Propaganda and Buzz Words

“. . . And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean”

“When the Ship Come In” – Bob Dylan

One of the discussions that the Friends of Community Media have been having is the nature of the words used by people over the media who have an agenda to influence public opinion. Often these words are Orwellian propaganda which mean the opposite of what they really mean.

Richard Thompson came up with a list of some of these terms which were discussed in a recent FCM Zoom meeting on 7/11/20 and Spencer Graves and Greg Swartz had some addditions/suggestion. Below are some of the words:

Conservative Terms and What They Really Mean

Government as an evil outside entity – [The Nanny State] I cannot come up with a single word to describe this but right wingers will generally portray government as some sort of outside evil force. Of course, democracy can be contrary to the interests of the wealthy since the majority are not wealthy. So it is in the interests of the wealthy to convey the message that all government is evil. In truth, if the majority actually voted in their own interests, government should be their friend. Government should be looked at as the way people work together for the benefit of all society. The neoliberal free market advocates, of course, believe that the only function of government should be to protect their property interests, so they look at anything other than that as evil. We need to fight this concept with appropriate news reporting. (Greg Swartz)

Family Values – “Family values” sounds good and is difficult to argue against. When one argues against family values, it sounds like they are arguing against the family. Does anyone want to argue that families are bad? Of course not. That’s why socially conservative groups love to use it. Googling the terms “fox news” and “family values” returns over 285,000 results. What it really is code for, though, in many situations, is discrimination against families that are nontraditional, especially families that are headed by LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) people. It also can be a code word for disparaging LGBTQ people. (Richard Thompson).

Religious Freedom and Religious Liberty – Religious freedom and religious liberty harken back to our nation’s history, when people came here to avoid religious persecution, which makes it sound good. What it often really means, though, is that people have the freedom to discriminate against LGBTQ people and women. The state of Tennessee used “religious freedom” as a way to sell a law to state legislators and the public that allowed counselors to refuse to work with LGBTQ clients (Margolin The law passed with public support, even though every major psychological organization in the state opposed it (Margolin “Religious freedom” and “Religious liberty” can also be used as a tool to deny women access to necessary health services, including contraceptives (Blumberg In this sense, it casts religious people as being discriminated against and having their freedoms oppressed by being forced to provide LGBTQ people with psychological care and to provide health insurance for women that want contraceptive services. It casts LGBTQ persons, women, and progressives as the oppressor. (Richard Thompson).

Less/Smaller Government – Conservatives love to use the term “less government,” which many people say they want, even those that may benefit from more government, as Greg noted above. It is my opinion that this is because of our nation’s history. Our Founding Fathers wanted less government taxation from the British, and Southern Whites wanted less government to interfere with their slavery and Jim Crow laws. In recent years, “less government” is really a very clever code word for cutting social programs, like Medicare, Social Security, and SNAP (Food Stamps). Many people say they support “less government” and “less government spending” (“Public Opinion…”, while paradoxically supporting funding for the social programs I have mentioned (“New Harris Poll…” (Richard Thompson)

Free Markets -The term “free market” sounds good because it is associated with one of America’s most important ideas: freedom (Lakoff Whose Freedom? p. 1). However, what it really means is that big businesses have freedom from government regulation. On the surface, this may sound like a good thing, but without government regulation into the market, big business has the freedom to pollute our air and water and violate the rights of their workers. A pure free market would also give big business the freedom to discriminate against people based on race/ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and all other protected classes. (Richard Thompson)

Tax Relief – Conservatives use the term “tax relief” because it implies that taxes are a burden and “afflict” working families (Lakoff Don’t Think of an Elephant p. 3). Anyone who cuts taxes is a hero for relieving the burden on working families and anyone who raises taxes is a villain. The problem with this is that without taxes, we do not have money to invest in popular social programs like Medicare, Social Security, education, and SNAP. Also, the tax relief that conservatives tout often goes to benefit big business and wealthy individuals instead of the working class (Silva (Richard Thompson)

Right-to-Work – Conservatives love to use the phrase “right to work” because it makes it sound like unions and liberals are preventing people from working. Everyone supports jobs and having access to them. What right-to-work laws do, in effect, is destroy the bargaining power of unions and, in turn, allow big businesses to abuse their workers. (Richard Thompson)

Death Tax – The so called death tax is not really a tax on someone dying but a tax on the transfer of wealth in someone’s will and only applies to very wealthy individuals (Bell and Orem The problem with calling it a death tax is that people think “Oh no! When Grandma and Grandpa die, we’re going to get taxed!” Unless they have an estate worth $11.58 million or more, the federal government isn’t going to do that (Bell and Orem (Richard Thompson)

Terms Liberals Should Use More

Medicare for All – Most Americans support Medicare (“New Harris Poll…” And, because Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others have associated this popular program with universal health care, by calling it “Medicare for All,” most Americans now support that too (Villarreal The popularity of Medicare should be continued to invoked over using the phrases “single-payer” or “socialized medicine” because so many Americans think that these terms mean they’ll have to give up their freedom to choose their own doctor, etc. (Richard Thompson)

Medicare for All that Want It – If you’re a little less bold, and would prefer a public option to single payer health care, this is the phrase to use. Again, it associates the popular program Medicare with expanded government health coverage. This phrase also implies more choices, and it could even be argued, more competition. Competition and choices are a good thing in our society. (Richard Thompson)

Health Care for All/Universal Health Care – Don’t like Medicare? Use the terms, health care for all and universal health care. The phrases “for all” and “universal” imply that everyone has a right to care, which will help win support on this issue. (Richard Thompson).

