Glossary: an anatomy of key memes, phrases, canards, shibboleths and obsessions in the Wall Street Journal and other GOTP language factories, Dec. 15-24, 2014

note: GOTP stands for Grand Old Tea Party

America hater: Obama, who loves the Cubans, Russians, Iranians, and illegal immigrants too much.

America’s moral standing: something Obama always talks about, but the GOTP actually does something about. This is the gold standard for GOTP criticism of Obama foreign policy because anything short of aggressive, unilateral action “tears down America” and “gives comfort to the bad guys”. Like the gold standard, only the GOTP seems to have the golden tablets on which are inscribed ways to gauge “America’s moral standing”.

anti-fossil fuel masochism: any opposition to fracking, coal production, or the use and consumption  of fossil fuels. Thus being “green” is not only to destroy the economy  but also to destroy oneself. Greenies are pathologically self-loathing.

comrades, cronies and pals: Obama supporters, especially any person or business getting a tax break or benefiting from a change in regulatory policy. The Grand Old Tea Party, of course, has “allies” and “supporters” rather than  comrades, cronies and pals.

demonizing the police: a prophylactic term intended to render the police immune from criticism. In this meme, freedom, as represented by the police, is equated with obeying authority, and order is privileged over justice. This all-purposecharge exemspts police from the social contract and the law.

hyena pack: journalists, progressive activist and trial lawyers (especially those pursuing class-action suits against corporations.

inappropriate: in the Peggy Noonan, moral scold, family of rhetorical sneers. An “adult” word, like “honor”, “dignity,” “duty,” etc. Somehow, Dems are always, like children, a little “inappropriate” and untempered in their public utterances. Any direct challenge to received GOTP pieties or shibboleths is automatically “inappropriate”. The idea of what is actually “appropriate” is lodged in the “moral bedrock” (see below) that only the GOTP seems to be born with.

to increase choice and competition:  Hold onto your wallet whenever you hear this ominous incantation. It’s axiomatic that decreased regulation and scrutiny invariably, over time, tend to lead to less choice and competition, but these two words are classic cases of what John Lanchester calls “reversification” of terms–when words become their opposites.

it’s only with hindsight: this is a deflective, prophylactic term, used to shield GOTP from especially effective challenges or criticism: e.g., it’s only “after the fact” or “with hindsight” that waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation policies” might be seen as amounting to torture. Invidious moral distinctions that run counter to GOTP dogma are thus portrayed as impossible to imagine in real time. (see also, “reasonable people can disagree,” below).

let the courts figure it out: another immunizing meme, intended to stifle public debate and free speech. Don’t criticize the legality of police actions because you aren’t “qualified” to speak out on subjects of justice, social equity, and morals or ethics.

moral bedrock: any GOTP ideology. Dem morality rests on the shifting sands of “moral relativism” and permissiveness. Playing this rhetorical card goes toward establishing one’s ethos. It is on this very bedrock that civilization itself rests.

norms of public speech: what deBlasio and Obama violate whenever they speak about race relations in America. This is a rhetorical term of scolding, based on high moral dudgeon that such “bleeding heart” Dems are irresponsible and “inappropriate”. (See above). This charge is typically couched in rhetoric around the notion of “truth,” which itself becomes relative when weighed against “appropriateness”.

political operatives, cowards, and apologists: anyone still supporting Obama. (see also, “comrades, cronies and pals,” above)

the political unrest of the 60s:  pejorative description of The Civil Rights Movement

pro-growth policies: like progress, “growth” is said to only be possible in an environment of such “free market” policies as right-to-work legislation, private school vouchers, and pension and tort reform. In other words, the only way to promote growth is to cripple unions, reduce retirement benefits and make corporations basically immune from litigation, especially class action suits.

reasonable people can disagree; you can disagree with those rules or facts: another prophylactic term, and a false claim to rationality, and a misleading, startegically concessionary term. When the GOTP prefaces their rhetorical attacks on Dems with this phrase, they are really saying that even if the facts work against them, they are morally in the right.

stifling: what government inevitably does to innovation and competition. the “animal spirits” of business yearn to live free and unfettered.








Glossary: an anatomy of key memes, euphemisms, sneers, innuendos, and metanarratives in the Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories, July 7-July 13, 2014.]

actual: the Reality Principle, represented by GOP positions. For example, there is said to be no proof of man’s “actual” contribution to climate change.

barnacled leviathan state: government as Moby-Dick.

the benefits of market cycles: never measured relative to the costs or imbalances.

complexities and ambiguities: invoked only to undercut a Dem policy provision, this classic tactical rhetorical turn justifies a haze of statistics, half-truths, and faculty causal links and associations. The end effect of this technique is to show that a liberal policy or position is either groundless (e.g., there is no global warming caused by human behavior), or dangerous because it it only makes things worse ( e.g., redistributionist social policy increases poverty and dependency, higher taxes increase deficits, or regulation of the market only makes the market more inefficient).

