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Talking Right:How Conservatives Turned Liberals Into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking..


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Interesting read.

http://www.sacbee.com/content/lifestyle/story/14277290p-15086420c.html

Posted since it requires subscription. ;)

In politics, the right words rule, linguist asserts

By Sam McManis -- Bee Staff Writer

Published 12:01 am PDT Thursday, July 13, 2006

Story appeared in Scene section, Page E1

SAN FRANCISCO -- Geoffrey Nunberg wants to talk, which is hardly shocking. He is a linguist, after all.

And Nunberg, best known as a commentator for National Public Radio's "Fresh Air," has a lot to say about how conservatives -- with help from the media -- have dominated debate by twisting political language to their advantage and using cultural caricatures to turn opponents into effete "elites" out of touch with core American "values."

It's all neatly summed up in the long and provocative title of his new book, "Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberals Into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show."

But before starting, Nunberg must get caffeinated. He steps into the kitchen of his home in the Noe Valley -- a neighborhood so left-leaning that Ralph Nader outpolled George Bush in the last presidential election -- and cranks up his cappuccino machine. In minutes, it gurgles out a frothy elixir into an oversize porcelain cup emblazoned with the logo from Zabar's, New York's trendy epicurean establishment.

His interviewer just wants water, but Nunberg doesn't go to the tap. Rather, he brings sparkling Pellegrino, properly chilled.

All that's missing from this domestic scene of liberal privilege that would make Bill O'Reilly sneer is a standard- issue Volvo in the driveway.

"No Volvo," Nunberg says, laughing. "It's an Audi. That's a Republican car."

So, see. This broad-brush depiction of liberals, so effectively wielded by the right, is nothing but a cultural myth. Uh-huh. Sure. The lack of a Volvo proves it.

Nunberg, who finds the whole stereotyping issue mildly amusing, certainly fits the classic "liberal elite" label. He's a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who contributes to the New York Times' Week in Review section when not chatting it up with NPR diva Terry Gross. He's even been asked to speak to the Democratic Senate Caucus about the left's language problem.

But note, too, that Nunberg is no stranger to red-state entertainment. George Jones CDs dominate his music collection. He and his daughter have attended a NASCAR race. OK, it was in Sonoma County, where fans were sipping Napa Valley chardonnay, but still …

Owning the name is a must

The point: Don't get lulled into a red-vs.-blue, us-vs.-them cultural clash. Nunberg says it's merely a ploy, albeit an extremely successful one, of conservatives to marginalize liberals and keep the balance of power safely on the right of the political spectrum.They've done it by defining the terms of our national discourse. Whereas once-abstract words such as "elite," "values," "government" and even "liberal" had far less politically charged meanings, the right has turned them all into synonyms for out-of-touch, far-left policies that hurt the country.

And they've also done it, he posits, by renaming -- "branding," they call it in advertising -- specific issues to conjure positive or negative images that serve the right's agenda. So the "estate tax" is redubbed the "death tax," Social Security "private accounts" are replaced with "personal accounts" and the civil rights-era term "colorblind" has been co-opted to become a refrain against affirmative action.

"When somebody else owns your own name (liberals), you're in trouble," Nunberg says. "And the right defines 'liberal' now. They've made liberal go from a belief in the role of government in the economy and social life to what it is now -- a synonym for a certain lifestyle and set of reflexive attitudes and taste.

"As a result, people don't perceive the Democrats as standing for anything. To take back the language, you have to take back the narrative. But the real problem is the ground-level language -- values, elite and liberal -- that don't define how people feel about a certain issue but shape the way people think about politics itself."

Nunberg comes at political language from a liberal perspective, but even some on the right say he has a point. Conservative columnist William Safire recently wrote in the New York Times that Nunberg "writes about the political language with partisan gusto, bemoaning the failure of the left."