Invest/Investments – Instead of talking about raising taxes, something that so many Americans are strongly against, focus on the social programs you want to “invest” in. Investments, in our society, are a good thing because you typically get a return on them. In his first term as President, Barack Obama said he wanted to “invest” in programs like education (McCabe In the case of education, Obama was selling this investment as one that would have the return of reducing poverty. He called education “the best anti-poverty program” (McCabe (Richard Thompson)

Protections – Whether it’s a discussion about the environment, workers’ rights, or minority rights, protection is the word to use. Do not use the term government regulation, as the right has made this a dirty term and associated it with what they describe as big government. A Gallup poll confirms that a plurality of Americans think there is too much government regulation into industry (“Government” Instead, talk about protecting our environment for future generations, protecting minorities from discrimination, and protecting workers’ right to unionize, etc. (Richard Thompson)

Fairness – If you’re looking for a word that helps minorities and women, fairness is the word to use. It is unfair that LGBTQ people can be fired in many states, just for being LGBTQ (Moreau It is also unfair that women still make less money than men for doing the same work (“Pay Equity and Discrimination.” If you empathize with these groups, you want them to be treated fairly. (Richard Thompson)

Discrimination – Fight back against those that say firing someone for being LGBTQ should be legal by using the term discrimination. A counselor refusing to work with LGBTQ clients, or someone losing their job for being LGBTQ is not an issue of “religious freedom.” It’s one of discrimiantion. If people look at those things as an issue of discrimination, they are more likely to support the liberal side. (Richard Thompson)

Liberty/Freedom – DO NOT let the right have a monopoly on America’s most important terms: liberty and freedom. Fight back by talking about the freedom to choose for women, the freedom from discrimination for women and minorities, freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and freedom to question the government during times of war. (Richard Thompson)

Family Planning/Reproductive Rights/Right to Choose – Most people who favor abortion rights already use the term right to choose, a rare example of the left using language to their advantage. Choices are a good thing, in our society, so this term does help win broader support for abortion rights. Family planning and reproductive rights are other important terms because they are broader than just “abortion rights,” and include popular items, like contraceptives. A Gallup poll confirms that most Americans have supported the use of contraceptives for quite some time (“Public Attitudes About Birth Control” (Richard Thompson)

Freedom to Marry – If you’re talking about same-sex marriage, this is the language to use. Freedom to marry implies that everyone should be able to marry whomever they want, regardless of gender and employs America’s most important idea: freedom (Lakoff Whose Freedom p. 1). It casts conservatives as oppressing the freedoms of same-sex couples and same-sex couples as the ones being discrimianted against and treated unfairly. (Richard Thompson)

An attempt at humor:
De-facto platform of the Republican Party:

  1. There are only two things that government can do right: (1) Provide for the common defense, and (2) Identify and reward job creators.

Both are wrong:

1.1. Does the US have one substantive enemy on the international stage other than ones we have earned by supporting state terror in opposition to liberty and justice for all? [See Wikiversity, “Winning the War on Terror” for documentation that the military is the least effective means of reducing terrorism, and more Americans die in an average year drowning in bathtubs, hot tubs and spas than have succumbed to terrorism, except for the single year 2001. Thus, we are shredding the US Bill of Rights to protect us from a threat that is less of a problem than bathtubs.]

1.2. The increase in income equality since 1970 suggests that the many things the government has done over those years to identify and reward “job creators” has not benefited the poor and middle class. (A plot of the evolution of income inequality shows that the average annual income in the US, Gross Domestic Product per capita adjusted for inflation, doubled in the 40 years between 1973 and 2013 but the median family income increased only 23%.)

  1. Regarding government regulation, Republicans in Congress seem to say that:
    2.1. The only penalty for killing your customers should be the loss of repeat business.
    2.2. The only penalty for killing your employees should be increased difficulty in hiring and training.
    2.3. The only penalty for killing your neighbors should be the loss of repeat business and increased difficulty in hiring and training. (Spencer Graves)

Works Cited

Bell, Kay and Tina Orem. “Estate Tax: Definition, Tax Rates, and Who Pays in 2020.” Nerd Wallet. 2020.

Blumberg, Antonia. “How Contraception Became a ‘Religious Liberty’ Issue.” The Huffington Post. 2017.

“Government.” Gallup. 2019
Lakoff, George. Whose Freedom?. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 2006.
Lakoff, George. Don’t Think of an Elephant. Chelsea Green: White River Junction, VT. (2004).
Margolin, Emma. “Tennessee Enacts ‘Religious Freedom’ Measure.” MSNBC. 2016.

McCabe, Cynthia. “Obama Calls for $4 Billion in New Education Spending.” National Education Association (2019).

Moreau, Julie. “Can You be Fired for Being Gay? Answer Depends Largely on Where You Live.” NBC News. 2019.

“New Harris Poll Underlines Political Difficulty of Cutting Social Services.” Cision PR Newswire. 2011.

“Pay Equity and Discrimination.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 2020.

“Public Attitudes About Birth Control.” The Roper Center. 2015.

“Public Opinion on 15 Controversial and Divisive Issues.” The Harris Poll. 2011.

Silva, Derek. “Who Benefited Most from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act?” Policy Genius. 2020.

Villarreal, Daniel. “69 Percent of Americans Want Medicare for All…” Newsweek. 2020.