Glossary: an anatomy of key memes, euphemisms, sneers, and innuendoes in the Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories, Feb 8-14, 2014.

artiste in search of his muse: (aka, “the butterfly guy”) Krauthammerspeak for anyone with a new health care policy who thus can finally give up a hated job and pursue other paths. Overnight, having an ACA health insurance policy became, in GOP talk, a scarlet badge of shame, a ripoff of America. People with health insurance are suddenly a new generation of Obamacare “poverty pimps”.

assault: (see also “runaway,” below): any Democratic policy initiative, as in “Bill Blassio’s assault on so-called ‘progressive’ unions”.

the dignity of work: Ryanspeak for relegating people to non-living-wage jobs with no benefits, day care, consistent hours or workplace safety enforcement. The hope for a decent human life, in other words, gets turned into what is sneeringly referred to as an “entitlement” (now transmuted from what is due someone based on their human dignity to a “handout” to “the takers”).

dynamism: can only be nurtured by free markets, deregulation, lower taxes, the end of environmental protection laws, etc.

industrial-age unions: the new epithet/slur for unions, akin to “trial lawyers”.

the new opportunity society: a nation of Obamacare-enabled freeloaders (aka, “parasites”).

“Progressivism”:  the emerging rhetorical strategy seems to be to always cloak this word in fright quotes as shorthand for saying that old-fashioned Progressives are really regressive, and are launching all the “wars” (see below) on progress.

runaway: any Dem policy initiative, such as “runaway regulatory reform”. Anything the GOP can’t stop.

teachers’ unions: now directly being blamed for poverty and inequality because of their “war” (see below) on charter schools and education reform.

war on….: a war on jobs, a war on small business, a war on the health care system, a war on America’s international influence and prestige, a war on economic recovery, a war on energy independence, a war on the Constitution, a war on educational reform, and a war on minorities. The mother of all wars is The War on Truth.

Glossary: an anatomy of key memes, phrases and obsessions in the Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories, Nov. 1-3, 2013

the American people: In the rhetoric of Ted Cruz’s Manichean morality play, always under threat by any Democratic policy or initiative. Rhetorically, they serve as his ethical lodestar and source of fathomless pathos. The ACA is portrayed as an especially dire existential threat to them. Note: Democrats–or even Republicans opposed to any Cruz policy or vote–are excluded from this group.

arbritrary standards: the provisions of any Democratic policy the GOP rejects. (aka, “diktat”). In the case of the ACA, this becomes a blanket indictment of coverage for maternity care, preventive medicine, family planning, substance abuse, mammograms, etc. Other  “arbitrary” standards would include annual or lifetime reimbursement caps, rate equity for women,  and exclusions for preexisting conditions. The rhetorical irony here is that, strictly speaking all “standards” are “arbitrary”, as opposed, I suppose, to inherent, absolute, or natural. Values, morals, and ethics are all ultimately “arbitrary,” but that doesn’t make them any less defensible or legitimate. The GOP uses “arbitrary” as a pejorative term, while their policies are, on the other hand, “common sense” “model reforms” or “realistic”.

death spiral: what the ACA is purportedly headed into–all imaginary, premature, and unmitigated wishful GOP thinking.

overpriced: all aspects of the ACA, due to its “arbitrary standards”. Never mind that comparing it to the lesser coverage of current policies is comparing apples and oranges, the rhetorical purpose of this descriptor is to undercut all ACA provisions by invidious comparisons.

paternalistic: any imposition of “arbitrary standards” by the “nanny state” or the “urban, genteel elitists”. When Republicans ban abortion, they of course are being “paternalistic,” but “pro-life”. AKA, “liberal paternalism”.

