Two New Phrases for the Political Lexicon

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Two Contributions to the Political Discourse

Read below for how I came up with these, particularly the first. (With apologies to Paul McFedries and James Finn Garner.)

Jimmy Carter Taste Test
(JIM-mah CAH-tah TAYST TEST) noun. The practice of supplying a food taster to the candidates of an election as a means of ensuring fairness. (example: "The recent election in the Ukraine failed the Jimmy Carter Taste Test.")

Lakking off
(LAK-ing OFF) noun. The environmentally sound, but intellectually masturbatory, practice of selling the same old snake oil in new containers. (example: "The Democrats, in a recent spate of Lakking off, have asked public protection attorneys to quit "chasing ambulances" and start "providing escorts to health care customer shuttles.")

Lakoff, More on, That is

I've brought up George Lakoff at least twice here already, but James Taranto yesterday puts best the problem with George Lakoff, the great linguist who's going to save the Democrats in the next election.

You see the problem: It's not as if the Dems don't already do what Lakoff is recommending. Indeed, the supposedly groundbreaking insight this professor of linguistics and cognitive sciences is offering is nothing more than a commonplace of political rhetoric: Generally, it is good to describe things you're for in favorable-sounding terms and things you're against in unfavorable-sounding ones.

As I've said before, the Democrats have sunk to a new low on the propaganda front: they (possibly including Lakoff himself) are the only ones who will fall for it anymore. Lakoff's main innovation, if he has one, is that he has repackaged the commonplace of euphemism in new academic garb so the Democrats will lap it up yet again. At least he practices what he preaches.

The Jimmy Carter Taste Test?

And then Taranto also points out the following gem from the blogosphere:

Blogger Frank J. has an intriguing proposal for avoiding future poisonings: "Have Jimmy Carter as an election monitor with his job to try the food and drink of each candidate to make sure it isn't poisoned. When Carter finds a legitimate case of a candidate trying to poison another, he can then be replaced by Bill Clinton."

I'm good at coming up with catchy names, as in the title above. After all, wouldn't Lakoff agree that we'll need to give this idea a catchy name before Carter will, shall we say, consume it?

Lakking Off: Is Liberalism Dead?

Perhaps this the way Lakoff would ask, "Is our zombie still afoot?"

A liberal correspondent pointed me yesterday to the following interview, which has the advantage of aiding me in the exploration of my theme of how the Left is doing in the task of reexamining itself. Its further advantage is that it's from a source in the very bowels of the Left!

The article starts out sounding good, but is really already on the wrong foot in its initial blurb.

Adam Werbach argues that the moral and intellectual framework underpinning Democratic politics has become irrelevant. It's time to craft a new progressive vision of fulfillment.

What's wrong with this? Let's explore what was said, shall we?

To begin with, the article summarizes Werbach's main point: "To succeed, progressives must first, to use his words, kick the dead body out of the car, before they can begin to create something new." First, I don't see the need to completely "kick the dead body out of the car," my above joke notwithstanding. There are, however, many good things the Left have already "kicked out of the car," that they should turn right back around and pick up. We really need the Left to return to the proud part of its heritage. To name but a few of these things (and what has replaced them): freedom of speech (not campus codes against "hate speech"), equal protection of individuals under the law (not preferential treatment for "mascot groups"), separation of Church and state (not mindless misapplications of the Establishment Clause to attack religion as a surrogate for Western civilization), and intellectual freedom (not attacks on independent thought -- see Tammy Bruce). On the other hand, they should reconsider -- er, kick from the car -- the whole socialist agenda. The fact that they're interviewing a radical environmentalist is not a promising start.

On the fact that they lost the election, Werbach mostly makes sense: he admits it. (Though there is a snide remark about Republicans cheating, "of course.") On the reasons for the defeat, though, he does not. He is right in that "New Deal" liberalism is dead, but wrong in that it aided the economy, that the left are "victims of [their] own success." Our economy tanked under Carter, which he rightly points out was the last Democrat to win a majority, and that was the last time the Democrats ran everything. Our nation's economy has prospered, not because of these "progressive" policies, but despite them. That's why Reagan won and every president since has governed no furthur to the left than Clinton. This is also why Bush could "touch the third rail" (i.e., discuss privatizing social security) while running for reelection and not get barbecued.

Interestingly enough, there is talk of how patronizing the left is of their biggest constituency, the poor! This is a breakthrough. Until this point, I have seen only conservatives pointing this out. Interestingly enough, though Werbach is all talk when it comes to "kicking the corpse out of the car." Of the poor, he says, "No doubt, some people still do need that kind of help, and I don’t want to minimize their situation." Fair enough, and then he says, "But, yes, I think the majority of Americans are not looking for it the way they were looking for it during the Depression." Bingo. The majority of Americans reject socialism, but does Werbach really see this? Remember, he thinks the Depression-era policies of Roosevelt (which Richard Salsman rightly points out were merely extrapolations of those of his predecessor, progressive Republican Herbert Hoover) helped America and that some people still need them!

