2011 is the new 1984

“Progressive” instead of “liberal”, “federal family” instead of “government”.  Libya engagement is not a war.  Are we entering into the realm of Newspeak?

Not a new issue, as we’ve all seen terms change before to enhance the image of government.  But isn’t it creepy that it now seems to be an automatic thing for government to just change titles or concepts, just as in Orwell’s 1984 it was nothing to be at war with one nation one week, and be their friend fighting the previous week’s ally?

Recently, Congress claimed to be “cutting spending” when they were really just cutting back on the amount of extra debt they wanted to spend.  So, if the budget was $100 and they wanted to spend $150, they claimed they would cut $25 and save us from going deeper into debt.  Isn’t this NewSpeak, as well?

FEMA’s Family http://www.palmbeachpost.com/storm/femas-use-of-term-federal-family-for-government-1808751.html

Newspeak http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak

What forms of Newspeak do you see coming from government or political candidates?  And does it concern you?

25 thoughts on “2011 is the new 1984

  1. Would “sound-bites” be considered newspeak? Today, the art of politics is not in running the government, in the dark, mysterious way it is actually run, but in thinking up sound bites by which the politician is seen and understood by the masses, measured in opinion polls, and elected or rejected. And ultimately, it’s up to the media take these sound-bites and spin them however they see fit to increase their own ratings and influence.

    Does this concern me? Not too much. Whoever is clever enough to win this war of words and wits with the media, is someone smart enough to do run government effectively in my opinion.

  2. The oddest thing about Libya is that no one really seems to know what side we (the U.S.) are on. Who are the good guys in this “conflict”? Are we actually on the good side of this? It astounds me how the administration simply never explained our stance but instead just started something that apparently will keep going for a while now.

    And since Glenn Beck is a hot topic right now, how about the biased coverage he received on his latest Israel trip? Several articles lambasted his political views while he was in Jerusalem last week, but none reported on what he actually said in his speeches. Some went so far as to label him an obvious anti-Semite, while entirely overlooking the fact that his main purpose in being in Israel was to lend support to the Jewish nation at one of its more dire times.

    What concerns me is that people will simply accept what the media reports without questioning its source or potential for bias.

  3. I’m annoyed by abuse of language as much as anyone, but I did want to suggest that the first example doesn’t quite fit in with the others. While many people seem to employ progressive and liberal interchangeably, Progressivism is a particular political attitude distinct from (especially classical) liberalism.

    Okay, back on topic. The FEMA example seems to me to be a very deliberate appeal to those who enjoy or desire a parent-child relationship with the federal government. To the degree that many people lack family members in a position to help, this may prove quite popular despite its supreme creepiness to others like me.

  4. Rameumptom: This only seems to be 1984 to you because it’s folks you don’t like who are in government. (Granted, libertarians don’t like anyone in government… ;) ) Anyway, from “pro-choice” to “pro-life,” “progressive and regressive” taxes to “flat or fair” taxes, part of a politician’s job is to make hard things sound better. Nothing newspeak, nothing new. And not, by the way, evidence of the impending collapse of democracy.

    If every time a politician invents a new word to describe his or her political views in a more positive way I worried about a Marxist-Leninist totalitarian takeover, I think I’d have a heart attack. For those of us who consider it our duty to worry about such trivialities, may I recommend regular exercise, a diet low on cholesterol and sodium, and stable family relationships for longer life?

  5. I do find government and politicians much more deceptive now than I have in years past. Perhaps I am simply more aware of the deception taking place, and it has always been like this. The deception taking place on budget “cuts” that were really budget increases really burned me up, as did the deception and lies of warmongers who want to use any excuse to launch more wars against our supposed enemies.

  6. Geoff, it isn’t that they are more deceptive, its just that they have more opportunities and more sophisticated ways to get ther message accross. Let me give several examples from the 1950’s’ and 60’s to show different techniques for different times.

    Joseph McCarthy played the press very well. He would have a press conference early in the morning to announce that he had important revelations to give at an afternoon press conference, often with a hint (army has 2000 communist spies in it). The evening papers would go to bed before the second conference and McCarthy would get his charges headlined in the papers without ever having to face tough questions as his second presser wouldn’t cover much. The modern 24 hour news cycle works against this technique.

    Lyndon Johnson’s campaign showed the Daisy commercial once. It showed a lttle girl pulling the petals off a flower and ended with a nuclear explosion. Everyone understood it to mean beware of Goldwater, he might start WWIII. It was a different time. The pols knew that word of mouth would spread from one end of the country to another, Today we watch and don’t talk as much. The idea now is have one message and repeat it over and over or get people to see the same thing at the same time (coordinate ads to come all stations at one time).

    Lets deal with the liberal-progressive issue. It all goes back to Lee Atwater and the 1988 campaign. The Bush group set out to make liberal a perjoritive word. The idea was to make people think of tree hugging, tax raising, cop hating, criminal coddling radicals whenever they heard the word “liberal” They succeeded. So the left gave up on the word liberal and changed to progressicve. Now the right wing is tying to do the same with with progressive. Very few Democratic candidates want to be near the word liberal today.

