Swans Commentary » swans.com August 1, 2005  



Words, Words, Words


by Deck Deckert






(Swans - August 1, 2005)  I have always known that words are important; after all, I have been a writer and editor all of my working life.

But it's only in recent years that I have realized that words are the most important thing in the public's perception of politics and everything else that is important.

Whoever chooses the language frames the debate.

Let's start with the most basic political division -- conservative versus liberal. When did liberal become a four-letter word? When I was a youth, a liberal was as proud of his heritage as a conservative was of his. Somewhere along the line, however, right wingers declared that liberalism was a bankrupt, even traitorous, philosophy.

Instead of laughing off this ridiculous characterization, liberals became timid and defensive and eventually began running from the label. And yet, if you don't use the word liberal, most Americans support the liberal position on a host of things -- public education, progressive taxation, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, environmental protection, civil rights for minorities, the United Nations, and the observance of international law.

The Bush administration calls itself conservative, and its opposition and the media blindly and mindlessly goes along with that. It is, of course, no such thing. It is dangerous and radically regressive.

Conservatives have traditionally believed in small government, balanced budgets, judicial precedent, non-interference in our personal lives (okay, conservatives have always been agreeable to government interference when it comes to matters of "morality"), and in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The neocons of the Bush administration don't believe in any of that. They are attempting to roll back The New Deal and give us the unrestrained capitalism of the late nineteenth century. They reject the separation of church and state, the due process of law, and Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties. They proudly proclaim that the U.S. is becoming an imperial power, unrestrained by any international agreements.

And yet they still call themselves conservative. Whoever chooses the language frames the debate.

If you call it "welfare reform," you can pretty well destroy the system. Critics are reduced to sputtering that perhaps the reform went too far, instead of pointing out that calling it "reform" is a grotesque lie. If progressives could choose the language and make it stick we could "reform" the War Department -- euphemistically called the Defense Department -- to half its present size and save trillions of dollars.

If you call something a "War on Terror," you can justify everything, from the destruction of our own democracy to unprovoked invasion and the slaughter of the population of a sovereign country whose oil we want to control.

If you call it a "War on Drugs," you can imprison a large percentage of minority populations, curb civil liberties, and set up a huge, self-sustaining bureaucracy to treat a medical problem as if it were a crime.

It you call it the "Patriot Act" you can gut the Bill of Rights and give the government vast new powers of repression.

If you call it "Tax Reform," you can pass laws that profit the rich and powerful by taking money from the middle class and taking away benefits from the poor. If you call labor unions "special interest groups" you can freeze wages and the minimum wage, steal pension money, send jobs overseas while paying CEOs incomes that would embarrass an emperor.

If you call them "conspiracy nuts," you can avoid all the awkward questions about 9/11, exactly how the towers collapsed, why the planes were not intercepted by US fighter planes, etc.

Whoever chooses the language frames the debate.

If you choose your language carefully, you can successfully label as "terrorists" people who object to the occupation of their country -- Iraqis, for example; or their land -- Palestinians, for example. You can avoid any examination of stolen elections by calling those who want to question "poor losers."

If you call it the "No Child Left Behind Act," you can burden schools with a testing regimen that forces them to cut arts, music, and gifted programs in an attempt to boost test scores.

Whoever chooses the language frames the debate.

The media uncritically adopts the sloganeering language of the administration and other powerful interests and never pays any serious attention to the ramifications. Occasionally, things don't work out -- calling it "Social Security Reform" wasn't enough to fool the public. But all too often simply putting a label on something is enough to confuse the issue and allow the ruling elite to continue amassing power without any examination of the issue.

It's time for Progressives to stop using language that undermines and destroys everything they believe in.

Just say No to "Welfare Reform," the "War on Terror," the "War on Drugs," the "Patriot Act," "Tax Reform," and all the other words and terms that hide the reality of the hidden fist of tyranny and repression.

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Internal Resources

Main Media & Propaganda on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans

Patterns which Connect on Swans


About the Author

Deck Deckert on Swans (with bio).



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Published August 1, 2005