All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find ... that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.
George Orwell (1946)
Politics and the English Language"
Language is the constant yet unnoticed current that carries our thoughts. Thus, in the game of politics, the party which controls the language, controls the contest.
Newt Gingrich knows this, GOP strategist Frank Luntz knows this, and George Orwell, their apparent mentor, knew this.
I dont mean to suggest that we are necessarily captive to the currents of language. Like a skilled navigator, one can factor the currents of language into the calculations of ones judgment. But only if a person or a party takes the trouble to pause and take notice of the language.
Regrettably, the Democrats have not. For a party that is allegedly preferred by intellectuals, the Democrats have been tactically naïve and stupid, prisoners of their discredited habits. To be sure, astute scholars such as George Lakoff have offered the Democratic Party chiefs the key to their jail cells and have shown them the way out, but they have been told, in effect, Thanks, but no thanks. And Noam Chomsky is regarded as too extreme and an embarrassment. Never mind that he is the foremost linguist of our time.
In The Principles of Newspeak, an appendix to his novel, 1984, George Orwell wrote:
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the [Party's] world-view and mental habits ... , but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought - that is, a thought diverging from the principles of [the Party] - should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words, and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings... Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought...
Orwell wrote this as a warning. The Right has apparently adopted it as its strategy. Thus we find Newspeak at work in Newt Gingrichs self-explanatory memo, Language as a Political Weapon. And GOP strategist Frank Luntz has played the English language like Itzhak Perlman plays his Strad.
Liberalism, then and now.
Consider, for example, what the word-meisters of The Right have done to the word liberal.
Websters Dictionary gives us this traditional definition of liberal:
From the latin, liberalis of or pertaining to a freeman. Favoring reform or progress, as in religion, education, etc.; specifically, favoring political reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual. Progressive.
Throughout our history, up to the late twentieth century, "liberal" has been an honored word, applied approvingly by our founders. George Washington, for example, wrote: "As mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see American among the foremost nations of justice and liberality."