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BOOK REVIEW: Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy, by Jeffrey Feldman

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Amy Fried, Ph.D.     Permalink
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We progressives have all sensed it, in various ways. Many on OpEdNews have complained about the excesses of Ann Coulter. I have written about Republican Rage. Now, Jeffrey Feldman, author of Framing the Debate: Famous Presidential Speeches and How Progressives Can Use Them to Change the Conversation (and Win Elections), and editor of the blog, Frameshop, uses his background in Cultural Anthropology to take on the violent rhetoric of the Right straight on. In Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy, Feldman takes us through the endless supply of violent metaphors offered up to us by the likes of Coulter, as well as Pat Buchanan, James Dobson, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Bill O’Reilly, Jon Gibson, and Dinesh D’Souza.

Along with the liberal use of terms like “war” and “murder,” Feldman shows how Right-wing pundits use their violent terminology in the service of bizarre theories that turn history on its head. Thus, we “learn” that:

* Raising children with guns is the key to fighting school shootings;

* Mexicans crossing the border are motivated - not by economic necessity - but by revenge for the loss of Texas!, and their presence threatens our very civilization;

* Liberals wants “’lots of 9/11’s‘” and Democrats through history have been in cahoots with murderous dictators;

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* The ACLU is a fascist organization, George Lakoff is a communist, and some liberal bloggers are comparable to Nazis and the KKK;

* Good parenting requires inflicting physical pain on children and teaching them to hit back in school, and homosexuality is prevented by fathers - who have inflicted such pain - taking showers with their sons;

* 9/11 was somehow simultaneously caused by al Qaeda’s anger at - and collaboration with - American liberals, and Abu Ghraib was caused by divorce!

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In each case, beyond merely citing the violent language used, Feldman identifies the issue that is ignored by the rush to a violent frame - offering a new frame in the process.

I found it fascinating to see how some early movements on the Right breathed new life into their cause when they adopted a violent frame. Feldman also explains how today’s rhetoric harkens back to earlier - sometimes outright bigoted - screeds.

On the other hand, I found Dobson’s views on parenting most disturbing. Feldman’s connection between those views and Dobson’s political worldview dovetail nicely with George Lakoff’s work - it made me wonder, though, whether Lakoff’s “strict father” frame should be re-named “abusive father!”

Ultimately, Feldman shows us what kind of government is created by the type of paranoia that these violent frames encourage. In the process, he examines the damage done to society when the electorate is too paralyzed by fear to argue back or think straight.

He concludes with suggestions for changing the way political discourse occurs in this country, without engaging in censorship.

While I’m perhaps more pessimistic than Feldman on the chance for change, his laying the groundwork for solving the problem is a valuable resource: clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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