Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lies, Shoots and Leaves

Republicans and their political conservative allies in the media have an interesting relationship with words, don’t you think? It’s as though every week they learn to say a new word without learning what the word actually means.

For instance, when the Democrats introduced a bill insisting that the US should see some tangible strategic progress from the use of American tax-dollars in Iraq—the Republicans called it “micromanaging the war”.

There’s nothing in the Democrats’ bill about firing generals because they want realistic numbers of troops, or appointing an ambassador to personally write Iraqi traffic laws, or requiring troops to keep painting schools that kids can’t attend for fear of being kidnapped or killed, or any demands that interviews with soldiers be scripted and rehearsed. That sort of thing would strike me as micromanagement.

What about the phrase “Global War on Terror?”
Terror is an emotion, global means the whole world, war is an armed conflict; but the US military is engaged in armed conflict in just two relatively nearby countries (comprising 1/148th of the global landmass an 1/500th of the world’s surface area) against forces that might number 30,000. The GWOT then is hardly a “global war” and it certainly isn’t combating terror, let alone terrorism (which, being a tactic, is a hard thing to have a war with too). It should come as no surprise then that if the description of the policy makes no sense, neither should the policy itself.

What about “accepting full responsibility”? Saying these words is apparently all that’s required to absolve a Republican of any moral, professional or legal transgression large or small, even after weeks of adamant claims of innocence, denials of self-incriminating evidence and false counter-accusations of their critics. For some reason responsibility means something quite different to ordinary citizens.

Of course the constant distortion and outright misuse of words by Republicans and their conservative supporters may be mistaken, but it is no “mistake”.
It is a strategy long employed by GOP staff specifically devoted to crafting and testing new uses for words and phrases that will help sell policy as product, where the packaging is paramount, regardless of the products’ merits or flaws and the ‘pitch’ is then distributed with instructions to the salespeople who sell the package without consideration of the contents.

It’s not that they promote the good and minimize the bad of the product they are selling, they simply totally misrepresent their “product”: The “Clean Air Act” was NOT designed to produce cleaner air.
Invading Iraq and killing Saddam Hussein was supposed to eliminate the supposedly global threat he posed—yet having accomplished that leaving Iraq would pose a greater global threat? Duke Cunningham and Jack Abramoff were completely innocent until they weren’t just proven guilty but admitted their guilt. In literally every aspect of policy and action the Republicans have lied about their motives, their actions and have even lied about their lies.

And whenever they are caught, they claim ignorance, memory loss and inadvertent illiteracy.
In any other job or circumstance these Republican pundits and politicians would be fired, imprisoned, remitted to counseling and professional care or locked-up as being criminally negligent or insane or for being a danger to themselves and to the public at the least for not knowing the difference between right and wrong or being able to distinguish reality from fantasy.

But instead they are allowed to lie, to shoot their mouths off and leave the consequences of their actions behind for everyone else. They lie about their motivations; they shoot their opponents and then leave without concomitant consequences.

And they do all this with words they don’t understand and refuse to understand. As the saying goes " a little learning is a dangerous thing"; Republicans and their conservative compatriots almost without exception clearly have very little learning, and as the rest of us have learned. it has proven and continues to be, a very dangerous thing.


eyedoc333 said...

Here's an oxymoron:

The Patriot Act.

If you vote against the Patriot Act, you must hate America!

Meanwhile, let's listen in on your phone calls, track the books you check out of the library, and monitor your bank records....

5th Estate said...

doc...I might have known you'd dissect the issue, throw away the metaphorical appendix and identify the true cause of this nation's ills--prodigious amounts of impacted fecal matter! Every thought of becoming a real doctor, like on TV? :D

Charles said...

This is just a particularly egregious example of a vast phenomenon. Words mean less and less. One reason politicians can get away with such flagrant lying is that the public no longer even expects the truth, so accustomed are we, in an age of hype and spin, to discount all communication. We live in a ubiquitous matrix of lies.