    I could spend hours writing about the “new politics,” but I want to focus on two parts of it. Language and repetition. These two sectors of the modern techniques makes duplicity much more obvious. But studies show that they work.

    Lets use three examples with how Frank Luntz the Republican wordsmith has changed political language and how the Democrats might with the governor of Texas

    1. People are generally in favor of an estate tax called an inheritance tax, against it when it is called a “death tax.”
    2. The proper term is Democratic Party, but people get negative vibes when they hear Democrat Party.
    3. Individuals do not like people or things associated with the phrase “job killing.” Right now, Obama probably can’t even brush his teeth without it being labeled “job killing”
    4. Rick Perry has a long history of being labeked as not the brightest bulb in the marquee. Expect Democrats to try to focus on this as many ways as they can.

    The idea of a talking point is to develop a short story that will be repeated over and over again. Even though this repetition can drive one crazy, they work. people start to believe them

    Duplicity and deviousness is not new, or I believe more deeply rooted than in the past. It is just more audible and visible that the past,

  7. This has been going on since the Department of War was changed to the Department of Defense, if not long before. That was in the late 1940s, ironically, just after the appearance of Orwell’s famous essay, Politics and the English Language. The sophists of Ancient Greece knew all of these techniques well.

  8. Nate when you say, “Whoever is clever enough to win this war of words and wits with the media, is someone smart enough to do run government effectively in my opinion” you describe a very different form of democracy than I think most people support.

    Now, I’m not putting words in your mouth, but since you yourself have argued that what matters most is what is said in order to gain support, I will rephrase that statement:

    Whoever can trick the media into supporting them to win influence with the voters deserves to win, because they’ll be able to trick the legislators/voters into supporting their policy as well, which makes them an effective governor.

    That’s pretty much what Hitler did (Godwin!), and it actually sounds like what Satan does. Flatting words, tricky questions, poking holes in the words and teachings of the prophets… these things are done all throughout the scriptures by those who undermine the church. So since you seemed to acknowledge its ok to achieve victory through rhetoric, regardless of whether or not that rhetoric actually reflects reality (as best as its able) then you probably wouldn’t mind if someone characterized your ideas this way? Because all is fair in public discourse?

    I don’t think that can possibly be your position, but I’m not sure how your position avoids ultimately lends support to those who would abuse it this way. It certainly does concern me that we have a soundbite oriented approach to big problems. The gospel doesn’t work that way. Life is hard and it takes patience and perseverance when we persuade with long suffering. There is much to loose in the soundbite approach, and all we gain is self-serving expediency at best, and only if we agree with the stated & unstated goals of the politician.

  9. Yes, Newspeak is not new. Orwell, after all, wrote on it a century ago. But with a 24 hour news cycle, it becomes more prevalent.

    That Nate seems to say that a person who uses Newspeak best deserves to be governing, is problematic to me. I think Pres Obama is a master candidate, but a poor president (due to personality and lack of experience, I suppose).

    That Americans tend to be less educated in several areas (history, math, reading) and happy to spend their time being entertained, they do not question the Newspeak. It is easy for some to be called Nazis, and few question it. It is easy for some to say the Tea Party wants to starve black children, and get away with it. Outrageous things are said and done, and much of it is accepted, ignored, or only screamed about until Lady Gaga does her next outrageous thing.

    This is no different than Big Brother making one outlandish claim one day, and saying something different the next. Eventually, the people stop paying real attention to what is going on and only focus on what’s barely in front of their nose.

  10. Geoff, it has long been observed that “Democrat Party” is a term that was deliberately introduced and used by Republicans pejoratively, to make Democrats look dumb and clumsy (because it sounds truncated and blunt). Some have gone so far as to accuse those who say Democrat Party instead of the proper name Democratic Party as playing dirty.

  11. (Which is all to say that Republican use of the pejorative “Democrat Party” falls squarely within the language games that ram is describing, though I would object to this being a 1984 scenario. For one thing, we don’t live in a totalitarian state, all Tea Party objections to the contrary notwithstanding.)

  12. John F.
    Thanks for the history. I’ve heard a lot of critical pieces against the democratic party, but Ive never heard the term or knew the history.

  13. john f. – I think the term Democrat Party sounds harsh and abrupt… but they are called Democrats, and when asked, a person would reply “I am a Democrat”. So it’s the party of Democrats that chooses to call itself the Democratic Party. Looking at Wiki, it seems the Republicans were pretty upfront with their use of the language, at least initially. They didn’t want the imagery of the Democrats being the choice for people who support Democratic principles, making the Republicans unDemocratic. The wiki article appears to go both ways, with documented useage tracing over 100 years ago, and even some Democratic party groups referring to themselves as Democrat groups. Apparently there is a Democrat Party in Thailand.

