Strategizing Posted by Oaktown Girl, 25 Oct 2007 05:55 am
In the post-9/11 propaganda game, “safe” is even more corrosive to our Constitutional rights and liberties than “War on Terror”. Why? Because it’s insidious.
Contrary to what the corporate media would have you believe, there’s actually a good number of Americans who absolutely understand that a “War on Terror” is not only illogical and impossible, but a hoax designed to consolidate money and power into the hands of a very elite few. By contrast, “safe” actually sounds reasonable on the face of it, and therein lies the danger.
But let’s back up.
A few years ago I, along with many others of a progressive mind set, got excited by the news that Democrats were finally starting to understand the power of language in “framing” issues. It’s a simple concept: be the on who sets the terms of the debate and you’re likely to be the one who wins the debate. At long last, Democrats were finally going to start engaging in the framing battle and quit yielding every talking point on every issue to the GOP.
George Lakoff was leading the way with his insanely popular book that came out in 2004, Don’t Think of an Elephant, which we were assured Democrats were studying assiduously. It didn’t matter if you had quibbles with Layoff’s “nurturing parent” (liberal) vs. “strict father” (conservative) premise. The substance of the book was sound: take control of the language and you take control of the argument.
Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, also came out in 2004. It had a different angle but a similar theme: how Democrats can win back Red State America by changing their ways of communication and messaging. Frank was the darling of progressive talk radio and blogs for about the next two years straight. I know that many Democratic politicians were well aware of Frank’s book because they were asked about it frequently in interviews. Their response to the book was always glowing, and it seemed as though Democrats were finally understanding what the rest of us had understood for years, decades even. The clouds had parted, the Dems were “locked and loaded”, and we were all ready to roll.
It’s now been three years since Lakoff’s and Franks’ books were published, and even being in the majority, the Democrats continue to cede the language of every argument to the Republicans. This keeps them in the position of being back on their heels and leads to inevitable defeat. They are rarely, if ever, on the offensive. What the hell happened?
Well, whatever happened (or more accurately, didn’t happen), nowhere is the language rollover more damaging to America than in the Democrats’ adoption of the word “safe”. As far as thwarting terrorist attacks goes, it’s a totally bullshit word. Nevertheless, the Republicans grabbed “safe” for themselves, legitimized it in the political discourse, and declared that they are the ones who can get us there and keep us there.
There are two important points here. One is about political strategy, the other is about our reality and the future of this country.
On the strategy front, by adopting the Republicans’ “safe” meme, the Democrats have already lost. The Republicans have firmly planted their flag on Planet “Safe” and have staked out every patch of land there. The Democrats, trying in vain to inhabit some small acre of Planet “Safe”, expose themselves as pathetic losers in a game they can’t win, yet can’t seem to stop themselves from playing.
On the reality front, ironically, “safe” is one of the most terrifying things happening in our country right now. “Safe” is a fantasy. The absence of danger is not a position in society that can ever be attained. “Safe” does not exist, but that delusion is being used as a powerful double-edge sword: one side repeatedly hammers home the word “safe” in order to convince Americans that they are not safe and need to be protected; the other side is used to maintain the myth that there is such a thing as “safe”, and that we can get there. But taking away civil liberties and engaging in preemptive war does not increase safety, it only increases the illusion of safety.
It’s obvious who wins and who loses in this. Follow the money, follow the control, follow the power.
When Hillary Clinton said, “I believe we are safer than we were. We are not yet safe enough”, I thought my head was going to explode. She rolled over for the Republicans (and against America) in two very serious ways. First, implicitly praising the Bush administration by implying their policies thus far have made us “safer” (against all evidence to the contrary). Second, by continuing to assert we can get to this mythical place called “safe”.
The Republicans have successfully positioned themselves as being the ones who are “tough on terrorists”. Really? You don’t eliminate a hornets’ nest by whacking it with a baseball bat, and that’s basically what BushCo is doing. Not smart. I would like to see the Democrats start using the word “smart” instead of “safe”.
The Republicans think the answer to cracking terrorist networks is to let the government listen in on everybody’s phone calls and read everyone’s email. Again, not smart. Here’s one example of how Democrats positioning themselves as “smart” can be used:
When you’re trying to find a needle in a haystack, the answer is not to make the haystack thousands of times bigger.
“Smart” is something we can do. “Smart” is something we can be.
Our country can never be brought down by terrorists. Our country can only be destroyed from within - by us. “War on Terror” may be the slogan for that internal destruction, but “safe” is what’s driving it.
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