Liberals are winning the language war

April 11, 2014

Are conservatives linguistically challenged? Or are they just naïve enough to think they can win the battle of ideas with — ideas?

Okay, and money.

Conservatives, like liberals, will spend huge amounts of money this year to get their ideas across to voters. But what they fail to do is bundle their thoughts into a bright, shiny linguistic package that explodes in the face of their enemies when opened.

The left has assembled a rich lexicon of phrases that serve either as stilettos that can be turned again and again in the guts of their opponents, or shields that obscure their true intentions.

The phrasing can be at best vicious, at worst dishonest. But conservatives should consider concocting some nasty comebacks, lest they continue to be perceived as Neanderthals battling forces of progress.

Did I just use the term “Neanderthal”? You immediately knew I couldn’t have meant liberals, because liberals are enlightened. They are Cro-Magnons, each and every one.

Now you see the problem.

Herewith, a list of the top liberal epithets and euphemisms. Let’s start with the former:

War on Women: When Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) noted a few weeks ago that Democrats, who accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women,” were strangely unappalled by President Bill Clinton’s “predatory” behavior, he was slyly undermining one of the worst charges lodged by Democrats.

Really? A war on women? This is blandly repeated by Democrats everywhere as accepted science. But how foolish. One supposedly hates women because one is anti-abortion. Are the women who oppose abortion all self-loathing?

Obstructionists: This means “conservatives.” That is, people who have small- government principles and get in the way of the liberal agenda. They need to get out of the way so Congress can start “getting things done.” Which is always better than not getting things done — even if the things that got done have left us $17.5 trillion in debt.

Climate Change Deniers: This one has had language surgery twice. First, when liberals noticed the weather was inconsistent, global warming turned into “climate change.” True, the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. But it’s also true that global land and ocean temperature increases combined have leveled off since 1998, which was the third hottest year. All the years since then have been in the same general vicinity. That is, there has been no overall warming for 15 years.

And deniers. Such vitriol. The only other deniers in public discourse are those who deny the Holocaust. And so people who question whether global warming produced Hurricane Sandy, more tornadoes in the Midwest, an increase in UFO landings – or whatever the latest claim – are subtly lumped with those who sought to exterminate the Jewish people.

Wingnuts and Tea Baggers: Pure insults, routinely dispatched by supposedly respectable people.

Assault Weapons: A.K.A. guns. Actually, the term varies depending on who is using it. But assault weapon, a redundancy if I’ve ever heard one, sounds really vicious, and the Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to bear assault weapons.

And now on to the euphemisms:

Tax reform: Until President Barack Obama, tax reform meant revenue-neutral changes to the tax code, designed to make it fairer and simpler by culling unnecessary or unfair breaks and other weirdness.  But Obama has decided it means doing all these things and raising revenues. So now “tax reform” means “tax increase.”

Investments: This is now the acceptable term among Democrats for what used to be called spending. It means that even if spending has no discernable benefit, it’s sure to pay off down the road. You can bet your bottom tax dollar. And you will.

Common Sense Measures: Something everyone who is smart, rational, non-cave dwelling, educated and reasonable — that is, someone who is not a conservative — can agree on.

Living Wage: This term, which means enough to live on, is used interchangeably with minimum wage, which is nothing more than the minimum amount a company must pay to workers. So entry-level work must pay like you’ve already gotten that raise. No need to scrimp and save or live with your parents until you’re self-sufficient.

Abortion rights: How is it that liberals managed to ensure this phrase is routinely used in the mainstream media as a supposedly neutral idea. So now if you oppose abortion, you oppose someone’s “rights.” Bad place to be rhetorically.

Progressive: Notice I keep calling the left “liberals.” This is because I refuse to accept the left’s redefinition of itself in terms of the old “progressive” label. Liberals understood that President Ronald Reagan had successfully turned “liberal” into a kind of dirty word. So they decided to create a new brand by giving themselves a new name.

Conservatives must realize that your father’s pejorative terms — “bleeding-heart liberal” and “tax-and-spend liberal” — are just as good for laughs these days.

Of course, conservatives have a few solid catch-phrases. “Pro-life” worked  because opposition means . . . pro-death. And a couple of recent terms like “job creators” to refer to businesspeople and “death panels” to refer to healthcare experts have hit the mark. But Republicans are still way behind.

Here’s a starter kit.

Anti-Self Defense: A no brainer. It stands to reason that liberals believe home invaders can be warded off with a reasoned discussion of the need for more federal spending to address their specific grievance.

