The present state of national political dysfunction is not something Americans have drifted into by chance, or as a result of pressures in the random currents of political developments. No: It is the result of the debilitating visions and destructive search for power carried on by the leaders of the Modern Republican Party (MRP) during the last fifty years. In two previous articles, I wrote about the MRP and its cynical, emotion-based manipulation of racism, religion, and patriotism to gain power. The MRP became the party of Jim Crow, the party of military and civilian guns, and the party of God.
In my previous articles, I posed questions about Frank Luntz. He was the person in charge of the MRP’s verbal gas machine that continues to produce thick clouds of nonsense. He was responsible for linguistic gems like “Southern strategy,” “big government,” “war on terror,” “family values,” and many others that have penetrated and dulled the minds of many Americans. To whom did Luntz submit his linguistic gems? To whom did he report? Who approved his linguistic gems, and who saw to it that the gems became part of the regular vocabulary of the mainstream media? Look to the top of the party, America.
There is virtually no mention in the so-called liberal media of the Orwellian coded language and doublespeak of the MRP. MRP leaders have understood from the beginning of their assault on America, as George Orwell understood in 1984, that words can transform the energy of politically-laden emotions into thought and action. MRP leaders organized a staff of “word wizards” who sought to create words and phrases that would channel and control the latent energy of racism, fire-powered patriotism, and rigid religious belief. These word wizards invented the phrase “Southern strategy” to camouflage the racism, the violence, and the intolerance of the policies that were gestating in the minds of the early MRP leaders. “Southern strategy” spawned many offspring, including “silent majority,” “cut taxes (for the rich),” “family values,” and “big government.”
The MRP said to American voters: “We have given you the words with which you can express your political fears and feelings. Dream the words. Speak the words. Write the words. You know that they describe your, and our, vision of reality.”
The MRP drew on the power of words to change human perception. They realized words could energize politically laden emotions, and at the same time, activate the circuits in the human brain that lead people to accept illusions as reality. “Silent majority,” for example, united people who disapproved of Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation that empowered minorities, while making no overt reference to racism. “Cut taxes” became a phrase with one meaning: Stop funding welfare and supporting “them.” “Family values” was a call to live according to a very strict code of conduct created by so-called Christian leaders, most of whom failed to live by that same code. “Big government” was a call to resist social activism and political intervention that was intended to right injustices, even as the “war” on “big government” facilitated crony capitalism and rampant profiteering.
The shattering success of the MRP’s “Southern strategy” – in its stimulation and stoking of emotion that smothers reason, in its creation of illusions, and in its application of the transforming and transmitting capacities of the modern media machine – has fundamentally disrupted the rational discussion of ideas that is essential to the functioning of a modern democracy. The MRP is, in a word, anti-democratic. Its policies and politics erode the very cement that holds together the rational and reasonable aspects of our nation.
In Alan Turing: The Enigma, Andrew Hodges writes that an essential aspect of Orwell’s 1984 is to display “the capacity of political structure to determine language, and language to determine thought.” Recognizing this, the MRP has poisoned political discourse in America with language that’s intended to suppress rational thought, language whose goal it is to dim the light shed by people who engage in reasonable political thought in the USA.
Don’t believe me? Just watch the Republican presidential “debates.” Welcome to the new dark ages, America.
Matthew Jacobson is a lifelong student of the history of American politics.
5 thoughts on “The Poisoned Politics of the Republican Party”
I believe the amazing Mr Luntz also came up with the phrase “death tax” – which suggests government clerks crowding their way into funeral homes to pluck pennies off the eyes of the deceased – rather than a percentage taken away from the idle children of robber barons. Admittedly, “fat cat penalty” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Wow, this guy’s work makes Karl Rove look like a severe underachiever!!! But I will never cease to wonder at the phrase crafted for Agnew to deliver, turned by William Safire: “nattering nabobs of negativism”!! Simply stunning, and hilarious to boot! Yes, I actually practice giving credit to conservatives when it’s due!
William Safire — who wrote word-like noises for the human caricature, Spiro Agnew, to utter — had no real grasp of alliteration. His effete efforts clearly mark his as a rank amateur among poets, along with the other hired-gun word magicians of the Republican Party, like Frank Luntz, who likes to say: “It’s not what you say; it’s what other people hear.” I see their irritating ilk as nothing more than a clueless claque of mawkish milquetoast mavens mildly moaning mealy mouthfuls of mellifluously modulated mush. As in:
A Disassembled Dialectic
(From The Triumph of Strife: an homage to Dante Alighieri and Percy Shelley)
The mawkish milquetoast mavens mildly moan
And mumble mealy mouthfuls of their mush
Mellifluously masking grammar’s groan
As if our very words they wish to crush.
Beneath a fog dispensed to hide the stink
Of language that would make Rasputin blush,
They make it near impossible to think,
But praise with faint damnation published loud.
In weakly written, waffling wretch-stained ink,
They preach their penchant for pedantry proud.
Their panchromatic paradigm of gray
Describes in blended black and white the cloud.
The metaphysics of the middle they
Debate with dialectical dismay.
They start assuming what they wish to know
These salesmen of the syllogism flawed
Then postulate the hope it may be so
Whatever frozen fact they have unthawed
They legislate a logic lunatic
Inductive inference they have outlawed
Whatever both implausible and thick
They fantasize as fabric for their fraud
And then segué to sell the simply sick:
Suggestions subtle as a cattle prod
Designed to stir stampede instead of thought
They bask in their own bombast overawed
With what their obloquy has sold and bought
They premised nothing and concluded naught
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006-2010
But, Mike! The New York Times (for what THAT’S worth!) hired Bill Safire, not YOU, to write a column on use of the English language!!
One minor quibble: Since I was in the thick of the struggle to halt the genocidal US war against the peoples of Southeast Asia, my memory is that the phrase “the silent majority” was used specifically to suggest that the vast majority of the people supported Nixon’s war efforts, but simply chose to not espouse their views in public (in contrast to those noisy, rowdy, “violent” protestors). By extension, sure, we could say it implied support for all the MRP “values” (ha!) Nixon-Agnew-Laird-Mitchell-Thurmond-Helms represented. But above all, it was about the war.