How conservatives use 'verbal jiu-jitsu' to turn liberal language against them CNN Policy (2023)


The two favorites for the White House in 2024they are boundin a hypothetical rematch. Congress is paralyzed. All major elections appear to be decided with very narrow majorities.

From almost every perspective, the struggle for political supremacy in the United States looks like a stalemate between Republicans and Democrats. Sometimes the two parties seem like two drunk boxers fighting each other in a fight neither can stop.

But there is one political battlefield where Republicans almost always win, and control of that field could decide who wins the White House in 2024.

Republicans are masters of verbal jiu-jitsu. It is a form of verbal combat in which the practitioner gradually converts a phrase or political concept popularized by their opponent into a useless insult. Known as a Japanese martial artJiu-Jitsu,His followers avoid looking directly at opposing arguments, instead redirecting their opponents' momentum to defeat them.

If this sounds abstract, consider the evolution of "Awakening." The word is defined as "active awareness of social injustice". but it wastransformed into a contemporary scourge, which a politician with a “VirusUndoubtedly more dangerous than any pandemic.”

If you mention almost every catchphrase the left has adopted in recent years (“critical race theory,” “diversity,” “global warming,” even the word “liberal”), conservatives have either redefined it or obfuscated it.

How conservatives use 'verbal jiu-jitsu' to turn liberal language against them CNN Policy (1)

"Awakening" is defined as "active awareness of social injustice". But Republicans made it an insult.

However, Republicans continue to proudly use favorite words and phrases like "family values," "conservative," and "patriot," regardless of who or what associates those terms.

As candidates prepare for the first Republican presidential debate of 2024 on Wednesday in Milwaukee, it's a good time to ponder the question: Why are Republicans so good and Democrats so bad at this form of verbal bickering?

Part of the answer depends on effort and discipline: Republicans spend more time weaponizing words and are better at getting their message across, he says.Lindsey Cormack, a political scientist specializing in race, gender, communication, and politicsStevens Institute of Technologyin New Jersey.

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"I've been watching their communication for 15 years and it leaves me speechless because I think the Democrats are good at a lot of things, but they really allow the communication thing," says Cormack.

According to Cormack, conservatives have created an ecosystem of linguistic think tanks and focus groups to test words and phrases for political warfare..Democrats are doing the same, but not with the same level of commitment, he says.

"They (conservatives) think about what words resonate, what words trigger other types of thoughts, or what types of images come to mind when people hear the news," says Cormack. "It seems like they've invested more and there are more people writing about this type of work and linguists doing this kind of thing for them."

How conservatives changed the script on race

Verbal jiu-jitsu is nothing new in American politics. Conservatives have long used it on race issues. During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, conservatives in the Democratic and Republican parties frequently employed a series of verbal ruses that shifted the direction of their opponents' moral arguments.

They didn't say they were against integration; They said they were for "state rights."

They didn't say they didn't want their children to sit next to black or brown children when they spoke out against desegregating public schools; They said they were against "forced bus transport".

How conservatives use 'verbal jiu-jitsu' to turn liberal language against them CNN Policy (2)

The Conservatives did not directly oppose school integration. They said, like these New York parents here, that they were against the "compulsory bus."

They didn't say they opposed civil rights activists' efforts to make America a true multiracial democracy; They called these leaders "communists" or "socialists."

They flipped the script and offered new words to replace other terms that were difficult to attack directly.

Sometimes they defused a liberal phrase and changed its meaning.

"Warrior of Social Justice"For example, it didn't begin as an insult. What's wrong with someone fighting for the poor and exploited? The term was later changed toconservativeand internet culture into something else: a “plaintiff"Hypocritical progressive who doesn't take jokes.

In recent years there have been countless headlines about the right's abolition of yet another liberal mandate.

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Critical Race TheoryIt was once an obscure academic discipline that insisted that racism was more than just individual prejudice; It is anchored in laws, guidelines and institutions. But the conservativesredirectedDiscussion and converted the term into a general phrasecriticize almost everyoneExamining systemic racism or history that may make white people uncomfortable.

How conservatives use 'verbal jiu-jitsu' to turn liberal language against them CNN Policy (3)

Parents at a demonstration in Virginia against critical race theory. Conservatives turned this once-obscure academic study into a heated political insult.

Regardless of the method, this form of verbal jiu-jitsu is used with a purpose, says Robin DiAngelo, author of "White Fragility," a popular book that spawned another popular liberal catchphrase.

"The job is to silence the conversation and protect the status quo," says DiAngelo. "It doesn't have to make sense. It just has to work and make the race unquestionable and avoid any challenge to the status quo.”

How “diversity” and “justice” became dirty words

Next on the hit list are two other terms favored by liberals: "diversity" and "justice," says DiAngelo.