Hot Air Blowers: The global warming non-deniers deserve worse than this for demonizing their opponents, but a suggestion that they’re full of it will do.

The War on Success: What else to call the effort to raise taxes and the federal government’s expanding purview over our lives?

Lemming Economics: Any ideology that calls for Americans to all jump over the debt cliff together by increasing spending.

It’s a long road back for Republicans to rhetorical parity with Democrats. But they can make it, one insult at a time.


Keith Koffler is editor of the website White House Dossier.


PHOTO (TOP): Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) delivers his speech to the Faith & Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Conference Kickoff Luncheon in Washington, June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

PHOTO (INSERT): Protesters rally in the rotunda of the State Capitol as the state Senate meets to consider legislation restricting abortion rights in Austin, Texas, July 12, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone


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The real problenm for the GOP in coming up with words that simplisticly describe their ideology is that that is a slippery slope of thought. Their base, at least a significant portion, is a group of thought-less followers believing in magical things. Once you start to use words to describe ideology in any coherent way that base will be tempted to think, and that leads to the end of the followers. Dems have them too, but Dems also get those that vote for the least facist.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Hmmm – let’s deconstruct. Firstly – all of the ‘epithets and euphemisms’ in your starter kit have negative connotations as far as language is concerned. Therein lies the difficulty.

Anti-Self Defense. Really? Most progressives have no qualms with people owning handguns for self defense or even rifles for hunting – you just don’t need a AK47 with a large capacity magazine. If your argument for your need for an AK47 with a large capacity magazine is to protect yourself against – what? The government? I posit that you need a solid mental health evaluation rather than a FOID.

Hot Air Blowers: So I suppose then the opposite would be to just poison everything and not worry about even trying to ‘conserve’ the earth. I don’t expect you to get the irony of the previous sentence.

The War on Success: For being successful via the exploitation of workers, tax loopholes and natural resources.

Lemming Economics: heh heh heh heh. This one is so completely without substance I won’t even deconstruct it.

Or perhaps the ‘progressives’ have learned the Luntz lesson well and are beating the ‘conservatives’ at their own game.

Posted by MJJ1201 | Report as abusive

There are so many simple-minded obfuscations in this article that it is almost more trouble than it’s worth to try to respond to them all. One wonders if the author is a Reuters-sanctioned troll?

Your party wants one select group of small-minded, religiously motivated individuals to make decisions for the whole of women regarding their social and medical reproductive rights, most of which is driven by old white men. That is a war on women.

Your party opposes everything the Democrats do purely on the basis that the Democrats are the ones doing it. They will oppose legislation not yet proposed simply because their stated goal is to refuse to cooperate. That is obstructionism.

Your party refuses to recognize the inherent reality of man-made climate change because to do so would be to admit that many of the energy sources that have fueled our modern society (and made many a wealthy robber-baron) are unsustainable, preferring instead to revert to anecdotes like “if global warming is real, how come last winter was so cold?”. Climate change denier is the polite term.

I could go on and on, but the rest of your article is just a poorly-written diatribe, devoid of substance, crafted to disguise the inherent fact that your party has no real ideas for today’s world. It’s that simple. As angry, scared old Christian white men die off, so to does the Republican party.

Posted by BlueInBama | Report as abusive

Why print this piece by a not very good right wing propagandist?

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

False Flag – liberals claiming to be patriots.

Posted by BobWhite2000 | Report as abusive

Some alternative thoughts below:

War on women. Instead: War. On everyone. Or almost everyone. But not on the military industrial complex. For them ardent amor.

Obstructionists. Instead: those who prevent anything, absolutely anything, other than invasive medical procedures on women from being done. Or, if you prefer, proponents. Of going back to living in caves after 2347 rounds of kumbaya with their suitors referenced above.

Wingnuts and teabaggers. Instead: politicians and supporters who reject science and believe you can run global economies from your kitchen table and piggy bank.

Climate change deniers. Instead: Dodo birds. These birds may have looked majestic, but, like their arrogant aristocratic counterparts, also did not listen to scientists or Fortune 500/100 conglomerates on this topic. Related genetically to ostriches, Known for burying their heads in the sand, bets are accepted as to survival capacity.

Assault weapons. Instead: guns capable of firing so many rounds off so quickly that Predator doesn’t stand a chance. Because people, Bambi and Donald are just too nimble and that Elmer really needs a hand.