disparaging of the successful: the war on the rich, based on the envy of the takers at the success of the makers.

doom-mongering: what Dems resort to when defining social issues; basically, any assessment of any but the rosiest future for an unfettered America. Not a problem when the GOP starts talking about the sense of “besiegment and foreboding” the Obama administration has caused in “normal” people.

dynamism of American enterprise: only unleashed by the removal of government regulation. Government here is by definition the opposite of dynamic.

fear and peril: what “normal” Americans are feeling as the cumulative impact of the Obama administration; a sense of “besiegement and foreboding”.

foisted: how Dem legislation is imposed on the American people.

the fumes of greatness: what we’re said to be huffing in this era of American decline under Obama. Afaded glory, a nostalgia for a lost utopia that never was.

green handouts: (cronyism): any government subsidy of alternative energy companies or technologies.

liturgy: standard Dem screeds. Actually, any Dem policy position, here characterized as a rote, ritualistic form of supplication.

normal people:everyone who doesn’t support Obama. Part of the long-standing attempt to villify the Dems as “other”: weird, elitist, and self-serving.

preach: what Dems use their “liturgy” in support of. All Dem positions are thus a moralistic defense of  rigid ideology or faith.

predictable: the inevitable failure of Dem policies. For example, it is predictable that any market regulation will strangle the market, that anti-poverty programs increase poverty, and that government spending starves the economy.

“the rich”:a mythical entity conjured up the the Left to fire up “normal” people into class warfare.Best used in fright quotes.

self-correcting and self-immunizing: the free market, here characterized as a kind of perpetual motion machine.

unserious: the feckless, golf-crazy Obama, when he isn’t plotting a socialist takeover of the entire US economy.

subsidy and mandate: the only way progressive social policy can operate, thus guaranteeing it’s “predictable” demise.



Glossary: an anatomy of key memes, phrases and obsessions in Wall Street Journal editorials and other precincts of the GOP blogosphere, Oct 25-29, 2013

horror stories: any accounts of what is purportedly happening to people opposed to the ACA; almost always based on partial information, distortions of facts, lack of context, or outright lies.

mugging: what the government is doing to J.P. Morgan and the Bank of America, even though both banks continue to cover up bad subprime loans (or not carry them on their books), stonewall home owners wanting to re-finance, and claim that there was no systematic investment fraud during the financial/housing meltdown. Mugging is actually what any government regulation does to the “true market”. Also variously called a “shakedown”, “confiscation” or “ex post facto punishment”. Part of ther mythologizing cover story that “bad government policy: and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial meltdown.

political masters:  the puppeteers behind the vast Democratic redistributionist conspiracy. Obamacare is only the latest redistributionist scheme to expand government until it rules every aspect of Americans’ lives.

skyrocketing: as ubiquitious as “train wreck,”; use to describe ANY ACA premiums.

socializing: a near-cousin of “mugging”: what the government did when it bailed out the major banks at the height of the financial meltdown. In both instances, government action gets in the way of an unfettered “true market”.

sticker shock: whatever the premiums cost under the ACA–always more than people paid before, even for inferior coverage, “previous conditions” weeding out, lifetime caps, etc. Always comparing apples and oranges.

true market: an Eden-that-never-was, that Republicans continually nonetheless harken a return to. You know, the place where there is a price that satisfies everyone, where the market always clears in rational ways, where information is perfect and complete, and where there is no lobbying, price-rigging, weeding out expensive customers, monopolies,  or unnecessary procedures. In other words, in the current context of health care coverage in the US, pretty much the opposite of the status quo. Aka, “market forces”. The famous “invisible hand,” which is actually amazingly visible in terms of lobbying, political advertising, spin doctoring, and political advocacy.

Let the Chess Game Begin: Rope-A-Dope

If rhetoric is akin to a chess game, with strategies, maneuvers, feints and sudden attacks (sort of like boxing), then Wednesday’s first debate was just the opening gambit. Neither candidate performed his expected role: Romney became a born-again moderate redistributionist, while Obama retreated to the chilly Olympian heights of the Presidency, giving all the correct answers but conveying none of the necessary emotions. So everyone says Obama lost the rhetorical battle (which is always to persuade your audience by connecting to them both emotionally and substantively), though if you read the transcript he pretty much countered everything Romney claims. It just didn’t feel that way.

In Aristotelian terms (Rhetoric, 1356 A), oratorical persuasion relies on three elements: ethos (establishing an image or identity), logos (the appeal to reason through argumentation), and pathos (arousing the audience’s passion).  All three have to work in tandem. On Wednesday, Obama failed at pathos, but Romney is now even more vulnerable on ethos and logos because his identity is ever-shifting and his arguments don’t add up.

