Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Semantics and the Bush Administration

"The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and
terror has been achieved."
- JOHN ASHCROFT, the attorney general, in his resignation letter.

I heart Frontline. Frontline tells you so many facts that sometimes it is hard to parse out an opinion of your own. But last night's Frontline covered the advertising industry and how it has had to change so much in recent years to break through the "clutter" of its own design. Procedures such as focus groups and narrowcasting were discussed, and most of it sounded pretty innovative and interesting and based in the essential tenets of Freudian Psychology.

Then they talked to Frank Luntz, a political strategist for the Bush administration. He was using focus groups to discern what words they responded favorably to, for an energy corporation. This is the man who turned "global warming" into "climate change," "The Iraq War" into the "War on Terror," the "Estate Tax" into the "Death Tax," the "Tax Reform Act of 1969" into the "marriage penalty." He doesn't change policies, he changes the way we refer to them.

He is the Ministry of Information.

Although they didn't discuss it, I am willing to bet that Mr. Luntz is also the one who morphed "civil unions" into "gay marriage" as well. He knows what that 51% of America wants to think, and he doesn't get in the way of them thinking it, no matter how f*&ked up it is.

Semantics play a huge role in any political campaign, but the semantics of the modern GOP are desceptive and visceral, using intimidation, confusion and fear. Think "Clear Skies Act." "Operation Iraqi Freedom." "FairPay." Respectively, these are pieces of legislation that lowered standards for industrial emissions, invaded a nation to impose a set of foreign governmental and economic ideals (I believe Webster calls that an occupation, see also imperialism) and refused thousands of workers their right to overtime pay.

"Laci Peterson's Law" evoked the horrific murder of a pregnant woman to chip away at Roe V. Wade. "Defense of Marriage" implies that marriage is under attack. "No Child Left Behind" assumes that before, children were being left behind, alone and frightened (more appropriate, perhaps for legislation helping AIDS orphans than promoting standardized aptitude tests).

My point? Democrats need to get on board the Semantics Train. We need to hire a Frank Luntz of our own. Let's bring up the "Civil Tolerance for Couples Act" and demonize the other side for their bigotry on the civil unions issue. Let's pass the "Abortion Reduction Act of 2006" and implement free birth control programs and after-school safe sex classes for all high-schoolers. We're the ones with the masters degrees in English, let's use them.

We need to find something that counters the "Freedom on the March" nonsense. Preferably something with "mission" to refer back to the ridiculously premature "Mission Accomplished" BS. Something Biblical. How about "Mission Armageddeon." Yeah, that works.


  1. I'm wondering what Big Pharma thinks about all this -- stories in the news today about pharmacists refusing to fill women's birth control prescriptions...? Don't they make their steady cash from ongoing prescriptions? Can they afford to take that hit?

    What about "Children's Crusade"? No, the Repubs will no doubt try to use that one soon, and "crusade" is a bad bad bad word to Islam...

  2. They did say on NPR today that the guys who refuse to fill prescriptions may lose their licenses and jobs . . . but I can just see the law suits arising from that.

    Someone on Daily Kos suggested that if pharmacists can refuse birth control pills on moral principal that the guy at the grocery store should be able to refuse to sell Hungry Man Dinners to the obese and refuse to sell cigarettes to a guy with a talkbox on his throat. "If veganism was in the Bible," he said "You can bet the GOP would be trying to make it OK to refuse to sell meat to people."

    Yeah, the Crusade thing kinda backfired. But I think that Bush's use of the word is what one might call a "revealing mistake."