Chapter Three: ABSTRACTIONS AND CODE WORDS
“What did he just say? What kind of a right-wing zealot is this guy?”
I can feel the backlash coming…
“You can’t criticize The Establishment. It is what we are! It is our culture!”
I’ve got to ask you to suspend reality for just a moment and assume that what I say is true: We have an anti-Republican culture. Given that assumption, how does one benchmark it? What are the guideposts? Is it just as difficult to point out anti-Republican culture in America as it is to point out anti-American culture in the Middle East? Remember, if you are living the culture, you don’t see the bias.
I think we have to look at this phenomenon from the standpoint of a melodrama. I am being literal here. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a melodrama, but it is a play where the good guys and the bad guys are easily distinguishable. If the audience needs to be warmed up, the actors come out before the play and introduce themselves and demonstrate the appropriate reactions to take when they appear during the performance. The person in the black hat with the long mustache and sinister expression is the bad guy. Whenever he appears, he is to be greeted with hisses and boos. The person in the white hat with the blindingly bright smile is the good guy, and he is to be greeted with cheers, shouts of encouragement and general acclamation. You get to practice as the actors alternately appear and encourage you to exhibit the appropriate response. It is true audience interaction and it is fun!
Think of a melodrama when you see the evening news. Watch for the anti-Republican signs. For example, Republican figures are typically depicted as being “under siege”. If the American President happens to be a Republican, watch for the news coverage of whatever public event he or she is attending to also include a segment of a protest group nearby, carrying signs indicating that the President is a bad person in some way. The impression to convey is that no matter what the event, the President’s appearance is an affront and an outrage to concerned Americans. We see it as natural and right that Republican political figures are harassed at any public events they attend. The protests are a natural occurrence in our culture; just as natural as rain on a parade. Watch for the opposite coverage of a Democratic Party event. The people there are definitely NOT “under siege”. They are cast as mainstream, informed, and caring.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, also watch for blame being placed after a disastrous event of some type. It can be on foreign shores or American shores. It can be natural or man-made. It can be big or small. The important part is the first few reports to be broadcast. They will place blame somewhere, and it will invariably fall on the shoulders of Republicans.
Be sure to note where the Democrats are located in the chain of responsibility. If the first responders are Republicans and the supervisors are Democrats, the first responders will have their errors highlighted. Conversely, if the first responders are Democrats and the supervisors are Republicans, supervision will be where the major problems occurred. The key is in the timing of the news coverage of the event. The first few reports will highlight the failings of Republicans. As more time passes, the appropriate blame will be assessed and the true breakdowns will be reported.
I think you will be surprised at how often this sequence of reporting takes place. Every time there is an earthquake, a tsunami, or an odd weather phenomenon, you will see the effect. But you will have to watch for it. The point is often made subtly, and the news reporters are not obligated to explain to you the techniques being used.
I’m not asking you to play the part of a detective here; just be an observer. Keep in mind that the melodrama of the reporting will play out in those early reports. As you watch the news segment, ask yourself, “Who is wearing the black hat here?” It will amaze you how often one group in particular is cast as the villain.
But frequently, there will be confusion because of the use of terminology and the images that are shown. Let me shine some light on this.
THE DEMOCRAT PARTY
Sometimes a melodrama will play out with the good guy acting all by himself. However, often the good guy is supported by a team. You might have seen a play or a movie where a town banded together to take back control from a gang of one sort or another. The good guy is in front, but the families in the town stand behind him.
It is time to introduce a special terminology. Please note the spelling of “The Democrat Party” in the heading at the top of the prior paragraph. It is different than the spelling of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is a political party, just like the Republican Party. When I use the term “Democrat Party”, it denotes the embodiment of Democratic Party ideology. It is an abstraction, and the best way I can explain it is this way: It is the counterpart to “The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy”.
