How conservatives use language to dominate politics

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 29, 2003

How conservatives use language to dominate politics.

Reader comments

MariannOct 29, 2003 at 9:28AM

Thanks for sharing that link. I'm teaching composition next semester with a political rhetoric theme, so the article provided some great information!

BryanOct 29, 2003 at 12:16PM

See also:

The Language War by Robin Tolmach Lakoff

Stefan JonesOct 29, 2003 at 12:31PM

This calls for more and larger effigy puppets and louder drums at protest rallies.

barlowOct 29, 2003 at 3:42PM

One could easily write a similar article about liberals. "paying for" a tax cut, "pro-choice", "progressive", "living wage" etc. Every group tries to linguistically construct a public sphere hospitable to their position.

tj hookerOct 29, 2003 at 7:20PM

Another part of of the problem has to do with the impatience current leftists have with the idea of comprimise. I recall that when I volunteered for Clinton, lefties I knew sneered because he was "centrist." A lot of conservatives swallow Bush's "centrist" rhetoric because they see that a lack of "pure" conservative rhetoric in the short run is good for them in the long run. In Clinton's case, he blew it things like gay rights, but he also put through a lot of judge appointments that helped progressive causes. Progressive "purity" isn't practical.

DaveOct 29, 2003 at 8:26PM

Barlow: Yes, liberals also use language for their ends, but the point is that they don't do it as well, as consistently, or as structured as conservatives.

I want to hear more about this fellow who writes the "conservative's guide to arguing the issues" book every year.

BobbyOct 29, 2003 at 8:45PM

Wow, what a surprise that this guy teaches at UC Berkeley.

Come on people, if you are gonna be believe that language framing is a tool that is mastered only by conservatives, then I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

You've never bought a "pre-owned" car, ate a "juicy charbroiled" hamburger, or had a third trimester "abortion"? This kind of stuff is as much tied into semiotics as is everything else in our life. These kinds of informative articles are masturbatory.

megnutOct 30, 2003 at 1:11PM

Not to go off topic, but third trimester "abortion" isn't like the others. Less than 1% of all abortions are performed after 20 weeks (5 months). They are, "extremely rare after 26 weeks of pregnancy." And, "[v]ery few abortions are provided in the third trimester, and they are generally limited to cases of severe fetal abnormalities or situations when the life or health of the pregnant woman is seriously threatened." [source: Abortion After Twelve Weeks Factsheet] So I imagine most people reading this thread, while they may have eaten burgers or bought used cars, haven't had third trimester abortions.

AugustOct 30, 2003 at 2:09PM

Bobby's point is still valid, though. This sort of manipulation through language has been going on basically since the dawn of time. This guy isn't breaking new ground; he's applying old knowledge to a current situation.

boysenOct 30, 2003 at 3:10PM

Or it could be that lately more people have voted against liberal political positions... just a guess.

SamOct 30, 2003 at 5:34PM

But that's the point, boysen. When a political constituency takes the initiative and frames the issues with their language, it gives them the advantage with regard to independent voters.

I know a lot of people who voted for Bush in 2000 because "Gore's a liar." Which I don't think was true. But he allowed himself to be framed that way, and it hurt him in the long run.

DaveOct 30, 2003 at 6:16PM

Bobby, I do believe language framing in the context of the article is only mastered by conservatives right now. (And, yes, I'd love to hear about your bridge.)

What the professor is drawing attention to is the fact that conservatives in general have a more consistent and structured system of language framing. He's not saying liberals don't use language framing or that language framing is new, he's just saying he's going to help the liberals become more structured and systematic as a party.

So it's not just coming up with good marketing speak (everyone does that already), it's coming up with good marketing speak that can be used consistently across the progressive political spectrum.

BobbyOct 30, 2003 at 11:47PM

In context or not, I believe that entire article was a demonstration of succesful language framing by a liberal. The fact that people are accepting it as fact is proof of that.

Or how about Clinton's impeachment hearings? There's a master at work. Or how about Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson on any day of the week? I know I shouldn't go there... guilty pleasure :)

Meg, I understand your point about abortion, I personally think it's wrong at any stage, but that's a debate for a different day. The point I was trying to make is, at what point for the general "pro-choice" public is abortion just a euphemism for murder?

Davidov Veronica Jan 26, 2004 at 10:57AM

A coward mistakes oppression for peace.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.