For a group of people as seemingly obsessed with the use of language and memes as the professional left pretends to be, they don’t seem to do it very well. They liberally (pun intended) sprinkle their language with many phrases and terms we really should have stopped using a long time ago because they’re inaccurate and benefit the political opposition. Many of them will tell you they use them because they’re in common use and it’s too difficult to change them. And yet, at the same time they are working really hard to replace a number of other terms that are actually in common use, and which are actually potentially detrimental to the opposition. Why doesn’t that seem suspicious to more people?
Progressives of all kinds really need to start leading the way when it comes to political language and use it to its greatest benefit. We need to drop certain terms and stop trying to replace others. This article is a beginning step.
Let’s start with some terms and phrases we need to lose, and quickly. Of course, being a helper, I also recommend replacements.
This is a big one. I’ve been railing against this one for years. You never see the term used on this blog to refer to the reprobates who currently control the Republican Party. These people are right wingers. They are extremists. There is absolutely nothing “conservative” about them, so stop calling them that. Right wingers use the term to give themselves more credibility than they deserve, and whenever we use it to describe them, we assist in that endeavor. Blue Dog Democrats are conservative, not right wing. Calling people like Rush Limbaugh, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz “conservative” confuses people and makes them think there’s no difference between the Tea Party candidate and the conservative Democratic candidate, which is a lie. It also makes them not want to show up and vote. In other words, the term isn’t just inaccurate; it’s also misleading and a major contributor to our political failure.
Call these people what they are. They’re right wingers. They’re extremists. They’re teabaggers. They’re whack jobs. But they are not “conservatives.”
Big Business/Wall Street/Corporations (as Pejoratives)
Take your pick. The way the professional left talks about the business community is killing us. Using any of these terms as a pejorative undermines us, in part because most Americans work for or depend on one or more of these. Yes, Monsanto is a “big business,” but so is Ben & Jerry’s. Wal-Mart and Costco are both big businesses, yet one is an example of evil, while the other is at least tolerable, if not good for people and th economy. Surely everyone can see a difference between Starbucks and Chick-fil-a, right? And what about Bill Gates and the folks at Apple and Google. None are perfect, but on balance, they do show that “big business” can lead to great things.
As for “Wall Street,” what the hell does that even mean? Wall Street just happens to be a major location for financial companies. So? That part of Manhattan also has some of the best delis anywhere. And by the way, most of the largest banks in the country are NOT located on Wall Street. I know, it’s a”symbol.” A symbol that most people don’t care about. Lose it.
And “corporation” can’t be a pejorative if you’re sane. I know; there are evil corporations out there. Of course, most of the small businesses you frequent are incorporated. Incorporation protects assets by creating a fictional person that absorbs the risk of starting and building a business. If your business loses $100,000, you get to keep your house. It’s not an evil concept, and every corporation is not evil. TWhen you generalize to such a degree, people will find out what you say is not accurate at all. You undermine your own cause.
To talk about the influence of big business on government, be very specific, and discuss both the bad and good things they do. Corporations, even large ones, do a lot of good at times. Imagine how we look when we proclaim inherent evil and the next day the people we talk to see corporate logos all over their favorite charity? What about the ones who still sponsor your favorite progressive media?
One last thing. If we speak about both good and bad, we’ll be encouraging them to do more good. “Big Business” loves good PR.
Stop calling most expenditures “spending.” By doing so, you’re actually playing into the right wing’s propaganda machine. Throwing money at Halliburton and other corporate cronies can be seen as “spending,” because the money is going down the toilet. But most government expenditures intend to bring a return. Infrastructure programs are how we built the strongest economy in the world. The vast majority of people who get educational grants will pay a hell of a lot more in taxes as a result over the long haul. More than 98% of welfare recipients will collect that money for two years or less, which means that even they will pay more into the system than they will take out of it. Most of what the right calls “government spending” is actually “government investment.” Use that. It’s more accurate, and it sounds more progressive.
We lost this one a long time ago. We chose “pro-choice” as a moniker for being in favor of a woman’s autonomy over their own bodies, and we allowed them to choose the term “pro-life” and get away with it. We even called them that! Professional lefties still use it to describe them, to the right wing’s great delight.
These people are not “pro-life.” They pretend to care about the fetus in the womb, but they actually undermine those who actually choose to keep their child by cutting funding for programs designed to help them. Then, once the child is born, they cut programs to educate them, feed them, provide them with medical care and anything else that might make their lives easier. They even want to cut Medicare and Social Security. That’s not pro-life. Call these people anything you want, but don’t call them “pro-life.” Ever.
That’s a pretty good selection of words we should really stop using. And I mean now. Our use of the above terms are killing the progressive movement.
But what about terms that we keep trying to replace, that really don’t need replacement? For some reason, there are some terms that professional lefties have decided need to be replaced. The stange thing is, they blame the term for the reason we lose, but it’s not. There are other reasons why we lose these arguments, which have nothing to do with labels. Here are a few that actually should not only exist, but which could be used to shut down the right wing.
I don’t understand why anyone would have a problem with the word “entitlement.” In the vast majority of cases, it’s an accurate term. Social Security and Medicare are entitlements. You worked your asses off and help make this country what it is, and you’re entitled to payment. It’s part of the deal. It’s a social contract that everyone agrees to. The same is true of unemployment, workers’ comp and disability insurance. Everyone who collects those has paid for them. They are entitled to those benefits, just as they’re entitled to have their medical care paid for by their health insurance carrier. Pro lefties are trying to switch this to something like “earned benefits,” but that’s not as accurate and it creates too much wiggle room for the right wing, especially when someone needs a benefit before they’ve paid enough in taxes to “earn” it.
I am so sick of people trying to make this one “controversial” and to find something “softer” that more people will “accept.” It’s accurate, and it describes what we need to do. To make things safer, we need to control the guns. We have controlled pharmaceuticals, why not controlled guns. I hear so many alternatives, and all of them make me retch. “Gun responsibility”? Most gun owners are already responsible, so there goes that one.“Gun Safety”? Are you kidding? There are 300 million guns in this country right now, and maybe one-tenth of one percent of them are used in criminality in a given year. Gun safety is not the problem. “Gun violence prevention” should be police.
The solution our gun problem is about regulation. We need a system of registration, licensing and insurance, to make it harder for bad guys to build an arsenal and wipe out the population. That’s about keeping track of the guns, and who has them, and enforcing a level of care that is not currently present. It’s about controlling the guns! Gun control!
This is another one I don’t get. The vast majority of people love the environment and they love the idea of protecting it and improving it for future generations. Even many right wingers love the environment and will rally around a chemical spill. Yet, there is a movement on the professional left to stop using this term, and replace it with terms that just sound dumb. My favorite is “shared resources.”
Everyone knows what the environment is, and they love it. They love blue skies and clean water and watching wildlife frolic through a pristine wilderness. “Shared resources”? First of all, the term “resources” invokes use. I mean, how is it a “resource” unless you plan to use it? It’s also hard for people to envision “sharing” with China and India, despite the fact that such a thing is crucial to the future of the environment. Using terms like “clean air and water” is just too limiting, unless that’s what you’re talking about. And talking about “nature,” which many professional lefties seem to want us to do is another invitation for right wingers to appropriate and ruin an issue. After all, crude oil is natural, as is arsenic. Fracking uses “natural” “shared resources,” too. See the problem? Talking about the environment works very well.
The reason we lose on the above issues has nothing to do with these terms. It’s because we help Republicans win. And that’s because of the way we speak about things. These are just some examples. There are many others.
It’s time to watch your language, progressives!