Editor’s note: We write Friday’s Purple State of Mind column then usually post it here Monday. Today is no exception but we do it with sadness as some of what we describe here has gone to seed this weekend in the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, her staff and other innocent victims in Arizona. Please forgive the somewhat flip tone. Our self-deceptions in how we talk about things can get very very serious.
We’ve got Oxford Unabridged and French-English, heck we’ve even got Urdu-English. But as far as I know there isn’t such a thing as a partisan dictionary. We think it’s high time to remedy the oversight.
Language has a long history of being twisted and torqued to make feuding points. Take the fact that in certain quarters these many years later you’ll still hear references to the “War of Northern Aggression.” Language choice heavily implies causality, justness of cause, and suggests appropriate action. Language can also be fact-bending in ways that damage civic discourse (and certainly damage problem solving based on “facts” that turn out to not be true).
Word choice can strongly suggest an amazing number things about the speaker. For example, references to the “Democrat” party are usually made by heavy talk radio listeners and Fox News watchers, as they don’t represent the name that the actual Democratic party chooses to be called. I’m not sure I get the point of this particular language battle – except maybe bullying – but this kind of linguistic battle can be damaging to both sender and receiver of such ill-willed verbiage, because there is always a fair amount of coming and going around.
But no sleight of word can begin to rival the breathtakingly mind-bending hypocrisy at work when partisans use completely different language to refer to the exact same behaviors and actions when performed by political allies as when performed by political foes.
So here are just a few entries to start the dictionary, please add your own in comments. Move over Merriam-Webster.
When the majority party doesn’t allow amendments to a bill… When “we” do it: An up or down vote. When “they” do it: Tyranny.
Legislating based on what the majority of Americans say they want… When “we” do it: Following the will of the people. When “they” do it: Trying to win a popularity contest.
Supporting legislation that doesn’t enjoy approval of the American majority… When “we” do it: Firm-handedness, moral compass, leadership. When “they” do it: Tyranny, arrogance, fascism, socialism.
Executing ideas through governance… When “we” do it: Problem-solving. When “they” do it: Agenda.
Spending money… When “we” do it: Fighting for [fill in the name of the state]. When “they” do it: Greed, graft, irresponsibility.
Filibuster… When “we” do it: Fighting for our principles. When “they” do it: Subverting democracy.
60/40 supermajority rule in the Senate... When we’re in the majority: It’s anti democratic. When they’re in the majority: It’s democratic to the core.
Court rulings… When they rule for us: Justice. When they rule for them: Judicial activism.
Moral failures… When “we” do it: Human, flawed, fallen. When “they” do it: Evil, bankrupt, hypocritical.
Expressions of regret… When “we” do it: Taking responsibility. When “they” do it: Girly boys.
A change of direction: When “we” do it: Setting the course. When “they” do it: Flip flop.