Email #150: “speak like Newt”?

In 1996, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sent a memo to GOP candidates in response to their plea: “I wish I could speak like Newt.”

“That,” Newt humbly explained, “takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created … a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.”

In the “Contrasting Words” section, Gingrich added: “Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party:

  • ABUSE OF POWER
  • ANTI- (ISSUE): FLAG, FAMILY, CHILD, JOBS
  • BETRAY
  • BIZARRE
  • BOSSES
  • BUREAUCRACY
  • CHEAT
  • COERCION
  • “COMPASSION” IS NOT ENOUGH
  • COLLAPSE(ING)
  • CONSEQUENCES
  • CORRUPT
  • CORRUPTION
  • CRIMINAL RIGHTS
  • CRISIS
  • CYNICISM
  • DECAY
  • DEEPER
  • DESTROY
  • DESTRUCTIVE
  • DEVOUR
  • DISGRACE
  • ENDANGER
  • EXCUSES
  • FAILURE (FAIL)
  • GREED
  • HYPOCRISY
  • IDEOLOGICAL
  • IMPOSE
  • INCOMPETENT
  • INSECURE
  • INSENSITIVE
  • INTOLERANT
  • LIBERAL
  • LIE
  • LIMIT(S)
  • MACHINE
  • MANDATE(S)
  • OBSOLETE
  • PATHETIC
  • PATRONAGE
  • PERMISSIVE ATTITUDE
  • PESSIMISTIC
  • PUNISH (POOR …)
  • RADICAL
  • RED TAPE
  • SELF-SERVING
  • SELFISH
  • SENSATIONALISTS
  • SHALLOW
  • SHAME
  • SICK
  • SPEND(ING)
  • STAGNATION
  • STATUS QUO
  • STEAL
  • TAXES
  • THEY/THEM
  • THREATEN
  • TRAITORS
  • UNIONIZED
  • URGENT (CY)
  • WASTE
  • WELFARE

Any of those words sound familiar? After twenty years of practice, no one in the GOP needs any training to “speak like Newt,” least of all you. Your interview statements, press releases, newsletter columns, and form letters to constituents exemplify this MAD LIB propaganda approach to communication. As if political issues are not polarizing enough, you and your writing staff guarantee division through intentionally misleading word choice. You do not communicate. You inculcate.

You refuse to hold town hall meetings because you say they are not “conducive to conversation,” but based on your communications, conversation is the last thing you want. That would require an “exchange of ideas.” You instead wish only to promote your own ideas through overtly manipulative language.

I suspect your rhetoric style is so ingrained, you are no longer aware you are making divisive choices. You simply think in these terms now. It would probably require a great deal of effort for you not to present your positions in reductively simplistic and intentionally lopsided terms.

George Orwell wrote in 1984: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” You and the rest of the GOP have fallen victim to your own Newtspeak. And while propagandist wordsmithing is an expedient political toll, it undermines the core values of democracy by widening the gulf between opposing viewpoints instead of bridging them to find common ground solutions. By serving your own short-term agenda, you inflict damage on the nation as a whole.

Please ask Beth Breeding to draft your next newsletter column without using any “clear and easily understood contrasts.” It would be a very small first step toward civil conversation, something you repeatedly claim to value.

 

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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