Monday, March 2, 2009

Overparsing Them Is What They Want You To Do

In listening to Thom Hartmann today, I once again remembered something I tell everyone who will listen.

The central thing to being a Republican mover and shaker (that is, the Inner Party as opposed to the Outer Party, if you'll put up with the Nineteeen Eighty-Four reference) is that they love to use language not to communicate, not to bridge the gulf between you and then, but as a very soft weapon.

Every word is a loaded gun, just waiting to have the trigger pulled to cause confusion, misinformation, or damage.

Let's take a very simple, very over-used word. Conservative. It's what they call themselves, from the former boy-wonder Dubya down to the garden level chump who's endless credulity moves them to vote for a Party that's all about screwing them.

Conservative. What does that mean? We know what it means. It means careful, prudent, preserving of everything possible.

So the Conservatives ascend to power, and they start ruining the place, doing everything except conserving, being careful, staying the course on what works. But they keep saying they're Conservative, while all the while they're being the exact opposite ... radical, reactionary. And then sane people start scratching their heads.

"But they say they're Conservative," your bemused self says. And you start to re-analyze what conservative means. And you begin to hold two definitions in your head. There's big-C Conservative, which is what the Republicans are, and little-c conservative, what the thing really is.

You may not know it, but they have you. They hit you upside the head with the C-word and, even if you're pretty smart and hard-to-fool, you have to dance according to new rules. There's now neo-conservatives and paleo-conservatives and this-sort-of-conservative and that-sort-of-conservative and pretty soon you have to qualify everything you talk about so much that it's just not worth the hassle of even discussing anymore.

And now they own the discussion, they own the frame. They have you. You're still sane, you're still a good person, but you can't have a discussion without laying out ground rules. Because you've analyzed a common word, conservative, until it's just a greasy spot on the ground.

We call ourselves liberal and conservative, but what we really mean are sane and insane, respectively speaking of course.

I don't know the answer, really I don't. But some of it must have to do with refusing to play that game, calling stupid stupid and insane insane (and since the Republicans have worked so hard to redefine public debate as a snake pit, it's okay that you do that ... or they'll start calling you you were supposed to be the polite ones and you'll start overparsing that too).

But however it happens, remember, it has to happen little by little and bit by bit.

Because that's how we lost the reasonable expectation to have a reasonable debate and not to have a public arena where winning is the only thing.

We can take it back to them. If they live by Frank Luntz, they'll die by Frank Luntz. But it will take diligence.

You can start by reminding them it's the Democratic Party, not the Democrat Party ... and challenge them to talk not using words from a list of talking points.

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