Language, I'm reminded, is important in defining our stance as the opposition, and is also crucial for winning over converts. I have believed since the 2000 election that our Democratic leaders have not been aggressive enough in opposing a president who won less support from the country than their candidate. I was attracted early to Howard Dean's red-meat rhetoric. But I recognize that while I want the popular critique of the president to be devastating, it has to remain plausible enough that the swing voters won't be pushed away.
I live in a supportive political bubble, where all my friends and colleagues believe, as I do, that the current administration's national and foreign policies are not just wrong-headed, but dangerous. These peers (and communities like Daily Kos) encourage my hope that in 2004 we will be able to realign American politics by voting Bush out of office.
So I spent Christmas week with my grandfather, one of the only people left in my life who I know is going to vote for Bush in November. (Since he lives in Florida, that's not just anecdotal.) He worked in city government for many years, and while he tends to trust authority more than I do, he does have a lifetime of stories that illustrate bureaucratic inefficiencies: he is eager to point out that any political narrative that works to the clear credit or shame of any one person or party is probably only part of the story.
He watches FOX News and CNN; he watches Bill O'Reilly but thinks he's "funny" and says he doesn't take his opinion seriously; he's more than willing to admit that Don Rumsfeld telling reporters he knew exactly where the WMD were was a "stupid, stupid" thing to say, but is visibly agitated when I call the President of the United States a "liar." He has voted for Democrats (though I don't think he has recently). I'm tempted to believe that there's an argument to be made against Bush that my grandfather would respond to, but I -- too angry, frankly, and numbed by my bubble -- couldn't come close to making it.
Calling Bush a liar, a corporate shill, a chickenhawk, a miserable failure, only works for those of us already convinced. For others, those words are not specific enough to be credible, to help steer popular opinion in a new direction.
So what words do exist that will help our cause, that our candidate could use? What words of criticism are specific enough to be influential, but still broad enough to be damning? (Also, words that are not already much in use, so that when they are slapped on Bush they might stick?) I have a few suggestions:
Careless: Instead of saying Bush lied about WMD, say he was careless with the truth. He was careless with Clinton's surplus. He's careless with the environment. Careless about civil rights. He might seem easy-going, like a regular guy? Well that carelessness has cost American lives.
Cynical: Maybe he never said directly that Saddam was responsible for 9/11, but Bush cynically allowed his deputies to conflate the two. The "Mission Accomplished" photo-op was a cynical stunt to pull when soldiers were still dying in Iraq.
Callous: Stealing the slogan for his hollow education package from a prominent child-advocacy lobby was cynical; gutting funds from it because of record deficits is callous. So is suggesting cutting pay to our soldiers.
Do you think these work? What else might?