The very first thing that caught my eye as I entered the grounds of the Iowa Republican Party Presidential Straw Poll were three young children, I would guess between the ages of 4 -7, wearing day-glow orange baseball caps with “NRA” scrawled atop, and round stickers announcing “GUNS SAVE LIVES” on their small tee-shirts.
The Straw Poll was held a mere three blocks from my home in Ames, Iowa and upon the campus of Iowa State University where I teach.
I saw Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee grinning shoulder-to-shoulder for the line of press cameras.
Inside Herman Cain’s tent, the candidate led a religious-style revival meeting proclaiming “Just like we do in the Southern Baptist church, say ‘Amen!’ Everybody shout ‘Amen.’ Now again, shout ‘Amen.’ And again, shout ‘Amen.’ That’s how it’s done!”
A singer on stage in front of Ron Paul’s tent sang the Bob Dylan classic “The Times They Are A Changin’,” and literally changed the lyric to: “Come senators, congressmen, Please heed the call, Don’t stand in the doorway, Don’t block Ron Paul.”
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley took the stage in the “Soapbox” tent and talked how the Tea Party speaks for a new and exciting grassroots movement that is taking back the government for the people. So is Grassley from the grassroots too? Singers on the Tea Party stage crooned themes of small government and, in particular, issues of liberty and freedom in front of their enormous and imposing red, white, and blue sign “Guns, God, and the Constitution.”
And tables representing every imaginable conservative organization from the Heritage Foundation to the Faith and Freedom Coalition distributed information, food, soft drinks, and plenty of political memorabilia.
As I walked through the extensive crowd, this virtual sea of White faces — old, young, and in between — and as I saw the staffs of a relatively large group of presidential hopefuls lobbying my Iowa neighbors for their votes, I was conscious of a unanimity of message, a virtual lock-step thought and expression of ideas.
And I was particularly reminded of the notion of “doublespeak”: that language of deliberate distortion and contradiction in the meaning of words.
Leaders on the political and theocratic right use terms like “liberty” and “freedom” to advance their agendas, which include such tenets as shrinking the size of government and giving more control to state and local governments; ending governmental regulation of the private sector; privatization of state and federal governmental services, industries, and institutions including schools; permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal tax rates; market driven unfettered “free market” economies, which ultimately, they argue, will ensure individuals’ autonomy.
But will their agenda enhance personal and national “liberty” and “freedom,” or rather, are they engaging in mere doublespeak?
So, the NRA claims that “GUNS SAVE LIVES.” Groups claim they are “Pro Life,” well at least until birth. After that, I guess, infants and their families should be left on their own, while expecting no assistance from government. “Separation of [Religion] and State” means that the state must stay out of the affairs of religion, but religion, it sounds like, has a duty to enter into the affairs of government.
Doublespeak? Yes indeed!
And the terms “freedom” and “liberty”?
How “free” are we as individuals when the upper ten percent of our population controls approximately 80-90 percent of the accumulated wealth and 85 percent of the stocks and bonds, and the Right’s agenda will only increase this enormous imbalance?
How “free” are we as individuals when corporate executives currently pay lower tax rates than their secretaries as the Right fights to maintain these advantages for the super rich?
How “free” are we as individuals when 50 million people in our country go uninsured and their only form of health care is the hospital emergency room that the remainder of the population must pay for because our government will not provide a single-payer health care system, but instead, we all must accept the exorbitant profit-motive insurance premium rates of private health care insurers?
How “free” are we as college and university tuition increases and governmental student assistance programs dry up, pushing out deserving students from middle and working class backgrounds?
How “free” are we when governmental entitlement programs are cut, thereby eliminating the safety net support systems from our elders and other residents struggling to provide life’s basics?
How “free” are we all when the Right passes legislation restricting immigration and social and educational services to children?
How “free” are we all when the rights of women to control their bodies are under attack, and when doctors and others are intimidated, and even shot and killed at family planning clinics?
How “free” are we all when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are denied their basic human and civil rights, and when they are vilified and scapegoated?
How “free” are we as residents of a nation when affirmative action programs to improve the chances of People of Color and women are branded as nothing more than “reverse discrimination,” and steps are taken to abolish these strategies without replacing them with acceptable alternatives?
How “free” are we when the U.S. Congress threatens to privatize our national parks, and to loosen environmental and consumer protections of all kinds, and when mining, oil, and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land, and when they are granted enormous tax breaks and subsidies?
How “free” are we when residents of the U.S., who represent approximately 8 percent of the world’s population, consume 40 percent of the world’s resources, and contribute 40 percent of worldwide pollution, and in spite of this, some on the Right are calling for deregulation of environmental standards and termination of the Environmental Protection Agency?
How “free” are we really when the political and theocratic right push for school vouchers to funnel money into their parochial institutions at the expense of public education, and when forces are gathering to reintroduce prayer into the public schools, and when the lines between religion and government are increasingly blurred?
How “free” are we when the so-called “No Child Left Behind” act is designed and operates with its “one-size-fits-all” standards, in such a way as to actually leave more children and schools behind?
How “free” are we when states like Iowa pass laws declaring English as the “official” language, thereby threatening bilingual education and stigmatizing non-English language speakers?
How “free” are we when politicians and business owners attempt to co-opt and decertify labor unions and eliminate collective bargaining?
How “free” are we when organizations and committees set the standards for acceptable art and attempt to censor and ban all else?
How “free” are we when we deny the youth of our nation their basic civil rights to make many of their own decisions in the guise of “protecting them”?
How “free” are we when we follow a former president into an unjustified and illegal war into Iraq, thereby resulting in the loss of life and draining of the U.S. treasury?
How “free” are we when the so-called “Patriot Act” profiles individuals on their appearance, and when people are detained and their constitutional rights are denied? And I could go on in this way virtually forever.
Doublespeak! This is not freedom and this is certainly not liberty!
While at the Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll, I saw Marcus Bachman, husband of presidential candidate Michelle Bachman, and before he had a chance to read my tee-shirt, (“It’s OK With Me” written beneath a picture of two men, a man and woman, and two women), I asked him if I could have my picture taken with him.
I then asked about his controversial recorded statements in reference to LGBT people as “barbarians,” but most importantly about his so-called “psychotherapeutic” practices when “treating” LGBT people at his Minnesota counseling center. He then looked down at my tee-shirt.
First, he proclaimed, “I like homosexuals, and I never called homosexuals ‘barbarians.'” Though this is what he clearly called LGBT people in a recorded interview on a radio station, I asked him “to please refer to us as ‘lesbian,’ ‘gay,’ ‘bisexual,’ and ‘transgender’ people rather than ‘homosexuals.'”
He replied: “‘Homosexual’ is my word, and that is the word I will use.”
I then told him that I do not appreciate that his wife, Michelle Bachman, promoted her political career by stepping on the bodies of LGBT people when she proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives a Constitutional amendment requiring the institution of legal marriage to include only one man and one woman. Is this, I asked Marcus, “liking homosexuals” as he had previously claimed?
At that point, he simply accused me of being misinformed, and his political handler led him away.
Unfortunately, many people from middle and working class backgrounds are succumbing to the politics of doublespeak. By supporting these conservative and ultra-conservative politicians and agendas, they are, in actuality, operating against and undermining their own economic self-interests and others within the middle and working classes.
We all must, therefore, expose the language for with it is: Doublespeak!
Former Associate Professor at the School of Education at Iowa State University and currently in the College of Education, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of “The What, The So What, and The Now What of Social Justice Education”, and “Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice”, co-editor of “Readings for Diversity and Social Justice”, editor of “Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price”, co-editor of “Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States”, and co-author of “Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life”.