Recently, Politifact named "government takeover of healthcare" its 2010 Lie of the Year.
And what a lie it was! When was the last time so blatant a lie had such profound implications for the nation?
As Politifact says:
...By the time the health care bill was headed toward passage in early 2010, Obama and congressional Democrats had sanded down their program, dropping the "public option" concept that was derided as too much government intrusion. The law passed in March, with new regulations, but no government-run plan.
...And few in the press challenged [the GOP's] frequent assertion that under Obama, the government was going to take over the health care industry.
...Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, [the phrase] played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats' shellacking in the November elections.
By selecting "government takeover' as Lie of the Year, PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy.
The phrase is simply not true.
The truth of a phrase - or an idea, or a political advertisement - has not been a concern of the Republican Party for years.
Author and scholar William Lutz has written two books on "doublespeak," in all its varieties. He cites many examples of doublespeak from the Reagan years. One of them struck me as particularly memorable:
In 1982 the Republican National Committee sponsored a television advertisement which pictured an elderly, folksy postman delivering Social Security checks "with the 7.4% cost-of-living raise that President Reagan promised." The postman then added, "he promised that raise and he kept his promise, in spite of those sticks-in-the-mud who tried to keep him from doing what we elected him to do." The commercial was, in fact, deliberately misleading. The cost-of-living increases had been provided automatically by the law since 1975, and President Reagan tried three times to roll them back or delay them but was overruled by Congressional opposition. When these discrepancies were pointed out to an official with Republican National Committee, he called the commercial "inoffensive" and added, "Since when is a commercial supposed to be accurate? Do women really smile when they clean their ovens?
In recent years, Republican propaganda and doublespeak have become more effective than ever. Their use of vocabulary is simply extraordinary. It makes people think they believe things they never thought they believed before. The result is mental gridlock and wide-spread public confusion.
As one writer puts it:
Content propaganda misinforms about issues, but vocabulary propaganda interferes with the ability to think or talk about issues in a way that can lead to understanding or enable effective political organizing.
Naturally, most attempts by the Democrats to counter the GOP Language Machine have been completely inept.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) articulated this problem last year while speaking about the health care debate:
The opponents of reform have found their bumper sticker, their slogan, their rallying cry. It's one word: No. You can read that on a bumper. Our bumper sticker has -- it's just way too many words. And it says, "Continued on next bumper sticker."
So what lies and doublespeak can we look forward as the new legislative session begins? Will it change, now that the Republicans control the House of Representatives?
Perhaps a cursory look at all the successful words and phrases from recent years will shed light on what we can expect.
A Brief Guide to Republican Vocabulary
Two years after Obama took office, and less than a year after passing the Affordable Care Act, the 112th Congress has convened - and the first order of business in the House Representatives, is to repeal "ObamaCare."
As usual, the Republican Language Machine is operating flawlessly. Even most mainstream news outlets use the term "ObamaCare," even if it is in quotes (or air quotes). Either way, the important thing is that the term is always out there, and we all know what it portends for the nation:
Frightening, dangerous "socialized medicine." Yes - "a government takeover of health care."
The Republicans are determined to repeal "ObamaCare" because it is the "will of the people." We have already heard quite a bit about the will of the people from John Boehner and incoming Republican representatives. It's a good line - evoking the original principles of the Constitution and the founding of our great nation.
The problem is, the "will of the people" appears to be whatever the GOP decides it is. The results of a CNN/Opinion Research Poll say that only 37% of Americans now oppose "ObamaCare" because it is too liberal. Everyone else is either in favor of it or opposes it because it is not liberal enough. Not only that, a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support every key measure in the bill except the Individual Mandate.
So much for the will of the people. The GOP is determined to repeal "ObamaCare" because it is a "jobs-killing" "budget-busting" "monstrosity" that will ruin "the best health-care system in the world."
That's all you need to know.
Another example of Republican devotion to the will of the people: The will of the people, as expressed through innumerable public polls, was to repeal "Don't Ask-Don't Tell." The GOP did everything they could to block repeal of this law.
The will of the people, as expressed in a recent poll, is to balance the budget by increasing taxes on the wealthy. The GOP not only refuses to consider this idea, they are willing to add to the budget deficit - clearly in violation of the will of the people - by extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
During the election campaign, the GOP claimed the will of the people was to "rein in spending." In fact, a large majorityof voters said that jobs and the economy were the most pressing issues, not the budget deficit.
What are some other words and phrases to keep an eye on?
Well, perhaps because even the GOP is tiring of saying "ObamaCare,"or because they need new slogans to keep the masses happy, they've also begun referring to "ObamaCare" as the "health spending bill."
As we all know, spending is very, very bad - unless Republicans do it. Spending - as done by the "Democrat Party" is always "reckless" and "wasteful."
"Big government" always engages in "runaway spending." Whenever the government spends money - under Democrats - it goes on a "spending spree." The government is always "bloated." All Democratic spending is a "boondoggle" that will inevitably "balloon the deficit."
Not only that, all spending proposed by Democrats is a "handout." "Handouts" are a product of the "nanny state," and "undermine American values."
Legislation aimed at regulating the dishonest, corrupt or even criminal practices of large corporations is "anti-business" "jobs-killing" or "socialist."
Legislation that attempts to use the power of the federal government to help solve national problems is "government overreach" or "government intrusion."
(Let's not forget that government by definition is - as Ronald Reagan famously said - "the problem, not the solution.")
Legislation that attempts to restore equality of opportunity to our economic system "punishes the successful." "redistributes wealth," "robs winners to give money to losers," "impinges on our liberty," or is simply "class warfare."
If the "Democrat Party" engages in ordinary parliamentary measures that the GOP has used for years, with even more effectiveness, then they are "ramming through legislation." Everything Obama and the Democratic Congress has done in the last two years has been "rammed down the throats of the American people."
Any attempt to reduce, or rethink, military spending is "dangerous" and irresponsible," "undermines our national security" and "endangers our troops."
Any politician who wants to modify or rethink foreign policy or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is "soft on terror" or "soft on defense," and does not want to "keep America safe."
If a Republican politician is caught in a scandal, or found to be dishonest or corrupt, whoever exposed this Republican politician is "playing politics" and engaging in a "desperate smear campaign."
I could go on like this for pages - just as Frank Luntz does when he is advising the Republican Party.
So, for now, here is a list - by no means exhaustive or complete - of other GOP "Greatest Hits" to look out for in the coming months and years:
Assault on freedom
Assault on liberty
Massive tax hike on American families and small businesses
Blame America first
Harm small business
Right to life
Legislating from the bench
Taxes = slavery
Soft on crime
Extreme, dangerous, irresponsible, radical, socialist
...and so much more. I would welcome any additions to the list.
One final thing to keep in mind: The GOP's use of potent vocabulary, imagery and propaganda has been so successful that it has effectively removed several important issues from political campaigns. These include:
What politician of any persuasion dares to oppose the GOP position on any of these issues anymore?