bin Laden for instance or by the Palestinians is a defensive war. They feel attacked as they so often had been through their history and they want to defend themselves. Suicide bombing is mostly a modern phenomenom, used because they don't have nearly the firepower of America or Israel to defend themselves.

I could go on about so much that Americans need to be taught about the Middle East. I certainly feel the the Bush Administration has done absolutely nothing in regards to educating Americans about the Middle East. Remember Bush after 9/11 kept saying "Islam is a peaceful religion" in trying to thwart any backlash against Muslims in this country? That was the only thing I've heard from him on the whole subject, far from informing Americans about the whys of our involvement in the Middle East (much deeper than WMDs or oil, etc.) and the thinking of those that we have killed in our wars. War is more than just a temporary leader of some people, Saddam Hussein or bin Laden for example.

As Democrats are beginning to resign themselves to a mere four more years of Bush, the Iraqis had in part resigned themselves to Hussein for whatever his reign might have been. But they had such a long history to put in perspective to their current timeframe. People of the Middle East can sometimes look at the long historical picture in ways we can't fathom.

I've free formed too long, anyway....

5:23 PM  

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