Progressivism: a political, social and economic movement in the united states that lasted from the tun of the 20th Century until the Autumn of 2013, with the coming of Obamacare. progressives were especially known for their “hatred” of free markets, property, and private enterprise.

public outrage: when the GOP astroturfs a citizens’ uprising, it’s called Jacksonian democracy; when the Democrats talk about concepts such as “corporate welfare” or “the 1%,” it’s called divisive class warfare and phony or misplaced anger fomented by “special interests”. AKA, “witch hunt,” “cramdown,” “intimidation” or “inquisition”.

scheme: any Democratic bill or policy–ACA proponents pushing this “scheme” are now seen as liars, grifters, or con artists.

showered: how campaign contributions are bestowed on Democrats.

stacking: what Democrats do when they nominate anyone for an executive or judicial branch appointment.

statists: those who believe government has a role in public policy.

Freedom From or Freedom To?: Politiscripting Obama’s Second Term

President Obama used his second inaugural address to establish some throughlines for his entire second term. The emerging keywords/contrasts in the speech were

journey/fixed set of rights



collective action/individual freedom

reasoned debate/name-calling

As James Fallows argues on The Atlantic website:

The rhetorical and argumentative purpose of the speech as a whole was to connect what Obama considers the right next steps for America — doing more things “together,” making sure that everyone has an equal chance, tying each generation’s interests to its predecessors’ and its successors’ — with the precepts and ideals of the founders, rather than having them be seen as excesses of the modern welfare state.

As in the one-sentence summary at the start of the speech, Obama wants to claim not just Lincoln but also Jefferson, Madison, Adams, George Washington, and the rest as guiding spirits for his kind of progressivism. In this passage he works toward that end by numbering among “our forebears” — those honored ancestors who fought to perfect our concepts of liberty and of union — the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martin Luther King and other veterans of Selma including still-living Rep. John Lewis, and the protestors 44 years ago at the Stonewall.

Right on cue (and speaking of “name-calling”), the Republican commentariat has likewise wasted no time laying out their own rhetorical maps. Snides and sneers prevail, calling Obama a “dogged collectivist” (Jennifer Rubin); an elitist who wants us all to bow to his “superior moral purposes” (the Wall Street Journal editorial page); “alienating”, “sour”, “paranoid”, “self-pitying” and “strange”  (Peggy Noonan);  “untrustworthy” (Ramesh Ponnuru); and, of course, a pusher of “big government” (Fred Barnes).  These commentators take strongest exceptions to Obama’s “progressive myth” (aka, “the journey”), which runs counter to their bedrock belief that “the primary task of government is the protection of a fixed set of rights from ever-changing threats” (Ponnuru),  They seem to be in great fear of what Gerald Seib calls Obama’s “pent-up agenda,” his “misplaced” emphasis to “roll over his foes”, or, as Erick Erickson puts it, Obama’s inclination to make people “the subjects of government, not citizens in charge of it”. They see Obama as one super-demonic “threat”.

At the heart of the fray is Obama’s contention in his speech that “individual freedom requires collective action”. This runs entirely counter to, say, the Journal’s claim of Obama’s vision of an “activist, expansive government”, with “activism” being at least as much of a pejorative as “community organizer” was in Obama’s first campaign. Denying collectivism and almost any moral dimension to government, the Republican right offers nothing new, but only their unwavering counter-agenda:

Probably more than any other party in the world, the Republicans have in recent decades stood unflinchingly for the cause of liberty abroad, and, at home, with a bit more uncertainty, for limited, constitutional government and for the principle that government exists to serve free men and free markets, not the reverse. (William Kristol)

Government vs. markets is one succinct distillation of the principles underlying the endless and debilitating gridlock and rancor to come. They essentialize government as something alien and other, as a hydra-headed entity that has a mysterious life of its own. They do not see it as shared sacrifice and purpose, as an expression of collective will. Obama’s head may explode as he tries to figure out how the vision of a collective city on a hill, whose whole exceeds the sum of its parts, has been reduced to markets, being left alone, and thinly-veiled Social Darwinism; how the “freedom to” create something new in the world has degenerated into “freedom from” any binding and ennobling social obligation.

Republicans have a thousand ways to describe encroachments on their freedom, but seem to have run out of words to describe what they want to do with that freedom. They are “absolute” in their irrational hatred of government. They are not willing, to use Obama’s own words, “take the risks that make this country great”. They reject his paradoxical, “united we stand” dictum that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action”.