Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In which we revisit the high ground of language

Here at p3 we spent a lot of the aughts in sheer bug-ass awe of the imagination and brio with which the Bush administration and its courtiers would simply rename things that were a political liability for them, giving them a new name that usually (and of necessity) denoted the exact opposite of what they were doing. The most notorious of these courtiers was of course Frank Luntz, the René Emile Belloq of political rhetoric, who made his bones with the crude "I'm-rubber-you're-glue" tactics of Newt Gingrich's GOPAC product "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" in the early 1990s. A decade later he was on top of his brazen, focus group-driven game. Remember "Private accounts?" Or "Healthy Forests Initiative" or the "Clear Skies Act"?

Although many believe that this is probably Luntz's masterwork. Dig it:
In a January 9, 2007, interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Luntz redefined the term "Orwellian" in a positive sense, saying that if one reads Orwell's Essay On Language (presumably referring to Politics and the English Language), "To be 'Orwellian' is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is, to talk about what triggers something happening… and to do so without any pejorative whatsoever.
Still, Frank can't live forever. (Dick Cheney might, although that will require constant infusion of the blood of small middle-eastern children and the occasional publicly-funded heart transplant. But Luntz probably won't.) So as a public service we're going to take a look around from time to time, seeing who might be out there in the wings ready to author the next edition of this catalogue of swindles and perversions.

Perhaps it's this fellow, whom Wonkette helpfully identifies as "sentient yeast infection Billy Johnson of NRA News:"
In a June 30 video published on the NRA's "commentators" webpage -- a project that is part of the NRA's efforts to attract a younger and more diverse audience -- NRA News commentator Billy Johnson claimed that media coverage of the killing spree only told "half the story," adding, "Yes, the Santa Barbara murderer had a gun, and yes he killed three people with that gun. But he also killed three people with a knife and injured several others with his car." (Johnson never mentioned those who were wounded by gunfire but survived.)

Undermining their own point, the NRA originally released the video with the title "Santa Barbara Shooting" (as captured by Media Matters below), but has since changed the title to "Santa Barbara Stabber": [...]

Johnson complained that because of headlines that refer to Rodger "as a gunman or a shooter, guns become permanently linked with his crime, while cars and knives get a free pass."

He posited that Rodger is labeled as "the gunman" or "the shooter" and not "the stabber" or "the driver" because "perhaps it would be harder to sell newspapers with those headlines, or perhaps it would be harder to sell gun control policy with those headlines."
(The two-minute video, for those who want to study his form a little more closely, is here.)

One sympathizes. The continued presence of gunmen does make it more difficult to defend a regime in which even the least effort to control access to guns in America is met with fanatical opposition Рmuch as the presence of Anopheles mosquitos might make it more difficult to defend the existence of malaria. Perhaps we should rename the latter "Jos̩ Grecos de Muertos."

But let's put aside the logical or ethical merits of the case (something Luntz did decades ago) and focus on the more important question: Does this guy have what it takes to be the next Luntz? To be Tommy Gunn, if you will, to Luntz's Rocky Balboa?

Perhaps, but not yet. On the up side, compared to Luntz, Johnson's whole look is better suited to the Millennials demo that conservatives desperately need going forward – young, fit, fashionably attired, and he obviously has his own hair. Plus, he's got a great gig at NRA, where there's an inexhaustible demand for his talents and where he can hone his skills. But like playing for a small-market team, it makes it hard to demonstrate his talents to a wider audience. Mr. Johnson, get out there and attach your name to more hot-button topics, not just guns: Health care. Immigration. Foreign policy. Vaccines and autism. Bookmark Memeorandum. That's how you get to the big show.

And, frankly, you're going to have to be a little less whiny. Go back to that bit of the Luntz interview on "Fresh Air," above: There's no defensiveness, no sense of being treated unfairly, in Luntz's tone – he takes no offense at Gross's "Orwell" question; indeed, he is pleased to have an opportunity to witness for his up-is-down philosophy and the positivity and clarity it's brought to his world.

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