Election 2016

In Our Political Moment, It's Simply Not Enough to Have the Facts on Your Side -- How to Defeat Right-Wing Propaganda

We have to learn how to make the facts more appealing to the people who need to hear them.

George Lakoff is right. Republicans are winning the language wars. As half of America is charmed into voting against their own interests, we progressives keep telling them the facts. Instead, we should be concerned about what Joe Romm calls "language intelligence," the ability to convince people of something by moving them both intellectually and emotionally. The Republicans do it so well. They've hijacked the big issues with inflammatory phrases like "class warfare" and "death tax." We have to learn to fight back.

For starters, we might pick some inflammatory phrases of our own. Like "class carnage," inflicted by the super-rich. And "ancestral theft," perpetrated by hustling modern-day entrepreneurswho take most of the profits from technological products developed through decades of public research.

Lakoff emphasizes the need to place words in conceptual frameworks, as Republicans do with "tax relief" to portray taxes as an undue burden that must be relieved. In this spirit, Mike Lofgrenproposes that the negatively charged 'entitlements' be reframed as "earned benefits." After all, Americans pay for their retirement benefits.

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Or how about the emotionally unstimulating "financial transaction tax"? Boring. In the framing world, the proposal for a tiny imposition on risky high-speed thousand-trillion-dollar trades should be called a "quadrillionaire's fee."

Romney and Ryan: R&R for the Rich

Walter Lippman, an early proponent of symbolic language, suggested that people are more likely to believe "the pictures in their heads" than actual facts. More recently, Drew Westennoted that voters are primarily influenced by their feelings toward the parties and their candidates.

So we progressives need to help Romney and Ryan come up with a good campaign buzzword. Perhaps "medikillers" or "billionaiders." Or, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, the Republican candidates could be called "jobbywhackers."

Wall Street: Once we loot, you're destitute

Language Intelligence is characterized by a few principles of usage, including brevity, repetition, repetition, and the use of metaphors and rhyme. That's good advice for fashioning a Wall Street slogan, like "Swindle or Dwindle."

And, with Wall Street on our minds, we can't overlook our beloved sayings and verses and adages, modernized for a new gilded age:

  Nation in plight, banker's delight,
  slapped with a warning: nation in mourning.

As progressives, we find it hard to resist the facts, because they generally support our side. But if we're really smart, we have to learn how to make the facts more appealing to the people who need to hear them.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at [email protected].