Tax reform. Instead: wealth transfer. Up. And up. And away, as in the sucking sound the money makes when it’s being siphoned out of our wallets to offshore Cayman Banks.

Investments. Instead: money to spend on putty to fill the holes in the dike until someone comes around who understands that you can’t build a dike with clay.

Common Sense measures. Instead: measures that those afraid of the future resist. Those are the ones that factor in science, math and modern living.

Abortion rights. Instead: oh, and this is both an oldie and a goodie. How about the rights of babies. As in, to live. Once they are born. Not sick, as they’ve had sufficient nutrition before birth, and enough food after. Oh, I know, that means they’re takers. But perhaps eventually, they will become worshipping takers. AS IF that matters to you!

Living wage. Instead: hamburger investment. You like your hamburgers. We get it. Less gross if those cooking/serving them don’t sport the black fingernails of death and don’t cough up a lung on them. Living quarters, heat, medical care, all help with that.

Liberal. Instead: one who freely values life. All life. Whether it looks like you or not. You announce yourself by deriding that as laughable. No need to know more. We trust our brothers and sisters to decide FOR THEMSELVES how to make it most worth living. Not measured by the DOW. So unless you are willing to admit there is no room for us, and thus are in willing to identify just whom it is you serve, then pipe down with the insult. We aren’t afraid anymore to wear your label as a badge of honor.

And, your values :

Anti self defense. Instead: Pro Self Defense: we recognize the RIGHT, of all humans, to put themselves in a position to realize their potential. That means, not being so hungry you can’t focus on the course being taught. Not being sick without a hope of returning to work. And, the right to enrich ourselves with our labor, NOT just our masters. IN SHORT, the right to LIVE and PURSUE HAPPINESS, irrespective of our starting bank accounts. As you depend on us to maintain yours.

Hot air blowers. Instead: Heralds of the desire to live. Just live. And breathe. But we suppose you THINK you’ll be able to afford the real estate where it’s cleaner. We will see.

The War On Success. Instead: the war on those who dare to hope for success. Which is defined far more broadly than you might ever suppose.

Lemming Economics. Instead: the economic theories you count on us continuing to buy, hook, line and sinker. NO longer,

Liberal. Instead: one who freely values life. All life. Whether it looks like you or not. You announce yourself by deriding that as laughable. No need to know more. We trust our brothers and sisters to decide FOR THEMSELVES how to make it most worth living. Not measured by the DOW. So unless you are willing to admit there is no room for us, and thus are in willing to identify just whom it is you serve, then pipe down with the insult. We aren’t afraid anymore to wear your label as a badge of honor.

And, your so-called values :

Anti self defense. Instead: Pro Self Defense: we recognize the RIGHT, of all humans, to put themselves in a position to realize their potential. That means, not being so hungry you can’t focus on the course being taught. Not being sick without a hope of returning to work. The right to look how we please and go to the store to buy skittles, or tampax, or anything else we legally choose. The right to enrich ourselves with our labor, NOT just our masters. IN SHORT, the right to LIVE and PURSUE HAPPINESS, irrespective of our starting bank accounts. As you depend on us to maintain yours.

Hot air blowers. Instead: Heralds of the desire to live. Just live. And breathe. But we suppose you THINK you’ll be able to afford the real estate where it’s cleaner. We will see.

The War On Success. Instead: the war on those who dare to hope for success. Which is defined far more broadly than you might ever suppose.

Lemming Economics. Instead: the economics you hope and believe the rest of us will accept on blind faith. NO LONGER!!

Posted by Heyoka | Report as abusive

The fact is that racial, sexual and ethnic prejudice and verbal abuse are still quite common in the USA and as long as such epithets are tolerated white, gentile men will continue to be the targets.

Everyone knows who the targets are when terms such as “neanderthal”, “bigoted”, “racist”, “anti-semitic” or “sexist” are used. They do not describe behavior or opinions at all, just race, ethnicity and sex. Everyone knows you can identify all of them on sight. But the speakers think themselves “better” than those who used the “old fashioned” slurs. They most certainly are not. They are America’s successors to the KKK. Only the targets have changed.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

Spending too much time rebutting is more than this deserves, but allow me to give a partial rebuttal:

1. Obstructionists – Obstruction goes well beyond a simple ideological stand. If you cannot tell the difference between Republican obstructionism and a principled stand on issues, then you will _never_ be able to understand why you are losing not only on messaging but in actually having solutions to modern societal issues. Since this conclusion is all but foregone, it almost makes trying to have a civilized discussion meaningless, doesn’t it?

