For decades now, there’s been a gap between the left’s and the right’s ability to talk populist. Liberals tend to trip over their own subtlety, uncertainty and/or ambivalence (an example of which youmaybe just read), while the right produces categorical words that stick: media elite, death tax, and of course Democrat as an adjective, emphasis on rat.
And 2010 was no different. Not all of this year’s top political buzzwords were born in 2010, but this is the year they’ve been popularized. And when it comes to rhetoric that evokes strong imagery, rouses emotion, and can roll over inconvenient facts and memories, the Red State words (many elevated into a kind of American sign language by Sarah Palin) tend to outshout the Blue ones.
BIG RED WORDS
Mamma grizzly: Grrrr! Mamma grizzlies will kill to protect their cubs or their tax cuts. Sarah Palin, or one of her writers, sensed that the newly empowered women of the Tea Party could use a brand of their own, and she found one that—with a bit-o’-Alaska in every sound bite—loops right back to the Palin brand itself.
Man-up: It one-ups the earlier pop injunction to “step up,” and it’s really what the right has been saying all along: liberal males are homos, eunuchs, and girlie men, they’re weak on national security and handmaidens to the Nanny State. Thus, Sharron Angle tried to castrate Harry Reid, Palin challenged non-Tea Party Republicans, and Christine O’Donnell, with her “get your man pants on” variation, gay-baited Mike Castle.
And it’s not just how Mamma Grizzlies scold mamma boys anymore. Rand Paul hit Jack Conway with a man-up, while Joe Scarborough brought it full circle, telling other Republicans to “man up” and stop Sarah Palin.
Death panel: The star of the health care debate is back! This month Palin attacked the (already defunct) deficit commission for “implicitly endors[ing] the use of ‘death panel’-like rationing.” All the while, she and the right have ignored a real “death panel”: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has eliminated, and now refuses to restore, Medicaid funds for life-saving organ transplants. The result? “Many doctors,” the Times reports, “say the decision amounts to a death sentence for some low-income patients…”