The Democrat Party has no membership, other than through a belief system: If you believe in The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, you are (figuratively speaking) a card-carrying member of the Democrat Party. Another appealing aspect of the Democrat Party is that it doesn’t matter what your actual political party affiliation is. You can be unaffiliated, an Independent, or support the Green Party and still be a member of the Democrat Party.
You might wonder, “What drives people to be aligned with the Democrat Party?” The answer is that it promises two very significant benefits to each and every member:
1) The Democrat Party will make you popular.
2) The Democrat Party will get you more than the next guy.
Think back to the third grade in elementary school. These two promises address some very basic needs, and we seek them out. If everyone likes you, and you are doing better than the next person, you are happy. The Democrat Party exists to serve these two instinctive needs.
How does this tie into our anti-Republican culture? It happens that the Democrat Party is the source of this culture in the United States. Think of yourself as landing on foreign soil and having to adapt as quickly as possible. You look around and try to determine what makes up the popular culture. You instinctively know that if you accept the feelings and beliefs of the popular culture, you will fit in. To “fit in” to the American culture, you are strongly encouraged to be anti-Republican. That’s the work of the Democrat Party, and it has great appeal to several groups of people. That would include, for example, personalities in the entertainment industry who make their living by being liked. If your career rises and falls based on whether people like you, you will be naturally drawn to the Democrat Party.
If you haven’t thrown this book down in disgust by now, I have a couple of examples for you to consider. Michael Moore created a film titled “Fahrenheit 9/11”. It is represented as a documentary, and it portrays its main character, President Bush, as a liar, a moron, and a miserable failure. The film won the 2004 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Picture.
I don’t know if you saw the movie in a theatre or not, but if you did, you will not be surprised by what I am going to say next. At the conclusion of the film, THE AUDIENCE STOOD AND CLAPPED.
I think this illustrates two points. First, the film resonates with the audience. It speaks “Truth”. Second, it establishes Michael Moore as a member of the Democrat Party. He puts on display, for all to see, the emblematic characteristics of Republicans, with President Bush represented as the Republican “Everyman”. He shows what irritates so many Americans: The country somehow elected a Republican who exemplifies the traits of his group (stupid, lying, and a failure), and he is still leading our country!
The film is not so much of an attack on an individual as it is a representation of the people classified as Republicans. Imagine yourself being a member of that group and being surrounded by people in a movie theatre who applaud the stereotypical features of that group.
While you are getting your mind around that image, go back later in 2004 to a person named Mary Mapes. She worked for CBS and produced a story on President Bush that was supported by documents that helped enforce the perception of the Republican President being stupid, lying and a miserable failure while he was serving with the Texas Air National Guard. The documents used by Ms. Mapes to illustrate her point were prepared on word-processing equipment that didn’t exist at the time the documents were dated. She continues to be amazed that people focus on the issue of the authenticity of the documents. Her point is that the story spoke “Truth”, and that the supporting documents are a minor issue. Ms. Mapes is a member of the Democrat Party.
The main point in all of this is that if you live in America, you would do well to align with the Democratic Party, since you will be supported and not attacked. You will be a part of the dominant culture (The Establishment) and thus don’t have to go through the painful exercise of defining yourself in terms of issues.
Don’t be put off by this cultural phenomenon and its terminology. We need to get our arms around the forces at work here, and understanding the anti-Republican sentiment in the United States is a really helpful way to think about our culture. And remember: if you think there’s a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy out there, you are a member of the Democrat Party.
OK, then. So much for abstractions in our anti-Republican culture. There are certainly more of them, and we’ll touch on them in the pages that follow. However, there are also “code words” at work here. These are the words that trip us up when we are trying to communicate with one another. I’ll give you three examples to consider.
Here’s a word that can be used as a noun or an adjective. Dictionaries describe the adjective form of the word in terms like “favoring traditional values” or “tending to oppose change”. You also see descriptive words like “cautious” or “restrained” when looking for synonyms.
The Democratic Party amplifies the dictionary definitions and adds an emotional component. I’ll use a capital “C” to highlight the differences.
