Category Archives: Popular Political Phrases

Taking “freedom” back

The hottest Republican buzzword today is “freedom.” It shows up in NRA talking points, names of groups like FreedomWorks, names of bills like South Carolina’s Firearms Freedom Act, which would exempt guns manufactured and used in South Carolina from federal gun safety laws, and elsewhere. That’s because, like motherhood and apple pie, everyone favors “freedom.” Moreover, the word is designed to root into voters’ subconscious to make the talking points, organizations and bills more appealing. It’s brainwashing. If you doubt that, check out how the right-wing National Taxpayers Union counted the number of times the word “freedom” appeared in the Democrats’ 2009 health care bill. But Democrats are the true defenders of freedom, if only they would go on offense and say so. Here’s how:

Four debate pointers for President Obama

With the second Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Willard Mitt Romney around the corner and the third debate just six days later, President Obama should follow these four time-tested principles of successful political communication to gain the debate advantage:

Interview with Rap Activist Macarone

Mac Pub Shot


With his name and his residence in conservative Orange County, California, Maurice Bradford could be an attorney or an accountant. But instead he’s Macarone, a self-styled “rap activist” who is carving out a niche as a hip-hop spokesman of the political Left. Messaging Matters caught up with Macarone after his recent performance to benefit Cenk Uygur‘s Wolf PAC:

How to Frame the Affordable Care Act Win

After suffering a historic political loss via the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are seeking to make lemonade by characterizing the ACA as a massive tax on everyone. Let’s not help them do this.

For example, I’ve heard Republicans such as Rush Limbaugh call the ACA (please don’t call it “Obamacare” — that’s pejorative right-wing framing designed to evoke Big Government and the Nanny State) “the biggest tax increase in the history of the world.” I guarantee that Republican politicians will be using phrases like “massive tax increase” over and over. But then I hear Democrats saying “no, it’s not the the largest tax increase in history, there have been bigger ones.” That’s a terrible response. It’s like a criminal lawyer telling the court, “my client didn’t kill 26 people as the prosecution alleges, he only killed 20.” You never want to argue within the frame established by your opponent. That’s playing on a field tilted against you.

Instead, here are some useful points to remember regarding the ACA and the Supreme Court ruling:

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:

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.

No Need to Say the Republican War On Women “is Real”

Why do Democrats always seem to snatch weakness from the jaws of strength? The Republican War On Women is an important issue for Democrats. It’s another vivid example of how Republicans favor big corporations and wealthy individuals instead of middle class Americans. Republicans keep providing ammo in their War On Women, from trying to redefine rape to attempting state-sponsored rape in Virginia to Ted Nugent‘s latest vile attacks on Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In other words, we know the Republican War on Women is real. So there’s no need to say it’s real.

Saying the Republican War On Women “is real” sounds defensive, as if the assertion is in doubt. It isn’t. Like gravity and the curvature of the Earth, the War On Women is now so obvious that it no longer needs to be proven. When Democrats play defense, they lose. When the Republicans say President Obama‘s Affordable Care Act is “socialist”, do they then explain that “socialism in the Democratic Party is real”? No. When the Republicans say the Democratic-sponsored Buffet Rule is “class warfare”, do you hear them say “and class warfare is real”? Nope. The Republicans have learned Messaging Maxim #1: Go on Offense.

Democrats also need to go on offense and have the confidence to talk about the Republican War On Women without backpedaling to say it’s “real”. We need to point to the almost daily salvos fired by Republicans in this war, and  say that the Republican War On Women is hurting families, and hurting America.

Political Phrases Used by Democrats

A year ago, we posted the list of Political Phrases Used by Republicans. These are words and phrases the Republicans use and repeat in order to tilt the political playing field in their favor. We expressed the desire to create a similar list of Democratic and progressive phrases, but feared there were too few even to make a list.

Now, a year later, we dare to begin creating the list of phrases that Democrats use, or should use, to help level the playing field against the Republicans. Thus far, however, the list is modest, which is precisely why we wrote A Messaging Manifesto For Democrats. Therefore, we ask for your suggestions in the comments (or via Twitter) as to additional phrases that the Democrats either (a) are using, or (b) should use, and we’ll add the appropriate ones to the list. Hopefully, this list will at some point begin to approach the Republican list in length and effectiveness.

Also, when you compare the Democratic and Republican lists, notice the differences. Democrats tend to focus on things like hope, family, and health, while Republicans focus a lot on life vs. death and good vs. evil. This precisely reflects the competing Democrats’ “nurturing parent” and Republican “strict father” models identified by linguistics professor and political language guru George Lakoff.

Here’s the list:

That Loaded Term “Illegal”

One of the clearest examples of how characterizing something slightly differently gives it a very different meaning occurs with the labeling of illegal immigrants. In a recent episode of MSNBC‘s “Hardball”, host Chris Matthews discusses the most popular ways of describing illegal immigrants, and the political ramifications of each. Matthews says:

When do you think, John, it becomes an ethnic slur? I mean, I try to be proper. Some people say ‘undocumented workers’, that’s very pro, I would think, a person here illegally. Some people say ‘illegal aliens’, which is pretty strong language, as [Michele] Bachmann does. That sort of doubles it down. They’re already illegal, let’s call them ‘aliens’. The others just call them, not even people, call them ‘illegals’. I watched that [Republican presidential primary] debate the other night, and I thought, they’re just trying to put these people down. ‘Illegals.’ That’s not even a person.

Matthews did a good job of encapsulating the most popular descriptions of illegal immigrants, and the very loaded, very different ways of classifying them for political effect. Presumably Matthews uses the term “illegal immigrant”, which is arguably the most accurate and neutral way to describe someone who moves to the U.S. illegally.

Next time you hear a discussion of illegal immigration, listen closely to the terminology used. It will likely give away the biases of the people using the terms, or at least the biases of those who are influencing them.