When you pass a housing development called "Aspen Heights", do you even expect there to be any aspens there, or any heights? When you see a Miller Beer billboard that says, "Fresh beer tastes better", do you imagine even for a moment that Miller Beer is any fresher than other beer? Does it even pass the threshold of consciousness that this is a lie?

No wonder the routine mendacity of politicians fails to shock anyone. Whenever someone engineers political or corporate or personal communication to create an "image", they perpetrate a lie.

The origins of this phenomenon run deep, to the very basis of representational language. The divergence between the name and the named. Today we are witnessing the final extremum, in which words mean almost nothing at all.

A more thorough meditation on this is at Labeling the World from the ironically titled The Ascent of Humanity.

Charles Eisenstein

Parklife said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Parklife said...

And.. they have the nerve to accuse us of political correctness.

Words still have meaning though. At the very min. you have to imagine those Aspen trees as you speed by that development. And, it seems words are what Gone-zo is getting in trouble for.

Most people seem to distracted to care about the day-to-day politics. Most chose to spend their days working too much. Then they fill their weekends by spending too much. I'm often reminded of the stereotypical image of the fat American.

Ronald Reagan comes to mind as a great terrorist leader. Ummm... I mean.. as a leader that funded terrorist.. Err.. something like that.. Even TIME magazine considers him a hero to the Right. Personally, I'm embarrassed for republicans in regards to Iran-Contra. My only recourse is to remind them of their aiding and abetting past. Just why does the right hate America so much?

Time (as in; given by a clock) seems to insulate us from the past. We can stand back and trim away the parts we dont like. After all, our memory is not perfect. All the investigations and lies of the past are tossed aside to make way for a new "englite-end" view.

With some luck the internet(s) will reverse this trend. Those previously decease-ed emails can be retrieved with a click. Don’t get me wrong, I think the general public will only care about politics one day every four years (if that). But, with some luck, our memories can be sharpened.

Great.. now I have to go re-read Susan Sontag…

5th Estate said...

Charles.. I followed your link and visited a couple of other chapters as well. Reading 'Labeling the World' made by brain itch (I'm not much of a scholar, but I also found it mesmerizing.

The first chapter "Gee Whiz--The Future!" is a sparkling summary of how far and fast humankind has been chasing its tail.

"Today we are witnessing the final extremum, in which words mean almost nothing at all."

And who was it who said: "We are learning more and more about less and less so that pretty soon we will know everything about nothing". Shaw? I don't recall and it doesn't matter, it's damn close to the truth.

Frankly I don;t see a huge problem in labeling, naming, describing the world per se, but the meaning has to be consensual. If one distorts the meaniing one distorts the world. In the desire to communicate we can actually communicate less.

There's a word for that--IRONY--but some people think it means 'like iron'.

5th Estate said...


"Words still have meaning though"
...and because some people still care about what words mean, use them responsibly and understand their importance, there is still some hope for a better present ( Professor Eisenstein--above--puts a pithy and droll kibosh on the future in the first chapter of his book)

sumo said...

Your words were well put to type.

InternetJunkie said...

One of the major contributing factors to the downfall of the Republican Party - and to politics in general - was Watergate. While Congress did their job and a genuinely corrupt president was forced to resign, justice was not served.

Years ago I heard that Harry Truman was given the opportunity to smear Joe McCarthy in the press regarding his penchant for young boys and his growing problem with alcohol. He refused to go that route, even though his polls were in the toilet, because any blemish he created would remain with the office of the president - it would not leave with him. Nixon's blemish, lying to the public and committing high crimes and misdemeanors, has remained with the office of the presidency long after his pardon.

Nixon's pardon has probably caused more damage to the office of the Presidency than anyone will ever admit. Because of it, the public in general no longer trusts politicians to do the right thing. If you steal $20, you go to jail. If you steal $20,000,000, you can get away with it.

And it seems to be working for Bush and Cheney. We know a small portion of their crimes and it seems like they will get away with it. And the Republicans will probably say he Bush II was the second greatest president ever, right behind Ronnie Reagan.