A gradual takeover

This conservative takeover of political discourse didn't happen overnight, Nunberg says. And he claims it would not have happened without the help of the media, which is dealing with its own residual image problem.Furthermore, liberals themselves have meekly allowed the right to steal the vocabulary and were as oblivious of it happening as lobsters failing to notice that the pot was slowly heating up until it was too late.

Nunberg says the right was cunning in saddling the mainstream media with "liberal" baggage. It's had the effect, he says, of diluting the media's message and making it bend over backward to appear evenhanded.

One example is how many newspapers -- Nunberg routinely conducts exhaustive database searches -- started replacing the term "estate tax" with "death tax" after conservatives (and the Bush administration) started using the new phrase.

His research also shows that the press "identifies politicians as 'mainstream Republicans' four times as often as it identifies them as 'mainstream Democrats.' "

As for the liberal-bias charge conservatives make against the mainstream media, Nunberg points to data showing that the New York Times and Los Angeles Times use the term "liberal" almost exclusively for middle-class whites. He says the phrase "working-class liberal" is almost never used.

"Liberalism is treated less as a political credo than as the outward expression of a particular social identity," he says.

Nunberg believes the media have been "cowed" by conservatives and, in an effort to appear impartial, will "shy away from using any language that might appear" nonpartisan.

"It's not editorial policy," he says. "That's just how everyone talks."

Media accomplices

The media are merely an accessory to the right's co-opting of the language, though. Nunberg, in his book, is brutally critical of the ineffectual left. He offers no tricky linguistic solutions, but he hopes that pointing out the shortcomings will awaken the left to the problem."If the right can (shape the debate) with an ersatz populism," he says, "surely the Democrats can do the same thing with a genuine one."

At times, Nunberg comes across as more pundit than academic. In his 20 years in the public eye as a "Fresh Air" commentator and author, he has become increasingly political. Nunberg says he is just tapping into the zeitgeist, which is why he mixes in heaping helpings of Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart into his media diet.

"Language is rarely important for its own sake," he says. "Yeah, we (linguists) do these studies of curious words, but the real interest is how language gives you a mirror on the political or social attitudes you can't get anywhere else.

"And the media are a big part of that. There's been a big transformation of media from information providers to entertainment sources. I mean, calling Ann Coulter a political analyst is like calling Simon Cowell an arts critic."

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"Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberals Into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show."

Liberals have done this, well enough, on their own. :)

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"Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberals Into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show."

Liberals have done this, well enough, on their own. :)

I'm liberal. Out of all of those things - I only eat sushi. ;)

Though Hollywood is alright. I like it, not love it. We should probably just be friends. I'll call her sometime. :)

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"And the media are a big part of that. There's been a big transformation of media from information providers to entertainment sources. I mean, calling Ann Coulter a political analyst is like calling Simon Cowell an arts critic."

I don't like Ann Coulter, but just because you don't like she says doesn't mean she doesn't have a right to say it. This guy is brillant, talks about the problem but doesn't offer any solutions. I'm more left leaning than right although fairly mainstream in general, but props to the Republicans for pigeonwholing the term "liberal" into becoming a euphomism for yuppie "anti-americanism." Liberals need to offer up there own solutions, and come up with their own ideas. Also we make kind euphomism's for programs too, it ain't just Republicans who do that. Finally, we need to stop focusing so much on hating Bush, I'm not a fan of him, but at some point we need to become builders not bitter.

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"And they've also done it, he posits, by renaming -- "branding," they call it in advertising -- specific issues to conjure positive or negative images that serve the right's agenda. So the "estate tax" is redubbed the "death tax," Social Security "private accounts" are replaced with "personal accounts" and the civil rights-era term "colorblind" has been co-opted to become a refrain against affirmative action."

To which I'll counter- "Undocumented Workers" instead of "Illegal Aliens". "Insurgents" instead of "terrorists". "Pro-choice" instead of "Pro-abortion". "Fundamentalist" has been co-opted to become a refrain against all Christians who dont share Liberal beliefs.

etc etc etc.

