Devious diction on Capitol Hill

By By Jessie Fawson

By Jessie Fawson

Conservative, liberal, family, immigrant, Republican, Democrat.

These six words conjure an image in your mind when you read them. If you’re a conservative, the word conservative to you is looked at favorably; but if you’re a liberal, then the opposite is true. Look at the word “family”-my counterpart has suggested that Republicans are redefining this word, but to a Republican, the word always meant a specific thing. They don’t believe they are redefining it, just pointing out its original definition, and so the differences between perspectives becomes clear.

The meaning of these words has less to do with their actual definition and more to do with your perspective. It’s the difference between the connotation and the denotation; the problem with these words is that there is no single way to look at them.

Both parties have exploited certain words. Why, you may ask? Because certain words energize people. When a Democrat says, “You are such a conservative,” to another Democrat, he or she doesn’t mean it benevolently. It is meant to mean: “You are a stick in the mud, a hater of progression and part of the problem, not the solution. What is wrong with you?” Likewise, when a Republican uses the word “liberal,” he or she means a longhaired hippy with no idea about reality. Both parties namecall to achieve various ends.

But the problem isn’t the parties. It’s us. We believe in stereotypes-that’s why politicians are able to exploit our perspectives on certain words. We believe that if you’re a conservative you must be certain things, and if you’re a liberal, you must be the opposite. We dehumanize the words, giving them a label instead of a face. Take these two examples from Jay Leno:

“Democratic leader Tom Daschle has been whining all over TV, saying that Rush Limbaugh and other talk show hosts have been inciting violence against Democrats, which is illegal, you know-attacking an endangered species.”

“The No. 2 republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, underwent heart surgery last week. He’s doing fine. Nothing was actually wrong with his heart-it’s just that whenever a Republican is elected to a leadership position, they have to have their heart bypassed.”

Those two examples show the stereotypes we associate with words. Are all Democrats whiners? Maybe, but probably not. Do all Republicans lack a heart? Maybe, but probably not. As I recall, when Clinton was in office, the Republicans whined; and when the Democrats were in charge, they were teased about being unrealistic. Both parties will take shots at the other if they think it will help them. I’m sorry, but Congress should never be our guide on ethics or morality.

It doesn’t begin with the major parties; it begins with the individual-you. Don’t forget that conservatives and liberals are people-real, regular people-and so are Democrats and Republicans. Stop grouping people together and see the individuals. We need to start using language responsibly to create more civility and less hostility.