Well, he answers the question right away and reveals that he buys the myth that this election was won on "moral values!"

Well, let me answer that in two ways. First, conservative economic policy hurts the people lowest down in the line [emphasis added], which creates more economic insecurity. When you’re feeling economically insecure, you’re going to look for something more to believe in. You’re going to search more for faith. [emphasis added] And who are you going to look toward? This faith-driven conservative movement.

Likewise, when you’re scared because of terrorism and war, who are you going to look to? Conservatives. So the more scared you get, you look to conservatives. This is a positive feedback mechanism that they have set up.

It works the same way with the other liberal myth, which is that they’re going to overreach. In this case, the more they overreach, the more they affirm that position. So they have a feedback mechanism for overreaching—that’s what’ they’re supposed to do right now. It’s going to serve them better than not overreaching.

So the corpse of socialism appears not to have been kicked out of the car, but to have been reanimated and is driving it, pedal to the metal, from what I can tell.

Note the condescension laced with a new twist on Marxian economic determinism: poverty apparently breeds, not just crime, but religious fervor! Has this man ever heard of the formidable intellectual tradition behind classical liberalism? (That's "capitalism" to you, Werbach!) As for whom we turn to in times of war, why is Werbach surprised that it's to conservatives? As he points out himself, Liberalism once "was muscular militarily...." No. He's still not, to use some old-time lefty lingo, "hip" to why the Dems lost: the whole war is a big, nasty positive feedback loop set up by the cheating Republicans to scare people chad-less into voting for them. Maybe Bush won in wartime because you guys put up a vacillating pacifist as his opponent. I'm not happy with Bush's prosecution of the war, but at least he'll fight. Werbach thus knows the Dems lost, but is still in denial about why: their socialist and pacifistic ideology. Or he still thinks he can get away with foisting this crusty ideology on Americans if he can only come up with the right "narrative."

Having failed to understand or admit why the Dems lost, Werbach beings waltzing down one of many primrose paths that will lead to their next defeat, if the Democrats follow him. He sees Americans as needing something to "believe in and fight for. It should be a powerful antidote to fundamentalism, be as powerful as fundamentalism is to people. It should be unchallengeable in the way liberalism was in the post-Depression era." He claims not to know what, exactly, that "something" is, but quickly offers a candidate: environmentalism, something that really is the Left's answer to religion because, despite its scientific trappings, it essentially is a religion.

(And oh, by the way, kiddo, I am an atheist and I voted for the Republicans. This was despite their popularity with fundamentalists and only after carefully considering whether reelecting Bush might help them more than fighting the war was worth.)

Unsurprisingly, this 23-year-old prodigy wants to toss out "Watergate - era" leadership, and institute a government-subsidized search for alternative fuels -- an idea straight out of the far more recent and original Carter era. He then floats a proposal to pay people to stay at home to raise kids as bait for the "family values crowd." In other ways, he echoes Ed Koch insofar as he wants some flexibility on issues like gun control as a way of not alienating certain voters. He also, by the way, and despite his emphasis on "narrative," does exactly what irks James Carville so much: He gives a laundry list instead of a narrative. You can make a coherent political ideology from a list of government favors to pressure groups about as well as you can make a silk purse out of a bunch of sow's ears.

The best that can be said for his line of thought is that it may be nonintellectual, but that it might offer the Democrats a way to siphon off some votes from the religious right. If that wins them an election, though, we'll get another Jimmah Carter.

But the real point is this: Werbach, the great prodigy is still, to invent a new phrase, "Lakking off:" He simply is recycling a bunch of old ideas and selling them in as-yet-to-be-determined new packaging. So Werbach has failed to deliver as promised. He may have found a way for the Democarats to win the next election, but if that's all the Left is after, we should all run like Hell away from them. If that's true, they're just after power. But if the Left wants to help America, and I think many of their rank-and-file do, they need to think outside the socialist box. Werbach might say (and mean) his payment program for stay-at-home parents will benefit them, but it would hurt the economy badly. Most stay-at-homes will be people no longer working, and all will require taxes on those who still work. No amount of repackaging will change that. And even worse, why should I subsidize your life choices? Why should you subsidize mine? Trading freedom for trinkets never helps anyone. Werbach is a trinket salesman. And as long as the Democrats continue thinking like trinket salesman, they will have only trinkets to sell.

Try again, Werbach!

-- CAV

1 comment:

Gus Van Horn said...


And that would answer the question, "When do swine lay pearls?" I noticed that and found it interesting, but since I didn't appreciate its comedic potential, I meant to correct it! I've gotta leave it in, now!

-- Gus