These words originally meant practically generally accepted values. Few people would speak out openly about exclusion or inequality.

In recent years, many institutions have launched Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives to make their workplaces more equitable and diverse.

But Republican leaders are now comparing DEI initiatives to "awakening" and"Oaths of Allegiance".” They introduced bills restricting DEI programspublic universitiessimCorporate America.

Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Higher Education and Diversity Employees, recently told a reporter that she no longer uses the DEI acronym because it "armed".

Republicans have also attempted to rephrase the term "fairness," meaning "to be fair or impartial," to refer to the word as "a mandate to discriminate." And they tried to delegitimize "diversity" by changing the term to "Diversity industrial complex", the existenceThe critic described him as "a bureaucratic giant trampling on all aspects of national life".

"As someone who's been in this job for decades, I can tell you there's no such thing as a diversity industrial complex," says DiAngelo. “When an organization has a diversity program, there is often one person at the head of the entire institution. And maybe they have a team of one or two people on a minimal budget. But such language implies that it is some kind of mockery of people, as if it were some kind of trick.

When “global warming” becomes “climate change”.

Some of the most skilled verbal jiu-jitsu practitioners are able to disarm their opponents without them even realizing they've relented. As a result, liberals end up using the terms preferred by their conservative opponents.

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The term "global warming"became knownDeveloped by the media and some academics in the 1980s, it was all but banished from public discourse by verbal jiu-jitsu. Part of this change is due to science. Some scientists believe that climate change is a more accurate description of the environmental challenges facing our planet.

How conservatives use 'verbal jiu-jitsu' to turn liberal language against them CNN Policy (4)

Demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge during a climate change protest in New York City March 3, 2023.

But it was the Republicans who made itinitially pushedfor changing the name for reasons that had little to do with scientific accuracy. Instead of acknowledging that the science points to an impending environmental catastrophe, one Republican researcher suggested another phrase to silence the alarm: climate change.

This term was popularized in part by Frank Luntz, a Republican pollsterdevicesIn the early 2000s, Republican politicians stopped using the term "global warming" because it had "catastrophic connotations" and reformulated the issue into more benign "climate change." (Luntz has sincenot authorisedtheir efforts to challenge global warming.)

two decades later,Many liberal politicians and activists continue to use the phrase “climate change, the cognitive scientist.”George Lakoffwritten down.

"The word 'climate' sounds good, like palm trees or something, and the word 'change', well, 'change' just happens," Lakoff said in a statement.Interview. "It's not a big deal. You can't do anything. It's not man-made. So the term itself is a right-wing position that the left innocently took instead of saying, well, that's one.”climate catastropheThat comes."

A famous liberal fought in verbal jiu-jitsu

Lakoff, an authority on political language and author of"Don't think about elephants: know your values ​​and shape the debate"He says Democrats have consistently outperformed Republicans on the language battlefield because they make false assumptions about human nature.

"They assume that all you have to do is tell people the facts and they'll come to the right conclusion," he saidanother interview. "This is completely ridiculous. The thought is mostly metaphorical. The presentation surpasses all facts.”

Let's take the word liberalAre definedas someone who is "open-minded", "tolerant", someone who believes in "personal freedom" and that society must change "so that money, property and power are distributed more fairly".

In the 1960s, conservatives managed to twist liberalism's connotations as a commentator would.describedas "ideology of generosity, lover of bureaucracy, bereft of liberty, taxes and rights".

How conservatives use 'verbal jiu-jitsu' to turn liberal language against them CNN Policy (5)
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As a presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy repelled attempts to smear him with the term “liberal” with a skillful defense that disarmed his political opponents.

But a famous Democrat knew that. He gave a masterclass on how to fend off attempts to smear him with the word "liberal."

John F. Kennedy directly confronted this perception when he was running for president in a 1960 speech at a New York hotel. Instead of bypassing the label, Kennedyhugged proudlyIs.

“If by 'liberal' you mean someone who looks forward rather than backward, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions,” he said, “someone who cares about people's well-being: their health, their housing , your schools, your jobs. , your civil rights and your civil liberties... if that's what you mean by liberal, then I'm proud to say I'm a liberal.”

Kennedy may have been an example of linguistic courage, but many left-leaning people of recent decades continued to choose to call themselves "liberals" in the decades to come, after conservatives continued to vilify the term.

However, the term makes oneVolte.Kennedy's lesson lives on.

Verbal tournaments could help decide the 2024 race

Debates about the meaning of words and phrases can seem trivial given the high-risk political battles ahead. But the 2024 presidential election and former President Trump's upcoming court battles will not only be fought at the ballot box or in court, but also on the verbal battlefield.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider some important recent political debates about the meaning of words and phrases.

