Dog whistles vs. smiley faces

In the context of a discussion about  “income inequality” (we’ll discuss that later), Kathleen Parker talks about political rhetoric and the different styles of each party.  Republicans, she says, use “dog whistles,” using loaded terms (big government!  tax-and-spend!  anti-family!) to summon the true believers.  Democrats use “smiley faces” to cover up unpleasant truths with positive emotions (“reproductive freedom” for late-term abortions).

Those are my examples.  What are some others on both sides?

From Kathleen Parker: Inequality of language muddies debate – The Washington Post:

In politics, it’s all in how you say things.

George Orwell knew what he was talking about when he described political language as “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Today, we’ve become so accustomed to the distortions of political speak that we hardly notice. But as the midterm elections near, we might benefit from a booster shot of skepticism.

Both parties are guilty of verbal distortion and manipulation, but I dare say the left is more clever. Republicans tend to rely on dog whistles, loaded terms that prompt negative messages in the collective subconscious mind, while Democrats paste smiley faces on unpleasant messages, cloaking meaning in Orwellian frocks of emotional distraction.

A dog whistle might be the mention of, say, the “food stamp president,” as Newt Gingrich called President Obama during the last presidential election. Protests that this is not racist are noted and dismissed. The term calls up a certain image and everyone gets it.

Sometimes those on both sides of an issue select language that essentially cancels out one another. This is because both are equally attractive to the ear, even if their meanings are quite different. Exhibit A: pro-life and pro-choice. Who is against life? Why, no one! But, who is against choice? Again, no one. Of course, one chooses to protect unborn life and the other selects termination.

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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