By Jay Hansen
In my hallucinogenic-like attempts at slumber in the past week of drugs, illness, and Star Trek, I had a couple of curious thoughts come across my mind about politics that I scrabbled down on a notepad by the bed. Most I’m still trying to decipher. One I had a little help from The Young Turks in remembering, though, because this was a news story that aired Monday evening.
As Cenk’s story about Frank Luntz pointed out though, Republicans are quickly starting to lose the name game. Seriously, who in this country doesn’t know that the phrase “job creator” is a code word for the rich? Or what about that time Republicans pretended that our society is not one of “haves and have nots” by saying instead we have “haves and soon to haves,” whitewashing economic inequality in this nation and making it seem like a good thing. Then we have the word “entitlement,” which was used by Republicans as a derisive way to describe Social Security and Medicare (a sense of entitlement being bad in the eyes of Americans), but as time went on people realized that these programs are entitlements because it’s their money – they’re entitled to it! Plus, as the income gap in this nation grows, people are beginning to see the word in a different light, and are beginning to apply it to those whom truly deserve; the upper-upper class Republicans continue to defend as “job creators.” Now even words like Capitalism and phrases like middle class are polling extremely badly when Republicans talk about them (click here for an excellent example of Republicans trying to seriously wage the language war on the term “middle class,” further testifying to the strength of party strategists like Luntz), likely because they continue to defend the status quo in America and stick these words to it; something along the lines of “America is a capitalistic country, and look at the bountiful, prosperous city on a hill our capitalistic system hath brought us… now go back to working your three jobs for slave wages. I need a second yacht.”
Okay, my guess is they wouldn’t include that last sentence, but that’s my point; it’s the reality Americans are living in every day now. Republicans go on and on, fawning over and praising our capitalistic values, completely ignorant of the fact that for a vast, vast majority of Americans our current (crony) capitalist system is ruining their lives, and in some cases even killing them.
Now of course Republicans are still fighting and winning on the word “liberal,” even if not the ideology, but we’re starting to see a point where their focused efforts on the word may be doing more harm than good to themselves in both ideology and terminology. First of all, the word progressive is the most popular political title in America right now. On that alone, Republicans are fighting a losing war here in terminology, but there’s another shocking occurrence in this same line of thought. A poll from a few years ago found that nearly one-third of the country views the term Socialism positively. Among young voters, that number goes up even higher with half of all 18-29 year olds viewing the term positively, and only 43% viewing it negatively. So for whatever reason, it would appear Americans are actually in a period where they’re turning more towards Socialism, an ideology even further left-wing than contemporary American liberalism.
This always struck me as odd given the demonization of liberalism in America and the fact that no one is defending Socialism. Seriously; when was the last time you got to hear someone defend Socialism in the mainstream media? When was the last time we had a politician, even feebly, try to meekly suggest that Socialists aren’t hell-bound infidels? The fact that the term has come so far with so few people in positions of power even considering defending it has always struck me as odd. I’ve always found a little bit of hope in it, because maybe the American people are turning out to be a little smarter than I thought if, whether you agree with Socialism or not, they’re disregarding the suggestions of the mainstream establishment and going out to find their own ideology rather than thinking and voting however they are told. Now though, especially after this news about Frank Luntz, I’m wondering if there’s another small, extremely ironic, hand at play here.
The word liberal has been demonized to no end. It’s been attacked so much that even left-wingers that clearly and obviously fall under a liberal ideology won’t call themselves a liberal. Republicans did this in a war of words to try to get the establishment to view the country as center-right, since doing so would drive more people to self-identify as centrists or conservatives. What if, though, in driving people away from the word “liberal,” they drove them in the wrong direction? A person likely wouldn’t change their political beliefs based on a word (a rose by any other name), and liberals that wish to identify as something else know it’s just not true to say they’re conservatives or centrists, so where were they to go? Apparently, there are one of two answers; progressive and Socialist.
Could the Republican smear campaign against the word liberal have actually driven more people to Socialism?
As we learned from Luntz, right-wing and conservative terminology and word games are getting harder and harder to play. Conservative terminology and key terms used in right-wing framing are becoming less and less palatable to the American people. We may not be experiencing an equal shift from conservative ideology, but Republicans have never really cared to genuinely persuade people with rational arguments or ideas, just terminology (though their ideology is also starting to take a serious tumble after the past two years). They don’t need to persuade you to believe their nonsensical trickle-down economics or that increases in extreme weather patterns are because of gay marriage and not global climate change; they just have to fool you just enough to swing your vote in an election, which they can much more easily do in a war of words than ideas (given how poor their ideas are). The problem is, this war could be completely back firing on them now in the long-term. Yes, they’ve successfully scared a large portion of this country away from the word liberal, including actual liberals. They’re also driving them away from conservativism by just being themselves over the past couple of years. So instead of identifying in camp right-wing, people are instead running towards either an alienated, angry center that just wants to change our corrupt establishment, regardless of how or into what (America’s independent, untapped anger), or back towards the left, and they go to the left seeking out new terms other than “liberal.” Right now it’s primarily the term “progressive,” as the polls show, but with such a large portion of our nation, particularly its youth, actually responding favorably to Socialism, things could get very interested politically in the next few decades.
Socialists, meet our “alienated, angry center,” and “independent, untapped anger,” and see what happens, because say what you want about Socialism; it would be one hell of a new day in America if actual Socialists were running for our nation’s highest offices.