In his famous essay, "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell wrote, "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. "
In his novel 1984, Orwell invented a language called Newspeak, his fictional State's method of controlling thought and suppressing opposition to its policies. Orwell describes Newspeak as being composed in part of "words which had been deliberately constructed for political purposes ... words which were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them ... No word in [this] vocabulary was ideologically neutral. A great many were euphemisms. [Some] meant almost the exact opposite of what they were supposed to mean."
This is exactly how Republican Newspeak works. Just as 1984's Ministry of Plenty was really the Ministry of Scarcity, "the Clear Skies Initiative" is really "the Industrial License to Pollute Act." Just as the novel's Ministry of Love really refers to the Ministry of Coercion and Torture, the Patriot Act is really the Suppression of Dissent Act.
An ideological charge often resides in a spinning adjective. Activist judges, the Death Tax, compassionate conservative, pro-life, faith-based, Big Government--each of these attempts to dictate our responses. Such phrases ("cut & run" is the latest) are designed to push our buttons--to arouse emotional responses and override rational processes. What could be worse for a democracy? In The Federalist Papers, both Hamilton and Madison express particular concern about the emotional manipulation of the electorate.
The imperative Support Our Troops implies that if you disapprove of a particular administration's aggressive military policy, you lack solidarity with and concern for the young men and women in the armed forces. This slogan, in other words, conflates two distinct positions and simultaneously marks one of them as unpatriotic and heartless. It is pure emotional blackmail. In peace demonstrations, some protestors carry signs that read: Support Our Troops/Bring Them Home, but this riposte has not made the original slogan disappear.
What can be done about this insidious trend? Democrats and their allies need to fight back. When Republicans talk about an "ownership society," Democrats should say this means a "you're-on-your-own society." When the Bush administration says it wants to "reform" Social Security, Democrats should protest that Bush really want to "dismantle" it. They might add that putting our retirement money on the stock market will result in "anti-Social Insecurity." They could refer to Fox News as "Pravda," because Fox functions as a government organ, much as the Soviet news organ ("pravda" means "true" or "truth")did.
More importantly, Democrats should make meta-comments, calling attention to the manipulative character of Republican Newspeak. "Cut & run," for example, is high-school jock talk, completely inappropriate for a serious discussion of foreign policy. (What's next-- "meet me at the flagpole"?)
Finally, our media should scrupulously monitor their own use of political language, echoing neither political party and striving for neutral, objective descriptions of legislation and policies.