This is part II of a three part series on how progressives should alter their messaging to counter the right wing’s propaganda efforts–it is focused upon how progressives can shift the negative terms applied by the right wing to progressive policies can be re-branded to be more favorably received.
For the first part of this series, which deals with the general concept of wordsmithing, please follow this link: https://theprogressivecynic.com/2014/11/19/progressive-tactics-unified-wordsmithing/
Examples of “Negative → Positive” Wording Shifts
“Government spending” → “Investment in the future”
All too often, the right wing portrays all government spending as “waste, fraud and abuse,” in an attempt to convince people that the government is not necessary. In reality, government, when properly run, can do many things which would not have otherwise have been possible—it solves the free rider problems inherent to public education, national defense, criminal justice, and the creation of a national infrastructure, while acting as a neutral arbitrator to protect peoples’ rights.
When it builds a school or a highway, the government isn’t just spending money to cater to interest groups—it is making an investment in the future. Unfortunately the right wing has been very successful in rhetorically severing the good that the government does—often to no thanks—from the costs, thus has been able to focus on the price without admitting the benefits.
By speaking about government spending through the lens of investment rather than simply spending, the left can begin to re-attach the benefits of government to their costs in the minds of the American people. Enforce the connection between taxes and functioning schools, roads, and police forces, then dare the Republicans to name which SERVICES they will cut to pay for their tax cuts.
It is very easy to call the government wasteful and demand cuts, but it is far harder to get people to specify what services they would cut. The right wing is loath to do this, and the left will gain a rhetorical advantage by forcing them onto this unstable ground.
“Taxing the rich” → “Making sure that the everybody pays their fair share”
Taxes are a necessary evil if we want functioning government and reliable public services (ex. police/fire). In general, Americans believe that taxes are too high, and a very nervous about anybody talking about increasing their taxes, although they often are okay with increasing other peoples’.
The facts show that the rich and corporations are currently paying a lower percentage in taxes (both as a function of their income and total tax revenue) than at any other point in modern memory. This has seriously damaged the USA’s tax base and has created an incredibly unfair tax system.
The tricks to messaging this problem in a way that is favorable to the left are to reframe the issue to be one of fairness while pointing out that the rich are not paying their share—in effect, we must turn the right wing 47% narrative on its head and point out that the rich are freeloading off of our society without paying their fair share.
Polling suggests that, while many don’t want to raise taxes, a majority block of the American populace does not believe that the wealthy are paying their fair share. The left can capitalize on this belief to bolster their case for higher taxes.
By using SIMPLE graphs and statistics that illustrate this narrative (ex. pointing out negative corporate tax payers), the left can stir up populist anger at the idea that the rich are taking advantage of them. They know how much taxes they are paying, and will be incensed that those who make more than them (ex. the boss who they hate or the guy who fired them) are getting a better deal than they are.
Once this anger is created, it can be channeled to support progressive candidates who promise to fix the tax codes, and against the right wing, which has taken great pains to be “pro-business.”
“Job killing regulations” → “Laws that protect Americans from unsafe business practices”
Few people like government interference, whether on their personal or economic choices, and the general public has virtually no understanding of how important government regulations are to protect the public. The right wing has capitalized on this to stir up the perception that regulations on businesses are the great evil that prevents the US from being immensely prosperous and kills American jobs.
Put simply, these assertions are false and are motivated by the right wing’s corrupt alliance with big-money interests. Regulations that prevent employers from hiring child labor, paying ridiculously low wages, or forcing employees to work in dangerous working conditions do hurt those corporations economically (after all, you could make a much larger profit if you pay your workers $2 an hour with no benefits), but they have great benefits to society as a whole. Similarly, environmental regulations restrict polluters from dumping toxic chemicals into public land, thus increase the costs of production, but they also have massive benefit for society and the planet as a whole.
Progressives need to reframe the debate on regulations away from the disruption of businesses and toward the benefits to society. By drawing on historic examples—like child labor in coal mines before worker protections and the burning rivers in the pre-EPA era—we can illustrate the real good of regulations. To supplement historic examples, progressives should use international examples, like the Bangladeshi factory collapses, to illustrate what the United States would look like if deregulation happens. The average American is a worker, not a CEO, and this type of message would resonate if done clearly, simply, and often.
Additionally, progressives must frame the conservatives as the people who are simply shilling for corporate elites and that they care more for corporate profits than the American public. Not even the most extreme right wing populist like it when corporations buy their leaders, and this line of attack could shake the right wing base’s faith in their leaders (if the message manages to penetrate the right wing media bubble).
- “Oil/Gas/Corn Subsidies” → “Corporate Welfare”
- “Conservative Politics/Policies/Politicians” → “Regressive Politics/Policies/Politicians
- “Lobbyists” → “Big-Money Advocates”