The War of Words: How Neo-Conservatives Change our Language

One consistent thing we’ve seen over the last 20+ years of neo-conservative rule in the United States is the powerful way in which politicians use or distort language in order to change history, steer political opinion, or defame their opponents. In the past 8 years of George W. Bush’s administration we’ve had new words bushdoyadded to our lexicon including:

  • terrorism
  • islamo-fascism
  • islamic fundamentalists
  • domestic surveilance
  • economic stimulus
  • enhanced interrogation

and many other saying, all used as ways of buffering the impact of certain words, or over-enhancing the impact of others. Other times, conservative talk show hosts or pundits would receive talking points directly from the White House to further its agenda of propaganda. (TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand – source: NY Times, Bush Shows No Reporse for Fake Newscasts – source: Inter Press Service, Secrets of Talk Radio – source: Milwaukee Magazine) What President Bush saught to do was change history, cover up that which had been recorded, and propagandize the news. For 8 years he succeeded, until the media finally took matters back into its own hands and started reporting the news instead of sensationalized propaganda.

And yet, the damage had been done. For years, conservative talk show hosts used the time-honored term “Liberal” as if it was profanity. They spat the word out as an accusation of someone’s disloyalty to America, and in doing so, liberalism – the majority opinion on politics in this country – was vilified, and thus the conservative take over was firmly on its way in this country. Liberals were so affected by this shift in semantics that they adopted the new term “Progressive” to better capture the nature of their stance on politics and social issues. Personally, I’ve always called myself a Progressive Populist, but most folks don’t truly understand what that means.

Other times, historically toxic terms like “fascist” and “communist” or “socialist” are thrown at political opponents to paint them in a negative light. Semantics have always been one of my areas of unhealthy interest, so I’ve decided to channel my own mania into a lesson on words to defuse these linguisic bombs that the right is so keen on tossing.

Fascism

The first and best example of Fascism can be seen in Mussolini’s dictatorship during WWII. Let’s take a look at how Mussolini defines Fascism. Essentially, Fascist ideology requires a combination of militarist expansion of a nation’s power and influence through authoritarian rule, a fusing of corporations with the state and an inherent disdain for and repression of democracy, universal sufferage or socialist values. Essentially, you don’t have civil liberties because the nation’s interests come first and foremost and everyone should work working to advance the power and influence of the nation.

For these reasons, the term “fascist” has been used in the pejorative to generally describe anyone who wants to take away someone else’s fun. But this is often misused. For example, democrats calling for gun control laws to keep assault rifles off of the streets are often called fascists. From the above description we can see that this is clearly not the case.

American Neo-Conservatism, (which is neither new, nor conservative) is in many ways the American version of Fascism. In the past 8 years in the Bush administration we’ve seen militarist expansion of American influence in the world, unilateral talks with threat of (and often use of) force against other countries, authoritarian rule with the elimination of habeus corpus, military tribunals instead of trials, the use of torture, voter suppression through the use of faulty voting machines, or through the stopping of vote counts to have a puppet Supreme Court elect the president instead, privatization of the military, no-bid contracts for military war profiteers, domestic spying and wiretapping without warrants, supression of free speech on television through spreading of propaganda, and the list goes on and on.

Socialism

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, Socialism is:

A social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources. According to the socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members.

Socialism was theorized by several philosophers, most notably Engels and Marx as a natural outgrowth of the struggle between the working class and the wealthy elite. The later 1800’s and the 20th century saw the rapid growth of socialist nations, organizations and doctrines and often the fall of these structures as well.

The important thing to note here is that Socialism is primarily an economic doctrine. It nationalizes the ownership of industries to varying levels with the intent of sharing wealth throughout the society for the betterment of all.

Socialism has become a dirty word in the United States primarily after the McCarthyist era between the 1940’s and 1950’s. The accusation of “Communist” or “Socialist” was lobbed against anyone deemed the slightest bit liberal (including those who were true patriots, but just had a big mouth) and resulted in many people losing their jobs, careers being ruined and a general “big red scare” throughout society where everyone was suscipcious of others’ political beliefs or activities.

The irony of this whole era is that the United States has some Socialism built into its political system. America is essentially a Social Democracy (or Republic technically). But we’ll address that momentarily.

Many governments in the 20th century sought to create utopian socialist nations through force. They used military force to overthrow existing monarchies, democracies, corrupt oligarchies, dictators, etc. and through revolution instituted communist governments. Communism will be discussed separately below, as it’s implementation reaches beyond that of Socialism, yet the two are often mixed up or described as one and the same.

Communism

Communism as described by wikipedia (yeah, I know – but it’s a good definition) is described:

As an ideology, Communism is usually considered to be a branch of socialism, a broad group of social and political philosophies, which draws on the various political and intellectual movements with origins in the work of theorists of the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution. Communism attempts to offer an alternative to the problems believed to be inherent with capitalist economies and the legacy of imperialism and nationalism. Communism states that the only way to solve these problems is for the working class, or proletariat, to replace the wealthy bourgeoisie, which is currently the ruling class, in order to establish a peaceful, free society, without classes, or government.

