Fun With Rhetoric, Communism and the Far Right

Its been far too long since we’ve checked in with SPLC’s Hate Watch, and there’s a wealth of new stories (quite the uptick in insane sovereign citizen stories).  But today I want to talk about an extraordinary piece of ultra conservative insanity.

Anti-Muslim crazy from SPLC (emphasis mine):

Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim activist who in April told conservatives that “Shariah is communism with a God,” has called on Congress in a Washington Times column to bring back the McCarthy-era House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). This time around, the infamous panel’s job will be to root out the Islamist operatives who, he claims, are well on their way to replacing America’s democracy with a Shariah-based caliphate.

This is brilliant.  Why?  Because it combines two feared and hated subjects, makes no sense, and is short memorable and catchy.  One could surely stretch the imagination to find similarities, just as easily as one could claim Jesus was a Communist on account of his well known views on the wealthy.  But that doesn’t end any real credibility to it, which works in Gaffney’s favor.  The more insane and clearly untrue the slogan, the more the increasingly schizoid right seems to embrace their loony leaders.  They seem to get just as much pleasure from seeing the left bang their heads against the wall in frustration as they do in having yet another “reason” to hate on their favorite targets.

Why not hit back with more of the same?  Can you come up with any good ones?  Off the top of my head, here’s two:

  1. Conservatism is Corporate Communism.
  2. The Religious Right is Shariah with Jesus.

What do you think?  Most important of all, will it piss off the far right?

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There Are No Fiscal Conservatives

Quick Hit: We need to kill the term Fiscally Conservative, and replace it with Fiscally Responsible. Because Fiscal Conservatives are never Fiscally Responsible, and its Fiscal Responsibility that we need.  That means not cutting off your source of funding with tax cuts, not cutting off programs that provide social services and ignoring the negative long term economic impact.  It means understanding that when you screw the poor and middle class you destroy the basis of our economy – which thrives on consumption.  It means you don’t put the prejudices of social conservatives ahead of fiscal discipline.  You cut the expensive programs where there’s waste even if its the hard choice politically.  That means cutting the military budget.  It means refraining from entering into new conflicts when we can’t afford the one’s we are still embroiled in.

The New Republican Rhetoric and Bachmann

Buzzfeed has a collection of the best (craziest) Michele Bachmann quotes.  So a friend – understandably – posts this on Facebook wondering how someone this stupid is in office.

Stupidity isn’t at play here, malicious intent is.  Michele is lying to push her agenda forward.  One might reasonably presume she is making effective use of the overton window – namely she is pushing an idea further to the extreme than her goal in an effort to move the discourse in her favor.

However this is not the case – I believe she is aiming for what she wants directly.

When I first started this blog I identified a style of discourse currently unique to conservatives in this country – the radical style.  Imagine a royal court.  In American politics most speakers either cast themselves in with the audience as a member, or try to cast themselves as the king speaking down to his subjects.  A radical stylist positions themselves outside the court in an effort to create a new base of authority around themselves.  When I wrote this post I wondered whether a radical style was effective.  Turns out it is, and Bachmann is proof.

Imagine three points along a political spectrum for an issue: health care.  A conservative might want health care entirely privatized but still subsidized by companies.  A progressive might want health care entirely provided by government.  Using the overton window as a progressive I’d argue we need to get rid of all private insurance and only have public insurance, hoping to at least have public insurance available as an option.  A conservative might argue we need to have insurance be bought entirely by individuals – with no obligation at all for corporations to subsidize plans for their employees.  Either approach would in theory push public opinion further towards the extreme, making our actual position as a progressive or conservative more likely (so the theory goes).  (For fun – filter Obama’s approach to health care reform through this lens).

Now let’s apply the radical style.  As a progressive I argue health care is a human right, and having tiers of service is a form of violence we should no longer stand for.  I push whole heartedly for full public health care for all and cast private plans as an attempt by the rich to bribe the medical community.  As a conservative I argue that health insurance itself is outdated and we need to get rid of it – people should simply pay for services rendered directly.  If they can’t afford it – tough.

When you place your interests and your position together there is far more power to your argument.  In other words – applying the radical style of speech to one’s arguments can be more effective than appearing even relatively more conciliatory with an overton approach – and is far more effective than arguing for the middle ground from the get go.  It is precisely like tug of war over a mud pit.  If one team starts in the pit, where do they think the battle will end?  As progressives we are barely able to muster public speakers who can stand far enough from the mud pit to take an overton approach to discourse.  But perhaps we need to aim even higher, and see if we can muster a few folks able to use the radical style.  The question is – would a progressive utilizing a radical style get anywhere near as far as a conservative?  When a radical like Bachmann takes the stage she gets coverage on mainstream networks like CNN.  Did the progressive response to the SOTU get any coverage at all?

Even so, this seems worth looking into.  The new Republican rhetoric is working against astronomical odds (they are successfully pushing the most obvious and odious lies with it), we ought at the least take a look and see if there are techniques worth utilizing.