The Right doesnt hold a monopoly on this ploy.

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everybody seems to think the media is blowing it, but for the different reasons.

Liberals think that Conservatives are getting a free pass, and aren't being fact checked enough.

Conservatives think that the Media is being unfair and a lot harder on them than any other time.

If both groups think that the media is blowing it, then they must be doing something right.

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"And they've also done it, he posits, by renaming -- "branding," they call it in advertising -- specific issues to conjure positive or negative images that serve the right's agenda. So the "estate tax" is redubbed the "death tax," Social Security "private accounts" are replaced with "personal accounts" and the civil rights-era term "colorblind" has been co-opted to become a refrain against affirmative action."

To which I'll counter- "Undocumented Workers" instead of "Illegal Aliens". "Insurgents" instead of "terrorists". "Pro-choice" instead of "Pro-abortion". "Fundamentalist" has been co-opted to become a refrain against all Christians who dont share Liberal beliefs.

etc etc etc.

The Right doesnt hold a monopoly on this ploy.

...a few hundred votes could have gone differently in Florida in 2000, and this book would have been written by someone on the other side...
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"And they've also done it, he posits, by renaming -- "branding," they call it in advertising -- specific issues to conjure positive or negative images that serve the right's agenda. So the "estate tax" is redubbed the "death tax," Social Security "private accounts" are replaced with "personal accounts" and the civil rights-era term "colorblind" has been co-opted to become a refrain against affirmative action."

To which I'll counter- "Undocumented Workers" instead of "Illegal Aliens". "Insurgents" instead of "terrorists". "Pro-choice" instead of "Pro-abortion". "Fundamentalist" has been co-opted to become a refrain against all Christians who dont share Liberal beliefs.

etc etc etc.

The Right doesnt hold a monopoly on this ploy.

Of course you are exactly right. George Orwell was a famous observer on the power of political language. There has ALWAYS been a battle between interested parties to call something one thing or the other. "Settlements" or "towns?" "Kidnap" or "capture?" "Bomb" or "strike?" "Businessmen" or "Fat Cats?" After a while a convention is adopted, not just by the media, but by society. Eventually, conventional language can effect how people think. As Orwell famously said, "if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

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"And they've also done it, he posits, by renaming -- "branding," they call it in advertising -- specific issues to conjure positive or negative images that serve the right's agenda. So the "estate tax" is redubbed the "death tax," Social Security "private accounts" are replaced with "personal accounts" and the civil rights-era term "colorblind" has been co-opted to become a refrain against affirmative action."

To which I'll counter- "Undocumented Workers" instead of "Illegal Aliens". "Insurgents" instead of "terrorists". "Pro-choice" instead of "Pro-abortion". "Fundamentalist" has been co-opted to become a refrain against all Christians who dont share Liberal beliefs.

etc etc etc.

The Right doesnt hold a monopoly on this ploy.

:applause: Looks like we have a winner. And what exactly is wrong with using the term "colorblind" when arguing against affirmative action?

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And what exactly is wrong with using the term "colorblind" when arguing against affirmative action?

I think the term "colorblind" is fine as political rhetoric, and I think it was a very clever move by opponents of affirmative action.

The problem with "colorblind" as a governing principle, and especially as a Constitutional principle, is the same problem that "wall of separation" provides in the religious context. Absolute prohibitions are almost always wrong, because while judges can take all race or all religion out of government, you'll never take it out of the minds of the people ... and if government is meant to represent the people, these kinds of restrictions will limit that by placing an unnecessary barrier between what the people want and what the government can actually do.

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I think the term "colorblind" is fine as political rhetoric, and I think it was a very clever move by opponents of affirmative action.

The problem with "colorblind" as a governing principle, and especially as a Constitutional principle, is the same problem that "wall of separation" provides in the religious context. Absolute prohibitions are almost always wrong, because while judges can take all race or all religion out of government, you'll never take it out of the minds of the people ... and if government is meant to represent the people, these kinds of restrictions will limit that by placing an unnecessary barrier between what the people want and what the government can actually do.

