The Words We Use
This is the first of several columns, to be written from time to time, on the topic of words. Language both reflects a people's way of thinking, and exerts a powerful effect on it. Whereas for centuries our language transmitted the kind of thinking that represented America's Founders, the past three decades have seen changes invariably dictated by an agenda that seeks to transform the ways of this country from top to bottom.
The impetus for this article comes from a lengthy report in the March 5 edition of the Washington Post, entitled "Right-Wing Violence on Rise in Eastern Germany." The impetus for the report was an attack by shaved-head thugs on the fast-food stand of a Turkish immigrant who, we are told, defended himself quite effectively with a carving knife, and currently sports three bodyguards to "stand watch at his establishment."
But the incident seems merely to provide an opportunity for the real purpose of the report, revealed in the title and most of the text. If the Washington Post intended to draw attention to a disturbing trend in another country, the title would read "Attacks on Foreigners in Eastern Germany." The title the editors came to choose has little to do with Germany and everything to do with an ongoing campaign in the United States.
The words "Right-Wing violence" are clearly aimed at the American readership, evidenced also by the extraordinary length of the "report." That length serves to hammer home time and time again the key words at the heart of the article: "right-wing" appears ten times, "violence" nine, and "extremist" eight times. The words "xenophobic" and "neo-nazi" are invariably coupled to assist skillful political operatives who, as we know only too well, make the leap from "patriotic" to "xenophobic" in one easy step.
What is being accomplished by these simple means is truly impressive. First of all, calling thugs who practice gang violence "right-wing" upgrades them to persons with a political philosophy. Next, every American who may be described as "right-wing" is subliminally, and not so subliminally, connected to thugs who practice gang violence. Finally, everyone who defends American interests, and can thus be made to appear xenophobic, is equated with "neo-nazism."
Of course, "right" and "left" have been around a long time. But, increasingly since the 1960's, "left" has been deleted from the vocabulary of those who seek to control our vocabulary. For them, there are two forms of existence: "normal" and "right-wing," witness the customary way of reporting events, or the introduction of guests on talk shows. As one example among thousands, CNN would introduce Susan Estrich as a "law professor" and, opposite her, Michael Reagan as a "right-wing talk show host."
The inference is that being "right-wing" is at best an affliction, at worst a pathology.
Who today are the people of the "right wing"? As we survey the political landscape of our country, we find the designation applied to those who believe in the rule of law, in individual rights, in the unobstructed acquisition, enjoyment, and disposition of property, and in a common American identity. In other words, "right-wingers" are those who believe in, and adhere to, the principles of the American Founding.
The fall of the Soviet Union, the commercialization of China, the growth of conservative radio programs, and all the lip service President Clinton pays to the conservative agenda, amount to an insignificant side show as long as generation after generation grows up bombarded with the insinuation that duly elected members of the Congress of the United States, and grass-roots organizations, and philanthropies that assist them, and ministers of the Church, and Americans who honor the flag may be called "extremist" at the drop of a hat, and are lumped together with thugs who live by gang violence.
How did we get here, and what do we do about it?
Contemporary usage of right and left is a product of the Communist (Bolshevik) Party of the Soviet Union-1930's vintage-branding everyone right-wing who deviated from, or disagreed with, its tenets. At that time, all Americans, except for outright communists, were declared right-wing. Since, at that same time, Nazi Germany considered Americans to be on the left, "right" and "left" are clearly devoid of intellectual integrity. Rather, they function as a tool to stifle all opposition to socialist ideology.
Consequently, those who wish to oppose the spread of socialist practices would do well to abstain from using both "right" and "left." Moreover, anyone characterized as "right-wing" has an opportunity to reject the designation on the spot, and to challenge those who employ it. The latter ought to be called upon to explain what they mean by "right-wing," then asked how they would describe themselves. While such a discussion may leave less time for the issue of the day, that is a price well-worth paying. Potential long-term benefits outweigh most any statement likely to be made on specific issues.
And what of giving up the useful political short-hand of right and left, so handy in a world of sound bites? Liberating ourselves from the increasing tyranny of a destructive vocabulary may well be our only salvation in a world where monumental decisions are made-not based on substance, but on the words we use.
"American" could be one of them; "socialist" another.