Language Matters

July 7, 2015 – by Gregory Franklyn

Republican pollster Frank Luntz entertains a largely conservative Mississippi business crowd in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008, with politically incorrect jokes about John McCain's age and speaking style. However, he told the largely McCain-friendly audience that he does not see at this point any way GOP presidential candidate could win, noting McCain has failed to connect with young voters and that, "Stevie Wonder reads a teleprompter better than John McCain." (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Republican pollster Frank Luntz

In 2010 the Republican Party was able to do a pretty convincing sweep of local governments across the country, in addition to taking over the House of Representatives. They were able to do that through a maze of deceptive changes to the language we use in debating issues facing us in our civic lives. A perfect example of what I mean is the new term the Republican Party has been able to interject into our daily language. When you say words like, “Rich People”, “The Elite”, “The 1%” or “The Wealthy” you are using words that accurately describe to whom you are referring. Because our economy is in the midst of a serious problem, accurate words are carrying a negative connotation.

So, if you, like the Republican Party, have an agenda that is unpopular, you have to figure out new words to use to soften or distract attention from that unpopularity. In our national discourse, we’ve taken the bait!

You will never hear a Republican say the words Rich or Wealthy. They will universally use “Job Creators” in its place. Job Creators refers to Rich People! It’s not an accurate descriptor either. Rich People do not create jobs. Consumers do. Rich people only hire people when they absolutely HAVE to, and then, only at the lowest rate possible. Wages and benefits, for most companies big or small, are their biggest expense. The interests of corporations is to do the most possible with the fewest amount of people that have to be paid wages and benefits. Corporations resist hiring more people whenever possible. They, rather, train what employees they already have, to work harder and smarter so that they don’t have to pay additional people. The only time a company or corporation hires new employees is when the demand for their products or services outpaces their ability to provide them. Thus, the only way to create jobs is to create enough demand so as to require companies to hire more people. No consumers = No Jobs!

A weak middle class is an economic downward spiral. If there isn’t enough money flowing through the economy, demand is reduced and companies lay-off employees. Which, in turn reduces even further the amount of money that is flowing through the economy, which leads to further cutbacks and so on. Add to that, the money flowing through Wall Street that doesn’t produce a product or service. Like Derivatives, for example. That money is being horded, so it’s not flowing through the economy. I don’t think that Republicans and Rich People understand how large economies work.

When big corporations pay CEOs and Industry leaders huge fortunes whether they succeed or fail, that money has to come from consumers. The more money spent on CEOs, the less is available to hire workers. The less money workers have, the less they can spend. The less workers can spend, the less demand there is for the products and services provided.

Another thing Republicans do to manipulate your thoughts with language is to distract your attention from the people who are not paying their fair share of taxes (Big Businesses) and focus your attention on the guy who owns the hardware store or bar/restaurant over there on the corner. In my neighborhood, it’s Alice, who owns Bob and Alice’s about a half a block down the street from me. Bob is gone now and Alice, who is the most beautiful little sweetheart of a woman you’d ever want to meet, is selling the bar so she can retire. When it comes to taxes on business, Republicans will ALWAYS, without exception, use language to try and get you to think of your neighborhood’s “Bob and Alice’s” instead of the people you are actually talking about. You will never, ever, hear a Republican talk about business taxes without using the term “Small Business” as if the two words are actually one. Conversley, you will never hear them utter the word combination “Big Business”, which is what they are actually referring to. The idea behind that is to manipulate you into thinking about the Alice and not the Exxon-Mobiles, Bain Capitals, Halibutrons and Koch Industries whenever the subject of “Business” comes up.

The truth is that the small businesses Republicans want you to think about will not be effected by the White House’s Tax plan. The taxes proposed on businesses only refer to the PROFITS the company makes, not it’s gross. Even THEN, we’re only talking about the profits that EXCEED $250,000, not the Gross $250,000. You’d have to be at least a regional franchise or a high ticket retailer to profit enough to be impacted in any way. By an overwhelming margin, businesses that have only 1 location, like the ones Republicans want you to think about, would never be affected. They profit more in the range of $80,000 to $200,000, that would put them below the bar.

Republicans make no secret about advocating for less regulation on businesses. Without proper supervision, businesses tend to pollute the natural environment with toxic waste. It’s a byproduct of doing business for most. Global Warming is one of the results of not enough supervision so it’s an inconvenient truth that gets in the way of business.

Which brings us to another language trick Republicans are using; You will never hear a Republican say the words “Global Warming” because Global Warming accurately describes what is actually taking place. They have changed the term to “Climate Change” based on a belief that it sounds much less like what it actually is. So, they pay some “Experts”, who are available for purchase, to say it’s a hoax, to give it the veneer of even less credibility as a problem we need to address! Yet another language trick used by Republicans is “Job Killing” used as an adjective which is attached to anything they don’t fancy. Like for instance, anything suggested by the President or anything that might involve the Growth of Government.

Conservatives know that voters are generally concerned that so many of us are unemployed so they need some language to attach to anything that might involve you getting a job created by your tax dollars. So, they simply attach the “Job Killing” tag on to any such thing that might rise to the surface.

Republicans have a vested interest in the failure of Government in general. Which would explain their resistance to infrastructure repair. They know we need it. They know it will be more expensive the longer we kick the can down the road. But if they support it, the Government will have to do it. That will certainly stimulate growth in the economy and put more people back to work and that would be disastrous to their core principle that “Big Government is not the solution, It’s the problem.” It will also throw a wrench into the Republican viewpoint that Barack Obama is a failure as a President and that Government can do no good thing.

