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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).
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