That was basically a retorical question I posed because one cannot argue that affirmative action is NOT "colorblind". In fact it is the exact opposite. I do see your point which is inderstandable but I am just pointing out that it is ridiculous for this guy in his book to use it as some sort of tactic by the right to steal the term.

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That was basically a retorical question I posed because one cannot argue that affirmative action is NOT "colorblind". In fact it is the exact opposite. I do see your point which is inderstandable but I am just pointing out that it is ridiculous for this guy in his book to use it as some sort of tactic by the right to steal the term.

But it *was* an effort by the right to steal the term. The term "colorblind" originated most famously from Justice Harlan's dissent in Plessy and it was used as a slogan of the Civil Rights movement when fighting for desegregation. However, once the Civil Rights movement achieved victory and asked for race-conscious remedies like busing and affirmative action, their opponents seized on the term "colorblind" to oppose the very people who had embraced the term...

The point is that the rhetoric of "colorblind" was once used for one side of the issue, and now it is used by the other side ... it has been used more as a political football than a real principle.

*edit* I found a great essay by Judge Kozinski on the issue: http://notabug.com/kozinski/colorblind

...I am an optimist. :)

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I cant believe Im about to make this arguement.

But here it goes.

Using the term "colorblind" changes the original intent of the civil rights movement. It was NEVER the intention to make things exactly equal. The goal was to even the score so to speak.

The term "colorblind was originally used as a rallying cry to fix future problems, but it was always understood that past misdeeds needed to be accounted for first. The author is correctly, imo, showing how the right has now ****ized that term to mean something entirely different that it's original intent. And as such, are certainly guilty of the charge levelled against them.

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The Right doesnt hold a monopoly on this ploy.

No, but they are a lot, lot better at it right now, and a lot more blatant in their relentless use of it. Basically, the Right is better organized and scripted right now. Every time something happens, the inner circle in the White House and K Street goes into conference, they agree on a strategy, they quickly get the script out to Fox and Rush and company, and within a day every conservative in America (and on this board) is hitting the same talking points using the same language.

It's a well oiled machine.

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I think the assumption that conservatives are mindless drones who all get their news from one or two conservative sources is comical at best. I wish some of my more liberal friends would suck it up and realize that most conservatives are as well-read and well-informed as they are, we just happen to disagree with them.

Now excuse me, I'm off to watch 60 minutes. :D

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I think the assumption that conservatives are mindless drones who all get their news from one or two conservative sources is comical at best. I wish some of my more liberal friends would suck it up and realize that most conservatives are as well-read and well-informed as they are, we just happen to disagree with them.

Now excuse me, I'm off to watch 60 minutes. :D

I'm not saying every conservative is a drone or that you are not well read. I'm saying that the Conservative leadership right now consciously and carefully spins the debate for maximum symbolic effect, including the choice of language, and they are very very effective at it.

I seem to remember someone a while back posting a link to a video from The Daily Show showing a talking point being put forth by the White House about something and at first it didnt fly, so they changed the wording and within hours the guys on Fox and talk radio had picked up on it word for word and repeated it over and over. That ring a bell for anyone?

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I'm not saying every conservative is a drone or that you are not well read. I'm saying that the Conservative leadership right now consciously and carefully spins the debate for maximum symbolic effect, including the choice of language, and they are very very effective at it.

I seem to remember someone a while back posting a link to a video from The Daily Show showing a talking point being put forth by the White House about something and at first it didnt fly, so they changed the wording and within hours the guys on Fox and talk radio had picked up on it word for word and repeated it over and over. That ring a bell for anyone?

"This is about sex. Nothing more, nothing less."

It's just a different White House spinning things now. Just wait till 2008 when you guys take 1600 Pennsylvania again. Then I'll be making this same complaint.

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