First, let’s note that the Democratic Party uses the term without the capital “C” to refer to members of its own party. I think a good example of this is the late Governor of Alabama and Democratic Party presidential candidate, George Wallace.
Governor Wallace was a political force in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a segregationist in the 1960s and was strongly opposed to the civil rights movement. When you hear the Democratic Party refer to these aspects of his political life, however, he is described as a conservative. I can remember reading one article where it spoke of his segregationist activities, and it never mentioned that he was a Democrat. Rather, he, and other Democrats of his time such as Orvil Faubus (former Governor of Arkansas) and Lester Maddox (former Governor of Georgia) are referred to as conservatives. All of these ex-Governors have pages of history written about their segregationist activities. They were all Democrats at one time, but the Democratic Party does not tend to point out this fact.
Just as an aside, it is of interest to me that Governor Wallace at one time had the endorsement of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) when he was running for political office. It seems ironic that a political group dedicated to the advancement of people with dark skin color would be aligned with a person who wants to bar them from going to the same bathrooms, going to the same schools, and eating in the same restaurants as people with lighter skin tones. You might wonder, “Where’s the principle!” I suppose there could be valid reasons for the logic of the stance, but the point to note here is that the NAACP remains dedicated to the Democratic Party.
Getting back on track, and summarizing a bit, the word “Conservative” can also be used in a disparaging manner. This is the capital “C” version of the word. Someone can say, “You Conservative!” and not actually care about your political stance. Think in terms of someone saying, “You bastard!” You wouldn’t necessarily feel the need to point out that you are well acquainted with your father. Rather, you would take it as a disparaging remark, and go on.
While the Democratic Party rarely, if ever, uses the word “Conservative” in a positive context, the use of the word as a pejorative is not its only use. This is when the Democratic Party uses it to broadly denote people who do not consistently spread anti-Republican thought. The columnist George Will provides a good example of how this usage is applied.
Mr. Will is an analyst with a conservative point of view. He writes a syndicated column that appears about once a week, and he writes about varied topics, from economics to politics; international relations to baseball. He is educational in his approach, filling his columns with data that support his points and making us all better informed in the process. The problem from the Democratic Party point of view is that he does not push an anti-Republican ideology.
I’m sure Mr. Will would say he is just commenting on current events, providing historical context, and helping us all understand the goings-on in our world. I’ll bet he also thinks he is more of a realist than a political partisan. However, because his remarks are not consistently anti-Republican, he is labeled a Conservative.
But what if you actually try to promote Republican thought? Now you’ve stepped over the line. Now you are an Ultra-Conservative! It’s the difference between being passive and being active. Avoiding anti-Republican rhetoric labels you as a Conservative. Promoting a conservative point of view makes you an Ultra-Conservative.
To sum up, the term “conservative” has emotion attached to it when used by the Democratic Party. If a person does not consistently promote an anti-Republican theme in his or her political statements, the person is a Conservative. If instead one actually advocates pro-Republican themes, he or she is an Ultra-Conservative.
If you happen to be in the news business, you can devote your complete program to regular content, but you must include at least one anti-Republican sentiment somewhere in the program to avoid being labeled a Conservative. If you’ve got a long history of consistent anti-Republican references in your programming content, you are cut a little slack. You might be able to slip by without anti-Republican sentiment on rare occasions, but you risk being labeled by the Democratic Party.
For comparison, take opinion columnists like Molly Ivins, Maureen Dowd, and Paul Krugman. Check out their writings and note the anti-Republican sentiment. (If you are not accustomed to reading opinion pieces, this is the time to get started.) You will see why these three individuals will never be labeled a Conservative.
