Thursday, October 30, 2008

Progressive Language Games

Move over George Lakoff. The New York Times reports today that the new Professor of Progressive Language is Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory University.
Dr. Westen’s advice can be heard when Alisha Thomas Morgan, running for re-election to the Georgia House in a conservative suburb of Atlanta, uses the word “leadership” in place of “government” and speaks about the middle class instead of the poor.

So, when she says Americans need leadership to provide help for the middle class, she means Americans need government to provide help for the poor.

Or when Andrew Gillum, a city commissioner in Tallahassee, Fla., who is fighting a ballot initiative against same-sex marriage, tells members of his predominantly black church of the human desire for dignity and respect instead of lecturing them on the evils of discrimination.

And the response is that we can give people dignity and respect without undermining the meaning of marriage.
Democrats of higher office who have heard Dr. Westen have also shifted their rhetoric, as when Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, fending off a Republican challenger, not only says that “health care is a right for every citizen” but pointedly adds, “Particularly citizens who are working hard every day.”

Hmmm, does this mean that progressives are now advocating health care only for the employed, or that progressives recognize a range of unemployed activities as work? I do resent the idea that stay at home mothers are not working.

Instead of using euphemisms like “pro-choice” and “reproductive health,” his handbook suggests, liberal candidates might insist that it is un-American for the government to tell men and women when to start a family or what religious beliefs to follow, arguments that test well in focus groups with conservatives and independents. On illegal immigration, he recommends, candidates who have said their plan would “allow” immigrants to become citizens should instead say they will “require” it.

“The idea,” Dr. Westen said, “is to start to rebrand progressives using language that’s as evocative as the language of the other side, and stop using phrases that just turn people off.”

The handbook does not offer a script so much as a menu of options, each of which was poll-tested against conservative arguments. On economics, for example, one message begins with “I want to see the words ‘Made in America’ again.” Another reads, “We need leaders who don’t just talk about family values but actually value families.”

We need Irenaeus.

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