Fear Leads to Violence

You don’t have to be Yoda to understand that fear leads to hate and ultimately to violence.  This post by Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon is worth reading in its entirety:

I do think there’s value in talking about the use of inciting language, like Sarah Palin is fond of doing, but I have to say that is probably less of a problem than paranoia. The violent rhetoric encourages people to see violence as a solution, but it’s the paranoia that gives them cause to get that wound up, or in the likely case of Loughner, to latch onto right wing paranoia as a delusion.

It isn’t the violent rhetoric, its the eliminationist rhetoric that is the main language side of the problem.  When the right talks about the left as traitors, scum, or in any way attacks their humanity – they are lowering the intrinsic ethical barriers to entry for violent actions against the left.  That is a huge part of the problem.

That said, Amanda (and Jon Stewart) are right on when they not the large place fear has in stimulating political violence.  Let’s get inside the head of a potential right wing terrorist:

You believe the President is a foreign national from Kenya bent on becoming America’s next hitler.  You think liberals are working to help him destroy the economy, establish death panels and concentration camps, and morally corrupt the nation by attacking Christianity and Christian laws.  You think liberals murder babies and have wet dreams about bringing stalin-style communism to the US.

How could those beliefs not lead to violence?

I think that is the interesting question out of all of this.

Dear Less Famous Feminists: Language Miss!

Harriet J has a largely brilliant post over at RH Reality Check.  In it she makes a passionate plea for famous feminists to stand up to Naomi Wolf’s execrable defense of Julian Assange.  (Before we get started, I want to make clear that there is a difference between believing the charges against Julian are politically motivated – which I do – and failing to take the issue of rape seriously).  The issue at hand is how we talk about consent, and that is a very important conversation to have.  However on reading her post I was jarred by running into the unfamiliar terms “Zhe” and “Hir”. Had Harriet become a lolcat? No, it turns out she was simply using gender neutral terms.

This is a problem.

The English language badly needs gender neutral pronouns, this is true.  However Harriet’s use of them in her post were counterproductive for a few reasons:

  1. She does not use them consistently.  This is confusing for the reader.
  2. To the uninformed they are obstacles to understanding.

The consistency issue is self explanatory.  If you are going to make use of new pronouns you need to do so consistently, not haphazardly.

It is the obstacle they create that is crucial.  The issues of consent and the Assange case specifically are both hot button issues.  Communicating clearly is essential.  Given the relative obscureness of gender neutral pronouns (and lacking any introduction), they appear as typos and function as the sort of specialized language one might find in a term paper – jargon.  Jargon serves a useful purpose – it can form a mental shortcut of sorts – a method for passing larger amounts of information in a shorter amount of space.  However technically specific language is the domain of the specialist – not the layperson.  The use of such language alienates potential supporters.

As for her point, it is well made.  Naomi Wolf’s comments on rape need to be answered by someone who can concisely convey that there is more to rape than overt physical violence.

Quick Thoughts on Abortion, Choice and Language

I was browsing the America Speaks Out website (created by the Republican party at taxpayer expense).  Its a goldmine of funny.  But it also offers up some rather useful insights.  Take these two quotes:

the sanctity of life should support whatever of woman wishes to do with her body. Without this right freedom is meaningless

vs

Abortion is a complex, difficult moral issue. It is not the proper role of the government to make our moral decisions for us. Let people make up their own minds and take responsibility for their decisions. If we are to be the party of small government, less government intrusion, and personal liberty, we must stop trying to legislate abortion away. It’s not the government’s place to be a nanny that chooses our morality for us.

The first has 2,710 votes, largely against it (but relatively close).  The second has 1,960 votes hugely in favor.  Both are pro-choice statements.  One is effective.

What makes it effective?  It deftly makes use of conservative goals and language to make the case for a supposedly progressive cause.  What it reveals is reproductive choice is not simply a progressive issue.  It is a universal issue, and conservatives not under the thrall of theocratic dictate are allies.

Stupid Headline: How the New Wealth Taxes Won’t Hit You

Let’s say I wanted to write an article about how a local tax in a South Carolina town might effect local residents.  I wouldn’t give that article a sweeping title implying residents of Massachusetts or Texas might face the task.  Well, I’m not a writer nor an editor for the Wall Street Journal.

In an article by the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Sanders, she writes “How the New Wealth Taxes Will Hit You“.  That would be a pretty short article.  The answer is, they don’t.  She’s talking about families raking in more than a quarter of a million dollars annually (or laughably, families whose only income comes from stocks!  Yeah this is certainly geared towards the common man).

The language used in the headline plays into a couple conservative myths:

  • Obama is raising taxes – Not for the majority of the population, in fact they are lower.
  • Taxes on the wealthy will somehow impact the average voter.  Nope.

Using slick tricks like this to spread conservative propaganda shows how compromised the Wall Street Journal’s journalistic integrity is, and how weak the conservative economic platform is.  It just won’t sell without a dollop of snake oil.