This word, according to the dictionary, means to deprive of voting rights. That’s simple enough, but to the Democrat Party (note that we’re dropping the “ic” here), it is much, much more. Disenfranchisement, to the Democrat Party, is the setting apart of a class of individuals who do not have access to basic freedoms and rights. It stands for the anger and frustration of these people. It implies desperation and victimhood. It legitimizes anti-social behavior, and sometimes legitimizes criminal behavior. It is truly much more than being deprived of voting rights.
And here is the kicker: The Democrat Party holds as a core belief that Republicans cause disenfranchisement.
I can remember having a talk with a friend where the subject of voting abnormalities in recent elections came up. I pointed out that there were several allegations made, including that people were disenfranchised because there were too many voters in line, and that other people appeared to have been disenfranchised because too few people showed up to vote. It seemed that no matter what the turnout, the “disenfranchisement” accusation was always made by the Democrat Party, and that there were just no law suits that showed it was a problem.
He stopped me and explained that he was talking about “disenfranchisement” in the larger sense, not just the voting aspect.
At the time, I didn’t think much of the comment, other than maybe I needed to consult the dictionary and see if there was a secondary definition of which I was unaware. At some point, I did check the dictionary, and strangely, there was no secondary definition.
What to make of this? Could it be that the dominant culture in America is gradually modifying word usage? I guess that happens, since our language is continually evolving. But what is going on with this particular word?
And then it hit me. The word was in the process of becoming an emotion-laden metaphor, just like “racism”. Is it just happening that way of its own accord, or is something driving it? Who could possibly benefit by an expanded definition of the word, “disenfranchisement”? (Maybe you see where I’m going here.)
This is my thought: There has to be a continual renewal of emotionally-charged words to help the Democrat Party keep its grip on those it classifies as victims. If “racism” starts to lose its punch because we see highly-paid, highly visible entertainers and political figures with dark skin color, and it makes less and less sense to grant them and their offspring special privileges, how does one adapt?
How about a new class of victims that are “disenfranchised”? They move to the edges of society, or in some cases, work outside the bounds of society. They are “disenfranchised” because of their religious beliefs or perhaps because they are of a particular cultural heritage. All of a sudden, “disenfranchised” becomes a term for all victims of Republican wrongdoing. It has legs!
I think we can watch for greater and greater usage of the term “disenfranchised”. It might even turn out that dictionary definitions will be modified to include the expanded definition. A leading indicator of this trend will be the Reverend Jesse Jackson. After each election, he perceives instances of disenfranchisement by Republicans. As voting becomes more electronic, there will be (despite protestations by the Democrat Party) less and less voter fraud. When voting becomes less problematic, then classical “disenfranchisement” will become less of an issue, and if Reverend Jackson still sees disenfranchisement, it will have to be of the expanded kind. It will be interesting to see how the definition of the word changes over time.
This word is traditionally used as an adjective, meaning “not excessive or extreme”. However, when it is used as a noun, it becomes a political term. The idea is that when you are a “Moderate”, you don’t hold extreme political views.
Let’s start off with a poll. The poll includes just two questions:
1. Which political ideology best describes you:
2. Which best describes your stand on the issue of abortion:
a. Pro-Choice, and I expect others to support a woman’s right to choose.
b. Pro-Choice, but I accept that others may choose to be Pro-Life.
c. Pro-Life for myself and my immediate family, but I support a woman’s right to choose.
d. Pro-Life for myself and my immediate family, and I expect others to be Pro-Life.
My bet is that the distribution of the answers to both questions would look like a “bell curve”. In other words, most of the respondents would choose the middle answers. Question 1 would be answered “b”, and Question 2 would be answered either “b” or “c”. Most people think they are “Moderate” and most people are tolerant of the views of others on the abortion question.
What’s the lesson here? It’s that the “Moderate” terminology highly correlates with our stand on abortion. If we are rigidly Pro-Life, we are probably a Conservative; if we are rigidly Pro-Choice, we are probably a Liberal. And so I will make a pronouncement:
The terminology “Liberal”, “Moderate”, or “Conservative” is just a proxy for
your stand on abortion. You don’t need to divulge your positions on taxation,
government regulation, or interpretation of the Constitution. All we need to
know is where you stand on abortion.