Sounds lovely doesn’t it… except that it wasn’t. Lenin modified Marx’s original theories that theorized a natural uprising of the working class in response to oppresive conditions to establish a socialist economy with his idea that the downtrodden would never do this on their own and that a separate revolutionary force would have to come in to overthrow the bourgeoise using military force. Communist nations were established across the globe at gun point, executing the wealthy class or driving them out as political refugees, forcefully overtaking privately owned business and industries, nationalizing their ownership and establishing totalitarian or dictatorial governments to enforce the communist economy.

Because of the fusing of socialism with communism in the American lexicon of semantics, most Americans equate the two and think that any socialist policy will result in the slaughters and violence that were historically seen with communist revolutions.

It is interesting to note that Fascists considered themselves diametrically opposed to Communists, yet their tatics were remarkedly similar. Both were highly militaristic systems. Both were deeply authoritarian in their implementation. Both repressed individual liberties for the “greater good” as dictated by the government. The main difference between the two is that Fascist governments implemented rabid Corporatist economic policies, where Communist governments implemented far-reaching Socialist economic policies.

Social Democracy

Described as the “Third Way”, Social Democracies exist all over the planet right now and account for the most successful, prosperous and advanced nations in the world.

In general, contemporary social democrats support: (source: wikipedia.org)

  • A mixed economy consisting mainly of private enterprise, but with government owned or subsidized programs of education, healthcare, child care and related services for all citizens.
  • Government bodies that regulate private enterprise in the interests of workers, consumers and fair competition.
  • Advocacy of fair trade over free trade.
  • An extensive system of social security (although usually not to the extent advocated by democratic socialists or other socialist groups), with the stated goal of counteracting the effects of poverty and insuring the citizens against loss of income following illness, unemployment or retirement.
  • Moderate to high levels of taxation (through a value-added and/or progressive taxation system) to fund government expenditure.

This reflects the social/political systems of Europe, Canada and the United States, Australia, India and many other democracies. Essentially, it attempts to take the best of Socialism and the best of Capitalism and find a balance between them and support this economic system through a democractically elected government.

In the United States, we have a Social Democracy. We have an economy fueled by private enterprise, corporations, small businesses and capitalist investors that is USUALLY regulated by government oversight and laws to make sure the free market economy doesn’t go nuts and tank itself (as with the Great Depression, the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 80’s or the most recent George W. Bush Recession). Additionally, the government collects taxes to support programs intended to build up society’s overall value, to raise more effective workers and educated citizens that will advance the nation’s growth.

The next time you think we aren’t a socialist country as yourself if you’ve benefited from any of the following social programs:

  • Social Security
  • Free Primary and Secondary Education
  • Free Fire Departments
  • Free Police Departments
  • Subsidized Postal System
  • Free Public Roads
  • Free Airwaves for Television and Radio
  • Unemployment Benefits
  • Medicare
  • Disability
  • Veterans Affairs
  • G.I. Bill
  • Free Health Clinics
  • Labor Laws like a 40 hour work week and overtime laws
  • and the list goes on

These are programs that have helped support society as a whole, preventing the harsh conditions we saw as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Whether you like it or not, we are a social democracy and we’ve all benefitted from that fact in the United States.

So the next time you hear some neo-conservative pundit talking on Fox News about Obama being a socialist or Fascists trying to take away someone’s right to own a gun, look into the real meanings of these words and correct them in your mind. Don’t fall into the trap of sensationalized propaganda being dealt out as if it were news. Take back the English language and start insisiting that others use these terms properly as well.

After 8 years of corporatist, fascist government running an out-of-control laisez-faire economy leading to complete economic meltdown and a loss of global respect and status, I for one welcome our new socialist democratic president!

Advertisements

One Response to “The War of Words: How Neo-Conservatives Change our Language”

  1. It is fascinating to me to hear so people use the term “free market” when discussing or describing the American economy. How we have managed to fool ourselves into believing that such as thing as the “free market” exists as anything but theory is beyond me. We are clearly a mixed economy and anything from social security to the minimum wage to anti-segregation laws can easily be used as proof of the governments hand in the economy, as you so clearly point out.

    You mentioned the progressive tax system as a hallmark of social democracy and I would go even further to suggest is actual socialism at its basic level. Perhaps the most often quoted line from The Communist Manefesto is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” A progressive tax system is the first half of that statement in practice. If you make more money (have more ability) then you can pay higher tax and still live a comfortable life. This is how the income tax works in the U.S. If I make $30,000 per year I may pay 15% in federal taxes, but if I make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year or even more then I may pay more around 35-40% in federal taxes. If I make $1 million per year and I had to pay 50% in income taxes, that would still leave me with $500,000 per year. This is not enough to live on? I need tax breaks? I don’t buy it!

    Furthermore, it is interesting that this socialism and communism are so detested in the U.S. Those who are often the most anti-communist are conservative religious people, many of whom describe the U.S. as a Christian nation. It is interesting that in the Book Acts, wrttien by St. Paul, the man who esstentially invented Christianity, we find statements very similar to Marx’s socialist maxim of wealth redistribution. For example:

    All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

    and

    There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35)

    Oh how we do pick and choose…shellfish anyone?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: