Monthly Archives: June 2012

George Carlin on Political Language

In this hilarious video from the National Press Club in 1999, comedian and word wizard George Carlin skewers the use of language by politicians in Washington, DC. Some things Carlin points out will be familiar to readers here, including the use of euphemisms such as “challenges” in place of “problems,” and that famous political use of the passive voice, “mistakes were made.” Carlin also points out that our politicians are pathologically cautious about using words not to say something.


How to Beat the Republicans on the “Government” Issue

Republicans have been running against “government” at least since Ronald Reagan‘s 1980 presidential campaign. Willard Romney fired the latest salvo in the Republican War On Government last Friday when he stated that we should not have “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” as President Obama wants, but rather, we should “get the message of Wisconsin” (referring to Governor Scott Walker‘s victory in his recent recall election) and “cut back” on these essential public servants. Some pundits called Romney’s statement a “gaffe”, and even Governor Walker, who targeted public employee unions in Wisconsin after taking office, disagreed with Romney.

Apparently, Romney’s gaffe was in going from the general Republican talking point (attacking “government” or “unions”) to the specific (targeting teachers, cops and firefighters, many of whom are beloved in their communities, for firing). California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger learned a similar lesson in his first year of office, and the rest of his time as Governor was doomed. The lesson is that a good talking point, which can be made in the most general terms, does not always translate to a successful specific policy. This indicates that, when Republicans spew the usual talking points attacking “government” and “government workers”, we should put Republicans on the spot by asking them which specific programs and which specific workers they would cut.

We should:

Politicians Dumbing it Down for Us

A recent study found that members of Congress are talking to us at an average 10th grade level, down a whole grade from 11th in just seven years. According to some accounts, that’s a sad or even alarming trend. However, the picture is different when one learns that Americans, on average, only read at an 8th or 9th grade level. In that respect, the politicians are doing what they are supposed to do — talk to us in a way that we can clearly understand.

It seems that the recent study says more about Americans’ education values and intellectual curiosity than it does about the politicians who, understandably, chase our votes they best way they can.

John Fugelsang Exposes the Fallacy of “Pro-Life”

One of the magic terms in the Republican language arsenal is “pro-life”. As we know, “pro-life” doesn’t really mean that someone favors “life” in general, it narrowly means “pro-fetus”, “anti-choice”, or “anti-abortion rights.” It is, however, a deliberately positive-sounding term, like “pro-motherhood”, “pro-children”, and “pro-America.” Who could be against these things? That’s exactly what the Republicans are betting on. But political comedian and author John Fugelsang, on a recent Current TV appearance (included here from the Crooks and Liars website), took the term “pro-life” apart.

According to Fugelsang, 77 percent of Americans in a recent Gallup poll favored a woman’s right to have an abortion in some or all cases, but only 41 percent of respondents identified themselves with the “pro-choice” terminology that applies to such views. Fugelsang said that a subsequent Washington Post op-ed (by a writer from a Catholic religious publication) then falsely labeled the remaining plurality of respondents “pro-life” when many of them had the pro-abortion rights views that clearly excluded them from the “pro-life” category. According to Fugelsang, we need to look at the positions rather than the labels. We also need to bring attention to conservatives’ statistical lies like these when we see them.

Fugelsang further called out the Right’s hypocrisy in calling themselves “pro-life” at all, saying many of them are “pro-death penalty, pro-torture, pro-euthanasia, pro-drone bombs, pro-land mines, pro-preemptive war, and still call yourself ‘pro-life.'” That also brings to mind George W. Bush‘s description of himself and fellow Republicans as promoting a “culture of life” as they were destroying millions of innocent lives in Iraq and elsewhere.

This should be a lesson to voters not to fall for Republican catchphrases and code words that are designed to give you a subconscious emotional response — nothing less than brainwashing — rather than letting you think for yourselves, which is their biggest fear.