You might think that this is a pretty sweeping generalization, but here is how I justify it. I’m a “70% of the time” kind of person. That means that if something happens 70% of the time, I take it as a pretty good fact. That doesn’t mean it is “Truth”; just that you can count on it.
Why 70%? The logic goes something like this: If I can be right 70% of the time, that means I am wrong 30% of the time. If I’m placing bets with equal probability, over time I net 40% on the deal. If my overhead is half of my revenue, I end up with 20% before taxes, pay about half of the profit in taxes, and end up with a return of 10% for my effort. Anytime you can make a solid 10% return, you probably ought to do it!
Anyway, if I assume that based upon your stance on abortion I can predict your political ideology and be right 70% of the time, I am happy. It makes me appear to know what I’m talking about!
Here’s another takeoff on the abortion issue: To be a member of the Democratic Party, you must be “Pro-Choice”. It is like taking an oath of office. If you cannot say that you support “a woman’s right to choose”, you cannot consider yourself a real Democrat. The way you get around this is to say you are a “Moderate”, which is a code word for being a Pro-Life Democrat who accepts others as being Pro-Choice. This is why it is so difficult for members of the Democratic Party to say they are liberal in their ideology. The term “Liberal” is a code word for a rigid belief in abortion rights, both as an individual and for others. This is actually a minority stance in the Democratic Party, so it makes sense that most Democrats consider themselves “Moderates”.
Maybe it’s time to pause for a moment and see if we can intellectually get our arms around this issue. We are not talking about the Democrat Party here. This is the Democratic Party, and it is defined in terms of a single issue. The genius of the Party is that the issue is wrapped in the imagery of a metaphorical phrase: “A Woman’s Right to Choose”. It turns abortion into an empowering, enabling concept of choice and individual rights. Without knowing what the phrase embodies, everyone would support it. It would be medieval to say that you think it is right to deny women rights or to deny women choices. The phrase stands on its own as a statement of power and freedom. Thus it has strong imagery and has deep feelings attached to it. It is an incredibly good rallying point.
It also has pathos. If you challenge a female on “A Woman’s Right to Choose”, you are setting yourself up to receive a lecture on back-alley abortions and “the way things were”. There is suffering. There is sorrow. There is release from bondage. This is a unifying issue, and there is no turning back. The blood has been spilt (so to speak): the right to an abortion will not be abridged.
And so it is settled. “A Woman’s Right to Choose” is the rallying cry of the Democratic Party. It defines the Democratic Party.
But what if you choose not to accept this statement as fact? I apply the 70% rule, and say, “That’s the way it is.” But you still don’t believe me, and want to figure out a way to test the assertion.
You decide to test it by polling registered Democrats. Simply ask the question, “Do you believe in abortion?” The responses would be over 70% affirmative, but probably not by much. Phrase the question, “Are you Pro-Choice?” and again, affirmative responses would exceed 70%. But ask the question, “Do you support a woman’s right to choose?” and you can expect affirmative responses of close to 100% (within the margin of statistical error). Do an informal poll of your friends who are Democrats. I think you will be amazed at how strong the correlation is between members of a political party and a particular tenet of their beliefs.
I know, I know. You are saying that classifying things by virtue of a 70% or greater probability is simplistic. And I agree. But it sure does help gain an understanding of what’s going on in American politics.
Think in terms of a card game like Bridge. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy and understand the game. Take a few lessons or read a basic-level book, and you are off and running. Sophistication will come with time. Just start out by learning a few of the rules of the game and you will enjoy it and appreciate it.
This book is a “starting point”. Understand some of the concepts and some of the code words, and you will begin to see the common threads that run through the politics at work in our country. I’m not expecting you to become an overnight pundit, but I am interested to see if you see the same things that I do, particularly in the next chapter.
We’ll start with the themes.