What puzzles me most about this is that Republicans, in their obsessive compulsion to destroy Barack Obama, tend to forget that the Government of the United States doesn’t have a “Department of Construction”. The money that will be used to repair and update our infrastructure is going to have to be given to private sector businesses that do construction work. Wouldn’t that HELP the very people they represent?

Republicans apply the “Job Killing” adjective to Obama Care too. That gets pretty deep and reaches pretty far into the territory of illusionary language. First of all, the actual name of the bill they are referring to is “The Affordable Care Act”! Republicans have successfully changed the words we use for it to “Obama Care” as a pejorative term; an insult! Even Democrats are using it now. It also serves to distract the attention from what the law actually does. It makes Health Care more affordable. By changing the name to “Obama Care”, not only do they denigrate what it is by using what they intended to be a condescending remark, it also removes the word “Affordable” from the discussion, which is the whole intent of the bill to begin with. This particular trick has been SO effective that most people familiar with term “Obama Care” do not recognize that the term refers to the Affordable Care Act. Which gives the late night comedy/talk show circuit some good material to illustrate how illiterate so many American voters are.

Secondly, the bill doesn’t kill jobs. The Government doesn’t have a “Department of Medical Insurance”! There will be something like 30 Million new customers for private sector insurance companies and HMOs. How are they going to be able to handle such an influx of customers without hiring more workers is beyond my understanding. How are Doctors, Nurses and Health Industry Administrators going to be able to handle all the new people who are now going to have access to preventive care alone. These are all private sector jobs!

Everyone, by now, has noticed that lower voter turnouts tend to favor Republican candidates more than Democratic ones. Republicans tend to vote more consistently even though there are fewer of them. Less than 30% of American Voters consider themselves Republicans. About 60% consider themselves Democratic or Independent and the rest are voters for other 3rd Parties like Pacific Green, Socialist and Constitution.

Newly elected Republican State Governments like Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and so on, have been passing laws since the 2010 Republican Sweep, to protect “The Sanctity of the Vote”! Despite scant little evidence that voter fraud accounts for an entire one, one hundredth of one percent of the votes cast anywhere in the country, they imagine that voter fraud is rampant and that voter fraud changes the outcomes of elections. I fear electronic voting machines a lot more than I fear your grand father rigging the vote. A computer that can’t print out the information you just put into it??? The effect, and intent, of these laws is to reduce the amount of people who vote in elections, which, as I mentioned, tends to favor Republican Candidates.

But these new laws themselves tend to surgically eliminate precise voting demographics, like college students, from being able to vote. By disallowing College Identification that they all have, in favor of types of identification that fewer of them have, they are able to keep them from voting. Like Driver Licenses and ID cards issued by the State where they attend college, for example. Which is not, ordinarily, the State where they live. Those types of ID cost money to students who are notoriously short on cash for a variety of legitimate reasons. It’s an intentional roadblock, a poll tax. College students tend to vote Democratic.

Another demographic category is race. People of a non-white race have less of a tendency to own property, drive a car, or have bills in their own names. Also, for a cornucopia of legitimate reasons. These voters are less likely to have the only types of ID that these new laws require. Thereby limiting their participation in elections based on a desire to protect a The Sanctity of a Vote that is not under attack. But, it does limit the amount of voters who tend to vote for Democrats. While I‘m on the subject, when did “The Democratic Party” become “The Democrat Party”?. (OK, I actually know this one. It was changed by the Republican Party as a dig against Democrats around 2000 when Bush was appointed President.) You will not find any Republican references to the Democratic Party after that election. They universally call us “The Democrat Party” now.

Where did all of these language changes come from? Well, I’m glad you asked because I happen to know this one too. His name is Frank Luntz and he’s a Republican operative and author who specializes in linguistics. His main business is language consulting with political campaigns and the marketing of products and services. To give you an idea of what this guy is thinking, here’s a few quotes:

A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth!” (I’m pretty sure you can tell that one of his clients is FOX Views)

How I say it, has as much of an impact on what people think, as what I say.”

I have seen how effective language, attached to policies that are mainstream and delivered by people who are passionate and effective, can change the course of history.” – Frank Luntz

With the able assistance of one Mr. Frank Luntz, the Republican Party has succeeded in changing the language of the national discourse to favor their own world view and we, you and I, have bought into the premise by using that language as they direct us to. Here’s another example of what I mean. Everybody knows that Republicans are fiscally responsible. We also know that Democrats tax and spend, right? According to quantifiable record, neither of those statements has been true since the Administration of Richard Nixon. But it DOES illustrate the well known communication technique that if you can get enough influential people with a microphone to say it enough times it will take on a truth of its own, completely divorced from reality.

Frank Luntz comes from the industry that brought you the Michelin Tire Commercial with the Baby sitting in the center of a tire with the tag line, “Because so much is riding on your tires” and the people who brought you “Choosy Mothers Choose Jiff”. I find both commercials offensive in that they insinuate that you don’t love your children unless you buy those specific products. Both manipulate what you already feel at a gut level to motivate you to take the specific actions that the advertisers direct you to take. And, now, Frank Luntz is selling you The Republican Party!

The way NOT to buy into the hype, is to practice care in the words you use. If you want what you are referring to to be accurate, use accurate terms regardless of whether others do or not. Push back against the tide of these language changes. Use the words you know to be true regardless of what Frank Luntz or the Republican Party tell you to do. Frank Luntz in not your boss, OR your English teacher!

Much Love,

Gregory

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