Political Animal


November 29, 2012 10:59 AM Loaded Terms

By Ed Kilgore

In a finding that helps explain the infernal influence of people like focus-group-manipulator-supreme Frank Lutz, Gallup has published reactions of Republicans and Democrats to key terms often tossed about in the battle over economic policy. Turns out, unsurprisingly, that the former feel fondly towards “big business” and “capitalism,” while the latter vibrate positively when hearing “federal government” and are marginally positive about “socialism.” And yes, all God’s children like “small business,” “free enterprise,” and “entrepreneurs.”

The “socialism” finding will provide grist for many a conservative column and blog post, though it’s mostly a testament to how words change meaning when they are deliberately distorted for long periods of time. If championing moderate Republican policies from the 1990s or even the last decade makes one a “socialist,” as conservative agitprop would have you believe, then it can’t be all that bad, right?

More interesting is the contested nature of “small business,” “free enterprise,” and “entrepreneurs,” who serve as cover for “big business” in conservative messaging, and as the beneficiaries of “federal government” intervention in markets and yes, even of “socialism” in liberal messaging. It’s no accident that Republicans invariably justify their opposition to a high top marginal income tax rate by touting the impact on small businesses that don’t bother to incorporate, while Democrats consider a variety of progressive policies, from anti-discrimination laws to bank regulation, essential to the success of small entrepreneurs and to the very dynamism a “free enterprise” system demands.

This hotly contested verbal ground undoubtedly adds to the confusion of low-information voters who hear both sides talking as though the entire domestic agenda depends strictly on the welfare of the dry cleaning business or coffee shop or convenience store down the street. We’d have a more meaningful national political debate if Democrats and Republicans could manage to explain their values and policies in terms of the interests of the entire U.S. population. But that would make for some long, expensive political ads, wouldn’t it?

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • JEA on November 29, 2012 11:12 AM:

    THE most loaded term is the one liberals accept without one iota of protest: entitlements. As though AFDC, SNAP, and SS are some kind of bonanza of wealth for the unworthy.

  • c u n d gulag on November 29, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Maybe people are starting to decode the Republican "Enigma" code.

    Maybe, with every contribution to his campaign, President Obama sent people a "Secret Decoder Ring" to help translate words and phrases from the Propagandistic Teutonic Luntzian Tripe, into English.

    When you're trying to sell that ACA, the new health care policy, that is to the right of what a solid Conservative, whose wife had a good Republican cloth coat, proposed, and which is basically the polished-turd version of Conservative Bob Dole's 'AHC/HC Plan' (Anti-Hillary Clinton/Health Care), and it includes private health care corporations, as "Socialism," you have stepped through the Fun House Mirror, into Republican Wonderland.

    And when you count Hedge Funds, making billions of dollars a year, as small businesses, like they're 'Don & Sue's Hardward Store' on Main Street, 'Luigi's Pizza' on the corner, or Dick's Dirty-water Dog's' stand on the other corner, you can't act surprised when people smell that something ain't exactly Minnie Mouse with perfume but a rabid sewer rat.

    There's also been an uptick in the number of people self-identifying as the "L"-word: Liberals.

    What going to be Luntz's next attempt to denigrate "Liberal:"
    Calling us 'Creepy Cold-blooded Cannibalistic Child Chewers?'

  • Mimikatz on November 29, 2012 12:33 PM:

    The great irony about "entrepreneurs" is that most live in blue to deep blue areas (at least in the tech world) and overwhelmingly, like 75% and higher, gave their donations to Obama.

  • paul on November 29, 2012 12:44 PM:

    If we decided things based on the interest of the dry-cleaning place down the street, whose owner/operator needs customers, needs good schools for their kids to go to, needs not to die of cancer from chronic exposure to interesting compounds and so forth, that wouldn't be so bad.

    The problem is when you base everything on the interests of the little bond-polishing place on the 48th floor.

  • Eric Carrig on November 29, 2012 2:36 PM:

    If we wanted to change the subject to talking about what benefits the American people, we should expect the media to do that since it gives both parties a voice. Since the folks in the media are insightful enough to know that, they ought to deliver it.