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Winning the War of Language

Posted by on June 1, 2012
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Jonah Goldberg recently penned a book titled “The Tyranny of clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.”  This book successfully chronicles the malicious distortion of language and history by the left.  Mr. Goldberg singles out a few key phrases that have allowed elected officials to spend trillions for the benefit of the (pick your favorite) disenfranchised or less fortunate among us.  In the book and in a recent article in National Review, he highlights the term “social justice”, used in advocacy for myriad progressive goals precisely because defining the term and measuring success is purposefully vague.  Any perceived wrong can land on the social justice ledger; disenfranchised voters, income inequality, food deserts, universal healthcare, the right to home ownership and to a living wage.  Many laws passed by the left over the last few decades has been promoted as a means to right perceived social injustice for some segment of society–as opposed to promoting the general welfare.  Additionally, progressives claim that social justice initiatives should not be judged effective based on verifiable metrics because its all about improving the human condition or securing rights for some specific class of citizens.   Each step on this path requires a redistribution of assets and limits on individual freedom by an arbitrary body. The United States has been governed for decades and trillions of dollars have been transferred on the basis of vacuous clichés that tug at the heartstrings of voters.    Words may incite to violence or inspire to greatness.  The current administration has put their money (literally) on inciting their base with the language of class warfare, creating a pliable caricature (this year it’s the 1%) to fit every political end.   The political class and their fellow travelers have used the language of “fairness” to forge the chains of our collective bondage while dividing Americans into aggrieved groups battling for special favors, rights, and funding from other taxpayers.  Language wielded by polished charlatans has established demagogues on the top rungs of power in government and media.  We have been willing accomplices in relinquishing freedom and money in the name of social justice and its many flavors of redistribution.  In every instance, the ends of social justice are the opposite of the left’s stated goal of promoting fairness–where is fairness for the taxpayer? Teachers in our public institutions learn to spout the liberal mantra of fairness and social justice with a deft skill.  Oh, if only that enthusiasm could be devoted to their core academic disciplines.  America’s education establishment is complicit in molding each new generation to accept dramatic portrayals of societal wrongs in lieu of critical thinking on issues, presenting emotion laden tales of injustice to the earth, minorities or other protected groups.  For these societal goals, students are prepared to accept ever greater intrusions on personal liberty and as adults become pliant to the regulatory state.  These ideas remain mostly unchallenged in the public education system.  Regaining a balanced and analytical view of social issues is paramount and conservative voices must be heard in the classroom.   For most students, there is no war of ideas because only one side is presented.  The conservative view, if mentioned, is offered as simplistic and mean-spirited.  In essence, to be Liberal is to be normal–any other world view denotes ignorance.  Kids are being deprived of vigorous discourse on issues that may play a profoundly important role in their adult lives. Conservatives cannot win in the arena of ideas, if we abdicate the language and accept progressive definitions of every term.  As an example, examine the debate on illegal immigration.  The phrase “undocumented workers” soften public perceptions to the illegal activity while expanding acceptance of illegal residents, even criminals, while demonizing those who uphold the rule of law.  The goal is always shutting down debate.  Another notable example, “the science is settled“, is inevitably used when rampant disagreement exists between citizens or scientists on man-made global climate change.  When the right stands on timeless principles the left scolds us as extremists while demanding the public accept their “pragmatic” or reality-based solutions.  When in doubt, the more benevolent sounding terminology is generally a progressive creation geared for maximum emotional (as opposed to rational) impact.  On stewardship of the environment and EPA overreach, intelligent debate is scuttled by phrases like–green friendly, carbon neutral and reducing our carbon footprint–always forcing their opposition to disprove a negative. Frank Luntz takes no ideological stance on the way language is employed, but he does a yeoman’s job of measuring the emotional impact of words used to frame issues in a manner that advances an agenda.  Voters crave drama brimming with tragedy, triumph, villains and heroes.  Recall this 2008 Obama campaign video “One Voice” that presented a hopeful message of unity that appeals to the better character of America and presents a distinct contrast to the divisive reality that marked the Obama Presidency and his 2012 campaign of envy.  The legacy media nurtured a cult of personality that allowed a gifted teleprompter to create an iconic brand while deceiving millions. It can’t be overstated that presenting our ideas must capture and motivate an audience raised on inspired rhetoric and engaging visuals.  Conservatives have a sharp learning curve; winning not only with the facts, but also mastering the art of telling a compelling story that grabs both the head and heart.
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