Romney’s is now totally exposed as Etch-A-Sketch Man, Hollow Man. The rhetorical key is that Obama did not surrender his authenticity or authority, and did not shape-shift. His identity, gravitas, and dignity remained firmly intact. He banked his fires and  stayed within himself because he’s the one with a core and a consistency. He still has authority because he is the author of himself. He just needs sharper focus and cogency, as Jonathan Alter put it to Rachel Maddow.

He needs presence, not just reporting as present.

The Town Hall format of the next encounter should prove more conducive to openly challenging Romney face to face. Obama can try a little more of that scoffing, mocking tone he clearly excels at when he allows himself off the leash. (He did it a bit on Wednesday, like when he said that Romney’s new campaign slogan should be “never mind.”)

And let’s also hope for the return of Wednesday’s no-show memes that play so well for Obama–practically every women’s issue, “the 47%”, immigration, labor rights, Republican obstructionism, Bain, Romney’s offshore tax shelters, etc. Obama is playing the long game and betting that Romney will not wear well over the next few weeks as his evasions, hypocrisies and contradictions become transparent. Like Warren Buffet says, you don’t know who’s not wearing trunks until the tide goes out.

Apples, Oranges and Mush: Romney’s Sleight-of-Hand

One of the reasons the commentariat is so befuddled about Romney’s first debate performance is that everyone (especially Mitt) conflates entirely different things: tax cuts (aka, revenue reduction), tax deductions (aka, tax hikes for the punters who can longer write off their mortgage interest), spending cuts, and revenue increases from accelerating economic growth (aka, “trickle down”.)

Here’s the Mittmaster’s hocus-pocus at work at a key moment early in the debate:


The second area, taxation, we agree, we ought to bring the tax rates down. And I do, both for corporations and for individuals. But in order for us not to lose revenue, have the government run out of money, I also lower deductions and credits and exemptions, so that we keep taking in the same money when you also account for growth. (emphasis added)


So this is how he can say that his $5 trillion tax cut is not a tax cut at all because it is “revenue neutral.”  In Mittworld, things both are and are not.

And where does the offsetting revenue come from? Two places: one unspecified  (which “deductions, credits and exemptions”  beyond PBS?) and thus impossible to ever reach, and the other (from “growth”)  purely fantastical. Like Wimpy in Popeye, Mitt wants to pay us on Tuesday for a hamburger he wants to feed the super-rich today. Pay it forward, Mittman!

To disentangle this rat’s nest, I’d suggest that next time Professor Obama practice the Socratic Method:

Obama: Do you not agree, Governor, that when speaking of more than thing, that it is prudent to understand each thing fully in its own turn before going on to another?

Romney: Yes, that seems prudent.

Obama: And would you not further agree that you cannot deny the existence of one thing simply by projecting the existence of an entirely different thing?

Romney: That is self-evident.

Obama: Then, sir, let us first speak solely of tax cuts, irrespective of offsets. Is it not true that tax cuts–considered wholly on their immediate and primary effect– only increase the deficit?

Romney: Yes, I suppose that’s true, strictly speaking, in a reductionist way of looking at things.

Obama: And would you not further agree then that your proposed 20% across-the-board tax cuts would deprive the government $5 trillion over ten years?

Romney: No, because, as I’ve already explained, I’m not in any way calling for a tax cut that will cost the government anywhere near $5 trillion. In fact, my tax cut will pay for itself.

Obama: But that is an impossibility because you cannot generate revenue out of a reduction of revenue, just as you cannot generate water out of a parched desert. The water has to come from some other source. And you specify two sources: “reduced deductions, credits and exemptions,” and the presumed economic growth that will trickle down from the rich, who most benefit from the tax cuts. Since both of these assumptions are not in any way properties of the tax cuts themselves, to speak of them in the same breath as the tax cuts in simply to change the subject, and sneak in a new ace when everyone is looking the other way.


Who’s Better Off? Mitt Romney, For One

Romney’s Final 2011 return:

Adjusted gross income: $13,696,961

Total federal tax paid: $1,935,708

Effective federal tax rate: 14.1 percent

Romney’s Final 2010 return:

Adjusted gross income: $21,646,507

Total tax paid: $3,009,766

Effective rate: 13.9 percent

So Romney has made $34 million in just two years of the so-called “first socialist” (or redistributionist) President. While he won’t reveal any other taxes from previous years, let’s conservatively assume that he’s made at least a cool $60 million under Obama. So why does he want to change anything? Could he really be that avaricious?

Greed indeed seems to be the animating emotion of the Romney-Ryan-Rand ticket. Don’t forget that virtually all of Mitt’s income is from capital gains, interest and dividends. Is it any accident that the Ryan Plan would more or less eliminate these income streams from federal tax? Won’t Mitt become one of the 47% if Ryan has his way with the tax code? A recent Atlantic Magazine article estimates Romney’s post Romney-Ryan tax rate at .82 percent Let the Plutocrats’ Ball begin!