Good luck working out your perceived ‘messaging’ (in reality ‘substance’) issues.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

You should hear the things we call you among ourselves…

Posted by Fishrl | Report as abusive

Thanks Mr Koffler for pointing out some of the problems. Judging from the other posters it is obvious you have struck a nerve. One thing I would like to add is that the republicans should quit calling the new aca law “Obamacare”, since he can’t run for re election, and call it democare, since the democrats alone are responsible for this fiasco, and many of them are up for re – election this year.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

Great article.

The only thing I would add is that politics has become the new religion. The right and the left ‘believe’ they are correct, that they are the holders of the truth. The meaning/usage of words must therefore conform to the dogma. For example, in one of the posted comments the author used the word fascist. A convenient cudgel for one who thinks they know the truth and aspires to get everyone to conform with all available means. Oh, wait a minute, isn’t that what the Fascists did? Suppress open discussion with name calling and labeling.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

@zotdoc – You are correct in saying that Mr. Koffler struck a nerve. He did so by having the audacity to suggest that the bulk of the Republican party’s problems come down to “messaging” when the reality is that the “substance” of their platform is what has turned so many Americans away.

The irony is that the biggest failure of “Obamacare” has been “messaging” – namely that the Obama administration let the Republicans run loose with lies and deception like “death panels” and “socialized healthcare” (even though it remains largely dependent on private insurers) while failing to counter with adequate “messaging” of their own. This is evidenced by the fact that most Americans support the individual components of the Affordable Care Act while simultaneously opposing “Obamacare.” And despite all the hiccups in the roll-out (and all the nasty rhetoric), the program has thus-far surpassed previous enrollment estimates, and there is little other than vitriol to suggest at this point that it is failing. Nonetheless it remains unpopular with a large swath of Americans who are judging it based on carefully-crafted disinformation that has drowned out all other rational discussion.

Posted by BlueInBama | Report as abusive

So, is it safe to assume everyone knows what I’m talking about when I say “tree”, or should I have to describe it in detail every time I refer to one: “A very tall woody plant that has green leaves on its branches and bark on its trunk.”

That is what language does; it describes things, people, feelings, events, and ideas such as the “War on Drugs” and “Trickle-down economics” to name two. We all know what that means, right? Does that make it bad? No. It is expedient communication.

The thin Republican lexicon reflects thin Republican ideas, not to mention a staggering lack of imagination. Sounds like you’re trying to blame the weak Republican social and political vocabulary on the Democrats.

Oh wait – Republicans DO have “Odumbo” and “Libtard”. Those labels send shivers down my spine in fearful respect and admiration. (sarcasm).

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

When the majority of the arguments are made by name-calling, and repetition of the same senseless circular logic, what would you expect but to lose? You have no substance, and your pathetic counter-arguments carry no weight.

Posted by aj1212 | Report as abusive


Posted by thinker72 | Report as abusive

Since the GOP wants to make this about messaging, then here is your real messaging issue.

Fear = the GOP message. That is all they have. Every discussion with a member of the Republican party comes down to fear. We know scientifically that they are simply hard-wired this way, but it doesn’t change the fact.

Fear may provide some short-term gains especially in things like polls and amongst low information voters, but once that fear doesn’t manifest into reality, you can only attempt to pile on more fear because you have nothing else.

You are seen as the anti-science, anti-environment, anti-government, anti-education, anti-fact, anti-equal rights party, and with good reason.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

Being “anti-government” was seen as healthy and reasonable for most of US history. Particularly when it concerned the federal government, with its essentially bottomless financial resources, its relative remove from those it governed, and its vast reserve of lethal force.

Even when government engaged in what might be considered “activism,” most people regarded it with well-founded suspicion as something that should be given no more power than was absolutely necessary.

Why is being “anti-government” now a slur? Because a new people have been elected — bred, actually — through legal/illegal immigration, the reproductive hobbling of the white working and middle classes through taxation, and the funneling of those resources to subsidize demographic growth of non-whites.

The “New America” wants, and needs, more government. That’s why government has become a “good” thing, and why being “anti-government” is bad, bad, bad.

