Liberals are winning the language war

By Keith Koffler
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


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

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