Was what happened in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 a "riot"? Or did some Republican leaders call it "legitimate political discourse”?

Did former President Trump exercise?free expression“When you questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election? or have you trieddeceive"The United States?

And are words like “diversity” and “inclusion” becoming yet another version of “awakening,” terms so clouded by relentless onslaught that even their proponents are reluctant to use them?

A form of verbal jiu-jitsu can determine the answers to these questions. It has shaped the country's history more than many people realize.

John Blake is the author of"More Than He Knew: What a Black Man Found Out About the White Mother He Never Knew".


How conservatives use 'verbal jiu-jitsu' to turn liberal language against them CNN Policy? ›

They flipped the script by offering new words to replace other terms that were hard to attack head-on. Sometimes they disarmed a liberal phrase by transforming its meaning. “Social justice warrior,” for example, didn't start off as an insult. What's wrong with someone fighting on behalf of the poor and exploited?

What is the difference between a liberal and a conservative? ›

Conservatives believe in the importance of stability, and promote law and order to protect private property. Liberals believe in universal access to health care; they believe personal health should be in no way dependent upon one's financial resources, and support government intervention to sever that link.

What are the beliefs of liberal conservatism? ›

The ideology incorporates the classical liberal view of minimal government intervention in the economy, according to which individuals should be free to participate in the market and generate wealth without government interference.

Is conservatism liberal? ›

Conservatism is often used as a generic term to describe a "right-wing viewpoint occupying the political spectrum between liberalism and fascism."

What are the features of conservative tradition? ›

Traditionalists value social ties and the preservation of ancestral institutions above excessive individualism. The concepts of custom, convention, and tradition are heavily emphasized in traditionalist conservatism. Theoretical reason is regarded as of secondary importance to practical reason.

What is a conservative liberal called? ›

Conservative liberalism, also referred to as right-liberalism, is a variant of liberalism, combining liberal values and policies with conservative stances, or simply representing the right-wing of the liberal movement.

What is a liberal conservative in simple terms? ›

Liberal conservatives believe in the free market and laissez-faire economic policies combined with traditional conservative values, such as the belief in natural inequality, the importance of religion, and the value of traditional morality.

What are 3 core values of conservatives? ›

7 Core Principles of Conservatism
  • Individual Freedom. The birth of our great nation was inspired by the bold declaration that our individual,God-given liberties should be preserved against government intrusion. ...
  • Limited Government. ...
  • The Rule of Law. ...
  • Peace through Strength. ...
  • Fiscal Responsibility. ...
  • Free Markets. ...
  • Human Dignity.

What are 3 liberal beliefs? ›

Through all these strands and traditions, scholars have identified the following major common facets of liberal thought: believing in equality and individual liberty. supporting private property and individual rights. supporting the idea of limited constitutional government.

What are the 3 principles of conservatism? ›

First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.

Who is the father of conservatism? ›

In the 19th century, Burke was praised by both conservatives and liberals. Subsequently, in the 20th century, he became widely regarded, especially in the United States, as the philosophical founder of conservatism.

What do the conservatives stand for? ›

The party is British unionist, historically opposing Irish reunification, Scottish and Welsh independence, and is generally critical of devolution. After a leadership election in the Conservative Party in July, August and September 2022, Liz Truss became the leader of the party.

What are some examples of liberalism? ›

The fundamental liberal ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the separation of church and state, the right to due process, and equality under the law are widely accepted as a common foundation of liberalism.

What are conservative traditional social values? ›

Social conservatives organize in favor of duty, traditional values and social institutions, such as traditional family structures, gender roles, sexual relations, national patriotism, and religious traditions.

What is the tradition of liberals? ›

Classical liberalism is a political tradition and a branch of liberalism that advocates free market and laissez-faire economics; and civil liberties under the rule of law, with special emphasis on individual autonomy, limited government, economic freedom, political freedom and freedom of speech.

What is the one nation conservative view on tradition? ›

It advocates the preservation of established institutions and traditional principles within a political democracy, in combination with social and economic programmes designed to benefit the ordinary person.

What are liberals beliefs? ›

believing in equality and individual liberty. supporting private property and individual rights. supporting the idea of limited constitutional government. recognising the importance of related values such as pluralism, toleration, autonomy, bodily integrity, and consent.

What are conservatives beliefs? ›

American conservatives tend to support Christian values, moral absolutism, traditional family values, and American exceptionalism, while opposing abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights.

What defines a conservative Democrat? ›

In American politics, a conservative Democrat is a member of the Democratic Party with more conservative views than most Democrats. Traditionally, conservative Democrats have been elected to office from the Southern states, rural areas, the Rust Belt, and the Midwest.


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