The Genius of Newt Gingrich II
Bill Long 10/19/06
Whenever I ask people about their memories of Newt Gingrich, they will without fail mention the "Contract with America." This 10-point plan was developed in the Summer of 1994 and became the agenda for the US House in the first 100 days of 1995. The items in this "Contract" have long been forgotten, and many of the items in the "Contract" were derailed in the Senate, such as the balanced budget amendment, but that is how Newt is generally remembered. However, the purpose of this and the previous essay is to argue for the supreme importance of his (or GOPAC's) memo entitled: "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control." Once you have learned to control the language of political debate, you win elections. In my judgment the Democrats are still trying to dig themselves out of the linguistic Slough of Despond in which the Republicans placed them in 1994.
Negative Words for Democrats
The memo has 64 negative terms to describe Democrats. Let me list them, and then you will see how easy it is to compose sentences which denigrate your opponent. I think the cumulative weight of these terms is stronger than my making up sentences to include several of them. So, here goes: "abuse of power"; "anti-flag," "anti-family," "anti-child," "anti-jobs;" "betray"; "bizarre;" "bosses"; "bureaucracy"; "cheat"; "coercion"; "compassion is not enough"; "collapse"; "consequences"; "corrupt"; "corruption"; "criminal rights"; "crisis"; "cynicism"; "decay"; "deeper"; "destroy"; "destructive"; "devour"; "disgrace"; "endanger"; "excuses"; "failure"; "greed"; "hypocrisy"; "ideological"; "impose"; "incompetent"; "insecure"; "insensitive"; "intolerant"; "liberal"; "lie"; "limits"; "machine"; "mandates"; "obsolete"; "pathetic"; "patronage"; "permissive attitude"; "pessimistic"; "punish"; "radical"; "red tape"; "self-serving"; "selfish"; "sensationalists"; "shallow"; "shame"; "sick"; "spending"; "status quo"; "steal"; "taxes"; "they/them"; "threaten"; "traitor"; "unionized"; "urgency"; "waste"; "welfare."
Well, as the Scriptures say, "What are we to say to this?" Maybe we can start with those words which denigrate the historic connections of the Democrats with unions. Ever since Ronald Reagan successfully fired 10,000 air traffic controllers early in his Presidency, the union movement had been on the run in America. Gingrich would further try to inter it through association of its negative features with Democrats. The unions were run by people who commanded a "machine." "They" rewarded "patronage" rather than "hard work" (a positive Repubican term). They were involved in "corruption" because of the proliferation of "bosses."
Since the Democrats had been in power in the House and Senate for a long time, they were nice, big targets for the Republicans. They had perfected a government of "waste," one characterized by "taxes" and "spending," one in which "welfare" was king and which was full of "abuses of power." Democrats were "selfish"; they were committed to "bureaucracy" and loads of "red tape." In fact, they would "steal" the resources of the American people. What kind of people would do this? Well, in fact, the Democrats were "sick" people. They were "traitors" to America. They knew no "shame"; they were full of "cynicism." In fact they were nothing other than a "disgrace" to all of us. I love the word "pathetic" that is on Gingrich's list because I remember him saying the word so many times. "This" or "that" was "pathetic." Liberals are just the ones who tell the big "lie;" they don't care for people in fact, but just want to give "excuses" as they "destroy" what is best in America. They do more to support "prisoner rights" than they do the average people of America. As a result, Democrats can be said to have run the country in nothing less than a "bizarre" fashion. America is on the verge of "decay," and unless the people of America take back their country from these "greedy" and "hypocritical" people (good thing he doesn't have the word "rapacious" in the list!), America would certainly go down the tubes.
One might attribute some of the midterm (1994) Democrat losses to a President who had not yet learned the way to control the agenda of the country or to influence the media to report his stories. Indeed, Clinton had some visible and costly missteps in 1993-94 (failed effort to bring health care reform; the foolish and deadly assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX; the inept way that he handled the gays in the military issue; the way Clinton attacked the drug companies just at the time he would need their help in the health care reform debate), but the huge losses faced by his party in November 1994 could not simply be attributed to this. I am convinced it was the antics of Gingrich in making central the "Contract with America" (Al Gore weakly tried to undermine this effort by calling it the "Contract on America) in American consciousness and his effort in managing the Republican language in 1994 handed them the victory. And, this language proved so helpful that it is still used ("tax and spend Democrat") in the 21st century. The "soft on crime" or the "coddling criminals" language of Gingrich has been replaced by "soft on terrorism" of today, but the message is the same.
How can the Democrats overcome this linguistic deficit that is theirs? I really don't think the Democratic party has the kind of self-discipline that would enable them to have a "common message." Their values of respect for difference of opinion are admirable, but they will never sound the drum at the same time. I think it is only when a very capable Democrat (like Bill Clinton) comes along, or the Republicans are in the midst of scandals or gross incompetence (as is the case in 2006) that Democrats may be able to win. But if they would only learn the lessons of language, things might be quite different.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long