    We can’t really know why a person is using it so I don’t think it’s necessarily a pejorative as you call it. It may be an insult or just to avoid giving some kind of rhetorical moral high ground to you opponents and wanting to associate yourself with Democratic principles, while disassociating yourself from the Democratic party. Similar, but not as “bad” to how some groups are described as anti-choice or anti-life. Or the concept of a liberal vs. classical liberal.

    Ultimately, I guess I don’t get as worked up by it, because people self identify as Democrats, so it’s not like it’s truly a bad or insulting. Republicans don’t self identify as Repuglicans so there’s isn’t an equivilant non-smear smear. I certainly don’t get bothered if someone says or writes Repubs (or Dems).

    But to me, police state or not, it’s dramatically different then wanting to avoid using the word “war”, and instead calling it a police action or kinetic action, or something of that sort.

  14. I am totally unaware of “Democrat party” being a pejorative, but it’s good to know, so now I have yet another weapon to make liberals upset. :)

  15. Y’all’s white middle/upper income lives are so hard. I admire you for persevering daily through such difficulties from your eeeeevil government. Those in the world who work daily to eat must surely pity your plight.

  16. Chris, and rameumtum, you understood my meaning correctly: I personally feel that politics is all about “tricking” the people, and that is as it should be. I have the highest respect for Frank Lutz, and consider what he does to be a high form of art.

    The People, collectively (not individually) are like sheep. They are blown about in large flocks by the powerful cultural, social, and economic winds of the day. Power in democracy lies not in the People, but in the forces that manipulate the People: media, politicians, corporate advertising, religious and cultural traditions, trends, and prejudices.

    Politicians understand that they are not talking to individuals (with whom you could perhaps have an intelligent conversation), but with a flock of sheep. So the language has to be very basic, emotion based, appealing to fears and self-delusions, the language of advertising. I don’t think Ron Paul could ever become president because he doesn’t speak the language of the People. Instead, he speaks to rational individuals who have ears to hear.

    The miracle of democracy lies not in the wisdom of the People (where there is little wisdom), but in the wisdom of individuals given freedom to rise up and lead (or manipulate) the people, within a brilliant framework of American competition, checks and balances, etc.

    Maybe this sounds a bit cynical, and I guess it is, sort of. Rameumptom mentioned people becoming Nazis. I personally think there is little difference between the basic human nature of People of the US today, and the German people of the 1930s who embraced Nazism with open arms. The difference lies in the cultural, and political forces acting upon the people, which happen to be vastly different today.

    But while I’m cynical about the People, I’m extremely optimistic about the Individual, and it thrills me to see people as brilliant as Obama, Gingrich, and Perry (all good, decent and smart men, who I trust as politicians) duke it out in sound bites.

  17. Newspeak is Political Correctness. Ever since we’ve had the latter, we’ve had the former. Let’s not be truthful or honest, but let’s just try and spare feelings and tell little lies. No one ever got hurt from telling white lies, right?

  18. It is somewhat humorous to look at the effect of Americans declining attention span and the economics of television have changed politics. As a young kid (when we drove our chariots to school and made the Freashman take care of our horses) I remember a 1/2 hour commercial for Eisenhower. Now a 20 second and sometimes a 30 second ad is all that you get.

    In such short time constraints positive and negative words and pictures become key and the propaganda techniques of transfer and guilt by association assume paramount importance. Some of the more strange example:

    1988 Who is more patreriotic? Bush and Dukakis got into a war over how many American flags they could surround themselves with. In one appearnce Bush seemed to be surrounded by 20 large flags.

    1988 Willie Horton ad. A pure racist set of ads. You can look at them on the net on You tube. What did Lee Atwater and his gang do? They used the ugliest black and white photo of Horton, making him fit the stereotype of the big, menacing black guy so many whites feared, changed his actual name and the name he used from William to Willie to further the stereotype. The implication was that the furlough plan was a Dukasis program. It wasn’t, it was a program put in place by a previous Republican governor.

    1996. Over 1/3 of Clinton ads were a guilt by association bonanza. There would be a picture of Dole walking in slow motion behind the unpopular Newt Gingrich, often in black and white. People do not like black and white, they don’t like slow motion, they don’t like Newt and by placing Newt in the front, Dole seems follower and not a leader

    1992: In local elections you like to show who you support and who supports you. My favorite ad was for mayor in a nearby large city. The candidate and his fqamily are seen congratulation an older black policeman on his retirement. That picture made four points: he waS a family man, he supported the police, he suppoorted senior citizrns and he was friendly with black people.

    Finally, there was a joke in California politics that you could tell if a political wife was liberated by the family photograph that would appear. If she was shown looking down from above with an adoring smile as he sat in a chair, she was not liberated. If she was sitting beside him on a couch, she was liberated. One of my my wife’s and my aquaintances was a political wife who had a most colorful way of describing that adoring look, unfortunately it isnot fit for this blog.

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