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A New York Times editorial derides a recent effort by a conservative political action committee to label political opponents with slanderous epithets. According to the editorial, GOPAC, the GOP Political Action Committee chaired by Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA), has issued a glossary mailed to Republican state legislative candidates urging them to use the following words to characterize their Democratic opponents: “sick,” “traitors,” “bizarre,” “self-serving,” “shallow,” “corrupt,” “pathetic,” and “shame.” GOPAC later “regretted” including the word “traitors” in that list of characterizations, the editorial reports, but has continued to back the use of the other epithets. The glossary is part of a pamphlet entitled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” and features a letter from Gingrich advising the candidates to step up the personal invective against their opponents because, he writes, vilification works. The Times writes: “Mr. Gingrich’s injunction represents the worst of American political discourse, which reached a low during the dispiriting presidential campaign of 1988 (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Then, more than ever before, negative argument displaced reasoned discussion about how a nation might best be governed. The sound bite reigned. Attack commercials flourished. The signs this year aren’t any better. Evidence that negative campaigning can come back to sink the sender has had little impact. The races for governor in California and Texas have already seen the same slash and burn. No doubt the proceedings will grow more rabid still as November nears. Negative discourse serves democracy poorly. The temptation to avoid serious debate is already great. It increases as the stakes soar and slander becomes a rewarding, easy option. The issues of the day go untended. The whole affair takes on the character of the gladiator’s art. The GOPAC glossary may herald a descent into even lower levels of discourse. It comes blessed by a politician of some influence—the Republican whip in the House—and it is intended for candidates on the state level, many of them presumably running for the first time. Even though Mr. Gingrich himself may not have seen the list before it was mailed, this is a disturbing document. The nakedness of the GOPAC offering also makes it useful. There must be limits to the negative politics that voters will bear; the bald appeal to invective will certainly probe those limits. For now, it should be said that some adjectives in the glossary aptly describe the glossary itself: shallow, sensationalist, and, yes, shame(ful).” (New York Times 9/20/1990; Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002; Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002) Later in the year, the pamphlet will win the Doublespeak Award from the National Conference of Teachers of English. (Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002) Gingrich and GOPAC will expand upon the original pamphlet in 1995, after Gingrich becomes speaker of the House (see 1995).
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) expands on his 1990 pamphlet advising Republican candidates for office to characterize their opponents as “sick” “traitors” (see September 20, 1990). His political action committee, GOPAC, in a package given to freshmen House and Senate Republicans, includes a video, “We Are a Majority,” and an accompanying memo written by Gingrich that avows the committee is working to fulfill the requests of candidates across the country, who, according to the memo, have flooded its offices with “plaintive plea[s]” of “I wish I could speak like Newt.” The memo responds: “That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.” The memo advises candidates to “[r]ead them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.” The list is divided into two parts: “Optimistic positive governing words and phrases to help describe your vision for the future of your community” and “Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic Party.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 2/1995; Information Clearinghouse 1996) Communications professor Margaret Zulick will later call the package “a rudimentary rhetorical handbook, providing inexperienced political speakers with a lexicon of terms that drive a wedge of distinctions between themselves and members of the opposing party. At the same time it educates them in a common language that will give evidence of their solidarity with the speaker of the House and his goals for the Republican majority.” (Zulick 2010)
"Optimistic Positive Governing Words - The memo states: “Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!” The words include: activist; building; candid(ly); care(ing); challenge; change; children; choice/choose; citizen; commitment; common sense; compete; confident; conflict; control; courage; crusade; debate; dream; duty; eliminate good time in prison; empower(ment); fair; family; freedom; hard work; help; humane; incentive; initiative; lead; learn; legacy; liberty; light; listen; mobilize; moral; movement; opportunity; passionate; peace; pioneer; precious; premise; preserve; principle(d); pristine; pro- (issue): flag, children, environment, reform; prosperity; protect; proud/pride; provide; reform; rights; share; strength; success; tough; truth; unique; vision; and we/us/our.
Contrasting Words - The memo states: “Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals, and their party.” The words include: abuse of power; anti- (issue); flag, family, child, jobs; betray; bizarre; bosses; bureaucracy; cheat; coercion; “compassion” is not enough; collapse(ing); consequences; corrupt; corruption; criminal rights; crisis; cynicism; decay; deeper; destroy; destructive; devour; disgrace; endanger; excuses; failure (fail); greed; hypocrisy; ideological; impose; incompetent; insecure; insensitive; intolerant; liberal; lie; limit(s); machine; mandate(s); obsolete; pathetic; patronage; permissive; attitude; pessimistic; punish; (poor…); radical; red tape; self-serving; selfish; sensationalists; shallow; shame; sick; spend(ing); stagnation; status quo; steal; taxes; they/them; threaten; traitors; unionized; urgent(cy); waste; welfare. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 2/1995; Information Clearinghouse 1996)
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