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Taking Back the Political Lexicon

There is a vein of philosophy which holds that the existence of absolute truth is negated by the subjectivity of language. Somehow the differing physiognomy of an object like a table individual minds envisioned when the word is mentioned alters and negates the concrete nature of material entities.

This is obviously intellectual sophistry of the most puerile kind- clearly, perception does not alter reality; the relativity between absolutes does nothing to change the absolutes. But words do have meaning, imbued by the intentions and passions of the speaker, and are still a useful political tool.

The long-running tie between politics and propaganda is well-documented. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, considered propaganda to be a crucial part of democratic rule. His book, Propaganda,  which was among the works of American thinkers that influenced Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, begins by stating, “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.”

This is still at work today. One of the most devious and widely used techniques is introducing bias into a question asked of a political candidate. Often, this is not overt. A question is worded around a subjective premise which immediately puts the addressee in the position of having to prove a negative- something that is rhetorically almost impossible. Take a question put to Ted Cruz during CNBC’s recent GOP primary debate. Cruz was asked whether his opposition to the recent bipartisan budget deal, which the moderator claimed was quelling fears of government shutdown and market panic, showed he was not the “kind of problem solver American voters want.” There are two assumptions here which put Cruz in a negative position. First, the assertion the that budget deal is good and necessary because it stands between political and financial stability and chaos. This is not a fact, it is a premise asserted by the moderator as fact. Second, the creation of a political archetype which American voters desire. There is no such thing, and if there were, a fair question would point out evidence that typifies how such a politician acts and empirical evidence that puts Cruz’s record in another mold.

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Another cover tactic for influencing politics is coverage. This is well illustrated in another exchange from the CNBC debate where Jeb Bush was asked whether the government should view fantasy football as gambling for the purpose of regulation. Cut into a 30-second soundbite devoid of context, which CNBC has done by posting answers devoid of questions on their YouTube channel, such a question makes Bush look out of touch. Circulate this enough times and voters will begin to ask why Republicans are talking about irrelevant matters on the periphery of federal power when exigent financial and foreign policy matters are affecting the American people. Why? Because they’re not given the opportunity. But because of the bias created by excluding events from coverage, so that people do not know what they do not know, it is almost impossible to understand this.

Then there are the more overt and egregious examples of bias, and this is the manipulation of language. A common tactic is to exploit opposition in language. The binary nature of the human brain lends itself naturally to contrast- it is a quick, convenient short cut for learning. But it is also useful when you want to denigrate a particular political party. Hence Democrats in the House Select Committee on Benghazi who do not want to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances paint Republicans as partisan- the opposite of fair- and immediately cast them in a dishonest light. They ascribe a devious motive which paints their every action in a negative light. Any opposition to legislation is intransigence, a reason-blind stance of opposition purely for the sake of opposition. Immediately any consideration of rational dissent is disqualified. rr

Republicans do not help themselves by cringing and scraping so as to avoid being so classified. They must end the built in rhetorical advantage by disregarding hidden emotionalism and instead focus on their idea-centric epistemology since this is something which only discriminates on the basis of  reason.

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About Katherine Revello

A recent graduate of the University of Maine, where she majored in journalism and political science, Katherine Revello is an aspiring political commentator. Her focuses include theory, the philosophy of money and populism. Currently, she is a graduate student at Villanova University. She is the founder of The Politics of Discretion, a blog dedicated to advancing her philosophy of discretionism. Follow her on Twitter: @MrsWynandPapers

One comment

  1. It certainly undercuts your points in the article about Republican victimization at the hands of the media and unfair biased questions when there is a link to an article on this very site entitled “If Obama is not a Muslim, what is he? Certainly not a Christian.” Just a thought.