Saturday, July 03, 2010

5 useless political phrases

Most politics is expressed in slogans and talking points—nothing of any substance, in other words. Some propaganda slogans enter popular speech, even though they’re empty of any real, rational meaning, or despite meaning something other than what they seem. So here, in alphabetical order, are five meaningless political phrases favoured by the right:

1. Liberal media: This favourite phrase of the right is just plain silly. The big newsmedia in the US are all owned by major corporations, often transnational corporations, and they reflect corporate values. The real liberal newsmedia in the US is small, often non-profit or cooperative, and completely unknown to the majority of Americans. What the right really means by this phrase is anything that’s not Fox “News”, Rush, etc. Much of the mainstream newsmedia really is lame, not because it’s liberal, but because it's not. There’s no antidote to the Republican propaganda machine or the vacuousness of the rest.

2. Opportunity society (aka ownership society): No one in mainstream politics is against personal opportunity or private ownership. But this phrase doesn’t mean that: It means corporate opportunity and corporate ownership, not that of individuals or small business. It’s an attempt to re-frame policies that favour the corporate elites as something for ordinary people.

3. Patriotism: This has become especially troublesome in the past few years. While it once meant love of and pride in one’s own country, it now means strict and unthinking lock-step adherence to a far-right political agenda. It’s no wonder that runaway patriotism is so closely associated with authoritarian regimes, exactly the sort the far right wants to establish in the US. So, this “patriotism” they talk of isn’t patriotism at all, but the sort of false patriotism that Samuel Johnson probably had in mind when he said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

4. Political correctness (or “PC”): This means, essentially, adherence to a mildly leftist political orthodoxy in which one chooses language to avoid offending minorities. The right uses it as a phrase of utter dismissiveness, apparently unaware that as far back as the 1970s the New Left was using it in the exact same way. The phrase is now used to dismiss ideas that are merely liberal or progressive. In other words, the phrase now means “everything conservatives don’t like”.

5. Religious liberty: Everyone—agnostics, atheists and theists alike—believes that people must have the freedom to believe as they choose. Well, not everyone feels that way: Far-right christianist activists in the US frequently promise to “destroy” atheism and secularism. So when the rightwing talks about “religious liberty”, they mean only liberty for their religion, not anyone else’s beliefs. They want, in fact, the very opposite of religious liberty: They want to impose their religious beliefs one everyone else. You can identify these people by their visceral reaction to the assertion that freedom of religion means nothing without freedom from religion.

That’s five rightwing political phrases that are useless because they’re meaningless as written. In fact, they mean something completely different than what they seem so, in a sense, they're actually worse than useless.


Roger Owen Green said...

actually, your observation re: the definition of patriotism explains a problem, going back as far as Vietnam, at least; take it from one who protested that war. "America, love it or leave it." It may be more virulent now, but it surely has been around for a while.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

That's a very good point, Roger, and you're absolutely right. It seems to me that the virulence ebbs and flows over time, and right now we're in the midst of a tsunami of phony patriotism. The fact that the current flavour is mostly orchestrated is the difference, I think, because the Vietnam-era version seemed at least a little more genuine, however misguided. Maybe I was too young to really know. Maybe you could expand in a blog post?

Angela said...

Oh yes. Someone posted on the Hathor Legacy this video wherein a comedian lays out EXACTLY what pundits mean by deriding "political correctness":


Anonymous said...

The GOP is VERY good at selecting words and phrases that can mislead people. They've done it at least since Reagan was President, and probably before that.

Progressives need to do the same thing because words matter and, frankly, because simple-minded people are easily misled.

Cailfornia just voted on Proposition 16, the "Taxpayers Right to Vote Act," that was put there by PG&E, the power company.

It failed because people saw through it, but this game is played very well by coporations and their political party, the GOP. Not that DEMs can be totally trusted either.

Under Reagan, "assassinate" became "neutralize" or some other benign sounding term. Under Bush-Cheney, "torture" became "enhanced interogation techniques."

I'm drawing a blank now, so I'll end this.