Losing the Language Of Politics Debate
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I resent it.
And I guess the recent election merely rubs salt in the wound.
No regular to this page will be surprised to hear that I am a “liberal.” I am one of those who witnessed the November 2nd election with dismay and disappointment. And I’m a “liberal” who doesn’t try to avoid that once-proud label. I’m still very proud of it.
Now, I’m not here to proselytize – I’m looking for no converts – at least not in this column. What I’m trying to do is help us understand a strategy or approach that has helped the political right to claim its political might.
I believe that the conservative right brought its vote to the polls – some four million more than four years earlier – much more effectively than my team. The Democrats just don’t have any one as good as Karl Rove and I’d like to believe that at times principle gets in the way of the Dems shooting straight.
Going for the jugular sometime requires less than honorable tactics and it seems the more compassionate party is less effective when it comes to the kill. Is it just a matter of talent? Or is it related to beliefs? The Republicans didn’t hesitate to attack John Kerry’s war record – the guy volunteered to be there. The Dems really didn’t take the President to task over a National Guard record that was blurred in a very hazy stupor.
Somehow their side magnified every one of John Kerry’s slight imperfections – they even created a few. He was labeled aloof; he flip-flopped. Our side never labeled the President – bumbling, dumb, religious zealot or failure – with any catchy descriptive tag. Wow, did flip-flop stick for Kerry throughout the campaign. I can’t remember anything sticking on “W.” I can’t even remember the Dems trying to make anything stick.
Our side failed to capitalize on a failed war by a bumbling administration. Our side failed to capitalize on a faltering or stalling economy driven by tax cuts favoring the few. Our side just failed.
Or maybe their side just succeeded.
They clearly outdid us.
The track record of conservatives winning the public relations game is long-lived. The right has never been afraid to claim American or centrist symbols or words as their property. The left then winds up attacking those all-American symbols and language.
Why is anything “all-American” property of the right?
In the 60’s, they took the flag for their own. Our guys reacted by burning it. This was classic. They supported an ugly, futile war, so we burned the flag which represented our nation and its fight for freedoms.
The doves – the people of peace — yielded the American flag to the hawks of war. It became theirs and we allowed it.
Pretty darn stupid.
They became fanatical in their defense of the flag. The “pledge” was like a religious experience. They wanted to prosecute anyone who burned, wore or defaced the flag. They went on and declared themselves the patriots and by default, we were unpatriotic. To this very day, if you question whether the country is acting right when it comes to war, you are unpatriotic. If you think for yourself, if you question, challenge, you are labeled unpatriotic.
Remember the President asking, how can Kerry be the commander-in-chief when he allows the troops to hear him question what they’re doing.
Hey, that’s the America I come from. You’re allowed to question. Where I was raised, you’re supposed to question.
Exercising your First Amendment freedoms is the ultimate right, if not obligation of patriots. Americans must speak out; that’s what makes our nation great.
But once again, the right has taken control and defined patriotism. They have defined the concept of military right or wrong: “America is right” is the only patriotic approach to international or military issues.
They have even taken the legislation eroding first amendment rights and labeled it the “Patriot Act.” They are good . . .very good.
But they are wrong.
On a national level, they are no less fanatical, nor any less effective.
They are in control of the moral debate.
As a matter of fact, they won the election on “moral values.”
I guess then, we must be “immoral.”
They have painted the language landscape so that if you don’t buy into their ideology, you fail the “morality” test.
They are “pro-life.”
Does that make us “anti-life?”
Forget abortion, they have even made stem cell research “anti-life.”
I can’t quite figure it out.
I guess we have science and they have god.
Or so they would have you believe.
But indeed, they’re “pro-life,” so we’re not.
They maintain that god belongs in public life – in schools, in federal buildings, in the Pledge of Allegiance, in administration of social programs, everywhere government is.
Those of us committed to separation of church and state must be pagans. If we do not let the scriptures into all aspects of our life, are we by default, unholy or less worthy?
They have claimed “family values” as theirs.
I guess that makes us anti-family.
How come the language of the debate doesn’t have us as “pro relationship” and them as “gay bashers?”
If you don’t buy into the Bush tax-cut program, you’re a tax-and- spend liberal – those are the only choices.
You are either for the tax cuts, or you’re reckless. I guess I’m reckless.
And the Dems just sit by and lose the war of language.
We don’t need campaign strategists, we need linguists.
We need to take the word “life” back. We need to reclaim the word “patriotic.” “Family values” are just as much ours, as theirs. “Morality,” must be redefined – they do not own it!
The list goes on.
Rather than be on the offense advocating for our precious guaranteed freedoms and for peace, we are on defense, justifying our values. It’s uncanny. And they are good . . . very, very good at it.
The Democratic Party elders need to go to the universities to find scholars to rewrite modern political English. They need to instill in their party faithful the same discipline of message that the Republicans have so successfully done. They need to learn that language motivates and need to master defining the message.
Democrats need to refuse the terms of the right-wing argument. They need to correct the bold claims of the right-wing vocabulary felons.
The linguistic playing field must be leveled.
We must learn from their successes.
However, we have never done it as well, even though in our time, we had our words.
Remember: “peace” and “love”?
Where did they go?
And will they ever work again?
NYC Marathon, Deja Vu
Last year, this coluimn told you the story of Chris Jagde, an injured, brave attorney from Whitestone who ran the NYC marathon in memory of her friend Paul Gill, a Queens firefighter lost on 9-11.
Chris was back again this year with her 61-year-old mom Dolores in her first race, and more memories.
Chris relates, “I was really pleased this year to see that so many spectators showed up in Queens — especially since the Queensboro Bridge, at mile 15, is such a tiring point during the race — all uphill.
It was so exciting to be surrounded by runners of all nations and to run through such culturally diverse neighborhoods. While running through Queens, spectators were yelling out words of encouragement in Italian, Spanish, German and Polish! There was actually a zither player on the streets of Queens playing German songs for the runners.
Though we’ve lived in NYC all of our lives and have watched the marathon on TV or in person almost every year, there is nothing more exhilarating than to be a part of the race and to reach the finish line. To have done it this year with my mom made it very special for me.
Once again, it was a terrific New York experience, I felt the presence of my friend Paul Gill from heaven guiding me throughout the race! Seeing my mom try something so difficult and physically challenging at age 61 made me so proud of her. I hope that her story encourages other people to know that it’s never too late to be what you “might have been” or to do what you always wanted to do.”