Over the past few decades, the radical right has engaged in a well-funded, self-conscious program of Orwellian doublespeak, transforming the American political discourse to suit its ends. Think tanks like the Cato Institute routinely market phrases for their political resonance, like “personal” vs. “private” accounts. Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, lexicographer and MSNBC pundit who combines Madison Avenue techniques with K Street connections, sends out regular missives informing Republican operatives and politicians on how to spin conservative policy proposals. (He was on The Daily Show demonstrating his talents, defining “manipulation” as “explanation and education.”) Paul Wolfowitz admitted to Vanity Fair that “weapons of mass destruction” was agreed upon as the reason to go to war with Iraq because it was the most salable rationale. And we all know how that turned out.
Before we can win the great battle of ideas, we must debunk the right’s political discourse, a veritable code of encrypted language that twists common usage to deceive the public for the Republicans’ purposes. The key to their linguistic strategy is to use words that sound moderate to us but mean something completely different to them. Their tactics range from the childish use of antonyms (“clean” = “dirty”) to the pseudo-academic use of prefixes (“neo” is a favorite) to the pernicious and very expensive rebranding of traditional labels (“liberal” as an insult).
We decided we needed to break the code by building a Republican dictionary. Skewer their deceptions with the fine-tipped sword of satire. Lies melt away in the face of mockery.
Unlike Republicans, who rely on rich old cranks and intellectuals-for-hire to do their dirty work, we opened up the process to the people. For six months, thenation.com accepted suggestions from everyone who wanted to participate. The result was an overwhelming grassroots groundswell of hilarious submissions from citizens who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. Thousands of definitions were entered from all over the country, forty-four states in all, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. (We even received a few from outraged Canadians, Australians and Brits.)
As momentum for the project grew, friends and allies joined the effort. TomDispatch.com asked its readers and writers to submit their own definitions. Reviewing the submissions from our website, we found that certain trends became apparent. “Compassionate conservative” and “ownership society” were the most popular targets. “No Child Left Behind” was the most common riff. The disaster in Iraq was the subject of the most outrage. The results have been compiled in a new book, Dictionary of Republicanisms (Nation Books). Here are some of my favorites. I hope they inspire you to action, to take back this great nation from those who are doing it such harm.
abstinence-only sex education n.
Ignorance-only sex education [Wayne Martorelli, Lawrenceville, NJ].
alternative energy sources n.
New locations to drill for gas and oil [Peter Scholz, Fort Collins, Colo.].
A punishable crime when committed by poor people but not corporations [Beth Thielen, Studio City, Calif.].
“burning bush” n.
A biblical allusion to the response of the President of the United States when asked a question by a journalist who has not been paid to inquire [Bill Moyers, New York, NY].
Cheney, Dick n.
The greater of two evils [Jacob McCullar, Austin, Tex.].
See Wal-Mart [Rebecca Solnit, San Francisco, Calif.].
class warfare n.
Any attempt to raise the minimum wage [Don Zweir, Grayslake, Ill.].
climate change n.
The blessed day when the blue states are swallowed by the oceans [Ann Klopp, Princeton, NJ].
compassionate conservatism n.
Poignant concern for the very wealthy [Lawrence Sandek, Twin Peaks, Calif.].
Pseudoscience that claims George W. Bush’s resemblance to a chimpanzee is totally coincidental [Brian Sweeney, Providence, RI].
DeLay, Tom n.
1. Past tense of De Lie [Rick Rodstrom, Los Angeles, Calif.]. 2. Patronage saint [Andrew Magni, Nonatum, Mass.].
A product so extensively exported that the domestic supply is depleted [Michael Schwartz, unknown].
An Oxy(contin)moron [Zydeco Boudreaux, Gretna, La.].
energy independence n.
The caribou witness relocation program [Justin Rezzonico, Keene, Ohio].
extraordinary rendition n.
Outsourcing torture [Milton Feldon, Laguna Woods, Calif.].
The stubborn belief that God approves of Republican moral values despite the preponderance of textual evidence to the contrary [Matthew Polly, Topeka, Kans.].
Fox News fict.
Faux news [Justin Rezzonico, Keene, Ohio].
free markets n.
Halliburton no-bid contracts at taxpayer expense [Sean O’Brian, Chicago, Ill.].
girly men n.
Males who do not grope women inappropriately [Nick Gill, Newton, Mass.].
Senior presidential adviser [Martin Richard, Belgrade, Mont.].
1. The justification for tax cuts for the rich. 2. What happens to the national debt when Republicans cut taxes on the rich [Matthew Polly, Topeka, Kans.].
habeas corpus n. Archaic. (Lat.)
Legal term no longer in use (See Patriot Act) [Josh Wanstreet, Nutter Fort, WV].
healthy forest n.
No tree left behind [Dan McWilliams, Santa Barbara, Calif.].
A neologism for love of the Homeland Security State, as in “My Homeland, ’tis of thee, sweet security state of liberty…” [Tom Engelhardt, New York, NY].
Lies told in simple declarative sentences–e.g., “Freedom is on the march” [Katrina vanden Heuvel, New York, NY].
House of Representatives
Exclusive club; entry fee $1 million to $5 million (See Senate) [Adam Hochschild, San Francisco, Calif.].
When the poor are not working [Justin Rezzonico, Keene, Ohio].
leisure time n.
When the wealthy are not working [Justin Rezzonico, Keene, Ohio].
Followers of the Antichrist [Ann Wegher, Montello, Wisc.].
Miller, Zell n.
The man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton after a particularly tough interview on Hardball [Drew Dillion, Arlington, Va.].
Nerds with Napoleonic complexes [Matthew Polly, Topeka, Kans.].
Tragedy used to justify any administrative policy, especially if unrelated (See Deficit, Iraq War) [Dan Mason, Durham, NH].
No Child Left Behind riff.
There are always jobs in the military [Ann Klopp, Princeton, NJ]. 2.
The rapture [Samantha Hess, Cottonwood, Ariz.].
ownership society n.
A civilization where 1 percent of the population controls 90 percent of the wealth [Michael Albert, Piscataway, NJ].
Patriot Act n.
1. The pre-emptive strike on American freedoms to prevent the terrorists from destroying them first. 2. The elimination of one of the reasons why they hate us [Michael Thomas, Socorro, NM].
Valuing human life up until birth [Kevin Weaver, San Francisco, Calif.].
Exclusive club; entry fee $10 million to $30 million [Adam Hochschild, San Francisco, Calif.].
To cut the taxes of Republican donors [Katrina vanden Heuvel, New York, NY].
staying the course interj. Slang.
Saying and doing the same stupid thing over and over, regardless of the result [Suzanne Smith, Ann Arbor, Mich.].
stuff happens interj. Slang.
Donald Rumsfeld as master historian [Sheila and Chalmers Johnson, San Diego, Calif.].
voter fraud n.
A significant minority turnout [Sue Bazy, Philadelphia, Pa.].
The nation-state, future tense [Rebecca Solnit, San Francisco, Calif.].
Arsenic storage device [Joy Losee, Gainesville, Ga.].
1. Person who can be trusted to bear a child but can’t be trusted to decide whether or not she wishes to have thechild. 2. Person who must have all decisions regarding herreproductive functions made by men with whom she wouldn’t want to have sex in the first place [Denise Clay, Philadelphia, Pa.].