September 7, 2012

Words as Weapons

In the political sphere, finding the right words to characterize your cause or that of your opponents often provides the margin of victory. Somehow, conservatives seem to play the game of finding the right rhetorical ammunition better than do liberals. For example, “pro-life” is a great rhetorical weapon. Although “pro-choice” isn’t a bad locution, the implied opposing position, “anti-choice,” isn’t as repugnant as “anti-life.”

In many cases, the right has devised emotional phrases for which their opponents have found no effective counterpart. Two of the best of these are “death tax| and “death panels.” That there is a degree of dishonesty in each of these names detracts little from their effectiveness.

FORWARD.Although it isn’t a home run, the new Obama-Biden slogan (at right) is not bad, though it has attracted criticism on several counts. The administration, some have said, does not want people to think backward to what has occurred on Obama’s watch. Others have complained about the stop (period) at the end of the slogan. Well, the period is stupid, but “forward” is good, as it reminds us that the Republicans really want to go backward, either to the Gilded Age or to the Salem witch trials, as Mike Lofgren has put it.

Liberals aren’t doing so badly on the same-sex marriage front, either. “Marriage equality” is a positive phrase comprising two words to which most people respond favorably. The notion of “defending traditional marriage,” on the other hand, falls flat, not least because it isn’t clear what there is to defend.

That said, the anti-LGBT crowd may be searching for a phrase to put a positive spin on their bigotry. This thought occurred to me as I read a recent story by Frances Kelly posted on RenewAmerica1. The story “Catholic innkeepers fined $30,000 and lose wedding business for not hosting reception for gender-segregated couple,” which is only about 250 words long, is a virtual lexicon of phrases to describe homosexual or heterosexual pairings, beginning with the “gender-segregated couple” of the headline. Most of the phrases are unfamiliar and neither memorable nor pithy:
  1. gender-segregated couple
  2. gender-integrated marriage
  3. pro-gender marriage
  4. monogender couple
  5. gender-segregated marriage
  6. gender segregation in marriage
  7. same-sex marriage
Kelly really works on this. In another story, “Same-sex marriage is anti-gender marriage,”she introduces
  1. anti-gender marriage
  2. same-gender couples
  3. unigender couples
Kelly, who is described as “a conservative who lives and writes in the liberal land of Vermont,” may have written other phrases I’ve missed. Judging from her list of stories, she has a monomaniacal obsession with same-sex unions. Happily, she seems not to be making any useful rhetorical contribution to the marriage-inequality cause.
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1 RenewAmerica describes itself, in part, this way (emphasis in the original):
RenewAmerica is a grassroots organization that supports the self-evident truths found in the Declaration of Independence, and their faithful application through upholding the U.S. Constitution, as written. Its purpose is to thoughtfully and courageously advance the cause of our nation’s Founders.

The organization is for ALL people who consider themselves loyal Americans. It has no philosophy, image, or agenda beyond this one unifying premise: America must return to its founding principles if it is to survive.

RenewAmerica is thus nonpartisan and nondenominational.
The content of the Web site of RenewAmerica, however, seems to be pro-Christian, pro-life, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-Mormon, anti-Democratic Party, and not particularly pro-Republican Party. Are these the founding principles of the Republic?

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