Rise of the right-wing double-speak machine and the Sandra Fluke affair
Think of this as a brief addition to Tod Kelly’s last piece which reminded me how unbelievably silly the American political scene has become.
This whole Sandra Fluke affair – my eyes just glaze over. I can’t help it, it’s like so many of the other nontroversies plaguing our national discourse. The Limbaughs and Coulters and Becks of the world aren’t just polluting the American right, they’re distracting everyone from the important discussions we really ought to be having.
Which, you know, is great fodder for us bloggers but sort of frustrating at the same time. This whole notion that Obama had Andrew Breitbart assassinated is even more absurd than Limbaugh’s “slut” remarks, but it’s also just the latest in a long series of crackpot theories about the president, his origins, his beliefs. Our Kenyan anti-colonialist, Marxist, socialist, fascist president who never does anything right ever and is destroying this impervious nation by sucking the marrow from the bones of religious liberty is now also a suspect in the death of a conservative blogger. And why won’t he show us his birth certificate?
Look, I have lots of problems with the president, but those problems are with things that rarely get discussed outside of the internet niches I inhabit. The war on drugs rages on under the Obama presidency. The deportations of immigrants continue at a faster pace than ever before (actually, they’ve been slowing recently so maybe this is changing.)
Obama talks just as tough, if more soberly, than any of his Republican rivals about the Iranian threat…and you know, as much as I am in denial of this, we might be going to war with Iran. Or Israel might. This is just so much more important and frightening to me than any stupid thing that Rush Limbaugh said – and yet, the two are linked inextricably the one with the other.
We can’t have a grown-up discussion about the problems facing this nation if one side refuses to participate. It’s just not possible. When the GOP is intent on ostracizing virtually every one of its members who refuses to speak the language of movement conservatism, how can we have an honest fight?
It’s not possible, and so everything is left in the fog of punditocracy. Maybe the mediocrity of it all is what drives me crazy. I really don’t mind the political circus itself. I enjoy seeing politicians battered and beaten as they run the campaign gauntlet. I don’t think negative ads are bad. It’s just that there seems, at times, to be something more sinister going on, even if it’s an incidental sort of sinister. Or motivated by the almighty dollar.
The right doesn’t want to have a conversation. They don’t want to use language to speak. The conservative movement has weaponized its linguistic arsenal. They have it down to an art form, or a soft science maybe. They’ve carved away at language until words become smart bombs and targeted long-range missiles.
It’s not just about ratings. It’s about control. It’s about reading the demographic writing on the wall. They do this by rigidly enforcing the proper use of language across the entire conservative movement – Fox, the radio shows, political leaders in the Republican party, and so forth. They use guys like Frank Luntz to help carefully select the exact phrases that will garner the most emotional response among likely conservative voters.
The whole thing is a machine and the whole point of the machine is to control and to distract. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Only, well, not quite that. Freedom is war. War is strength. Strength is peace. Ignorance is enforced through the often unspoken, but tightly controlled, rules laid out by the conservative movement itself and maintained through the manipulation of language. Rightwing double-speak.
It’s all the opposite of what George Orwell urged us to do in his excellent essay Politics and the English Language. Orwell asked us to leave behind meaningless words. Words like “fundamental” and “categorical.”
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible,” he wrote. Nothing has changed. Luntz has described himself as a disciple of Orwell but nothing could be more preposterously untrue. Which, I guess, is fitting in its own way.
There are limits to all of this of course. Which brings us back full circle to Sandra Fluke. Boehner has come out against Limbaugh this time, placed his orange neck on the line. Others will place a thimble’s worth of distance between Limbaugh and themselves while directing their ire squarely at the left.
Meanwhile those conservative pariahs who refuse to box themselves into the language of the right – the Daniel Larisons and David Frums of the world – will continue their trek along the fringe of that strange mechanical snow-globe, peering in at a movement long lost in its own linguistics, on the other side of that veil of words.
[This post has been updated with minor fixes and a few small changes and additions.]