Posted by Zeken | Report as abusive

A better nickname for Obamacare would be Romneycare or HeritageCare or Republicare. The program enacted is the same as the program enacted by Romney as governor of Massachusetts and is the one originated by the right wing Republican Heritage Foundation. The Republicans won the language battle by calling it “Obamacare.” The Republicans are clearly doing quite well in the language battle, but failing to come up with ideas.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

Though I disagree with the positions in the article I do agree that democrats are indeed winning the language war. Republicans are, for the most part, on the wrong side of history with their current platform/dogma. In fairness Dems have had their stinkers too but the current Republican list is.. exhausting.

— wiki snippet
In a letter to Kepler of August 1610,[3] Galileo complained that some of the philosophers who opposed his discoveries had refused even to look through a telescope:[4]

“My dear Kepler, I wish that we might laugh at the remarkable stupidity of the common herd. What do you have to say about the principal philosophers of this academy who are filled with the stubbornness of an asp and do not want to look at either the planets, the moon or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them the opportunity a thousand times? Truly, just as the asp stops its ears, so do these philosophers shut their eyes to the light of truth.”[5]

Posted by Please_evolve | Report as abusive

Shouldn’t Fox News be on the list somewhere? You know… The proverbial ‘Death Star’ for liberals, near and far?

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive

GOP = anti-science. Wasn’t always that way, but it is now. Evolution-deniers, climate change deniers….

When’s the last time you saw any serious scientific or medical research come out of a Baptist or evangelical university? Just try to think of some examples.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

@dd606, don’t flatter yourself. Foxnews is not the death star, so much as….. The General Lee from Dukes of Hazard Just a laughing stock, more than a source of fear :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

All of these comments on the liberal side prove the author’s point. No facts, no reasoned arguments, just ad hominum attacks.

If you don’t have a reasonable argument, just mock the person who does have a reasonable argument.

Posted by independent63 | Report as abusive

This opinion piece was wrong in so many ways. First, as a Democrat, I am not liberal in many areas, but I am progressive. Still I never refer to myself as a progressive, because I am a Democrat, period. It is the right that has come up with the definition of a Democrat as liberal, or as they like to say librel, progressive, communist, facists, etc. We are Democrats, can you say that, idiot.

Posted by PopUp | Report as abusive

Still waiting to see the list of scientific and medical research breakthroughs that have come from Baptist or evangelical colleges (current GOP academia). You conservatives got very quiet all of a sudden. Show us your stuff.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

who can tell the difference between Reprocrats and Demopublicans…?

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

Wow, look at the fury elicited by one mild blog post! Comments at the World Socialist website are not this harsh about the GOP. Analogously, the folks on Storm Front forums (though rambunctious) aren’t this venomous toward progressive Democrat types, not with such scant provocation.

The author of this post made his point quite persuasively, given these reactions. Seems cult-like, not what I’d expect from the party of FDR, a good Democrat.

Posted by EllieK | Report as abusive


Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

This article is moronic. The only reason I clicked on the link to it was because the title rather laughably insinuated that Republicans were capable of having ‘ideas’. And then to contend that it is Democrats that use simplistic and hollow messaging? Just turn to the fiction on Fox ‘News’ and you’ll find hours of evidence of the contrary; namely, pompous, make-up caked faces, teased quaffs, spewing thoughtless, baseless and too often nonfactual words, phrases and arguments, such as ‘Death Panels’, to instill fear and hatred into viewers, confuse and confound them into believing falsities. All for morally bankrupt causes. The only person guilty of simplistic messaging here is Koffler, who can’t be all the bright if he doesn’t see the obvious hypocrisy in his rantings. Then again, this type of conservative hypocrisy and simplistic messaging is so often deliberate. I suspect it is here too.

Posted by Agence21 | Report as abusive

Boy I have to say that Reuters has reached a new low with some of the opinion pieces as of late.
This article is seems like it was written by a high schooler.No deep thinking here only reaction.
What really is the point of this piece, poorly written, weak facts and many important issues over simplified and dismissed in a few sentences?
I won’t even engage any of the worthless points trying to be made.

Shame on Reuters for this

Posted by MtLuke54 | Report as abusive

Oh the irony of a Republican accusing Democrats of instigating a ‘language’ war to obfuscate issues or stances on issues…

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

Climate Change Deniers?
Wrong, it should be science deniers

Posted by ttrimis | Report as abusive

Far better a language war than a real war. We have come a long way. But it does not matter, the GOP is dying anyway. New voters now sign on 2:1 Democrat over republican (Pew research data)…. and all the old republicans are dying off. Among new voters, republicans have seen their market share decline 60% since Reagan’s time.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive