Good politics pertains as much to good policies as it does to good rhetoric. If Republicans learned nothing else from the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, we should have learned that image and rhetoric matters–perhaps more than anything else. Our mission, to increase the number of Republican voters, begins with a careful analysis of our public statements. To that end, we should avoid mindless cliches, and statements so inflammatory that they detract from their own message.
I’ve created a long list of things Republicans say (and shouldn’t), along with my rationales.
Here are the first two:
Take Our Country Back
Both Rand Paul and Rick Santorum launched their 2016 presidential bids with these words. Liberals, like ex-Attorney General Eric Holder, erroneously claim that this phrase contains racial undertones–serves as a dog whistle, a microaggression–when juxtaposed with the presidency of the first non-white to hold the office. Like much of what the left says, this bears little resemblance to the truth. Lesley Clark scoured the annals to produce the ancient origin of this phrase, employed, first, in 2003 by presidential candidate, Howard Dean.
Even when employed by a Democrat, the phrase is silly, at best, and insulting at worst.
What does it mean to “take the country back?” America belongs to Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between–even the politically unaffiliated. Besides, if one party “has it,” does that party take it for exclusive use, like a petulant child?
For conservative Republicans, this phrase fails for another reason. “Take Our Country Back” can connote a chronological shift–a vow to take America back in time, to an era marked generally by better social morals, but also by egregious civil rights shortcomings. This undermines our assertion that conservatives believe in moving America to a brighter future, even as we do so via time-honored traditions and values.
Better phraseology exists (e.g.: “Win back the White House,” “Win back the Congress,” etc.).
Republicans should bury this hackneyed trope.
This one is very problematic.
Herman Cain boasted, in 2012, of having “left the Democrat Plantation a long time ago,” echoing similar statements by former Florida Representative, Allen West. Louisiana State Senator Elmer Guillory likened the Democrat Party to a plantation. Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson, said that liberals hate him because he dared to “come off the plantation.” The list of Republicans equating the Democrat Party to a plantation runs unfortunately long. What you may notice about these speakers is that they are all black–and all wrong.
As a black conservative, I empathize with the general frustration that they feel. To them–to us–black allegiance to a party that does little more than pay lip service to a desperately struggling people can be vexing. Just as Frederick Douglas, in his autobiography; decries slaves’ ready willingness to drink, fornicate, fight and waste their precious little money during Christmas celebrations, rather than conspire to break from the shackles of unjust servitude; conservatives (of all colors) detest seeing blacks living in deep privation in Democrat strongholds like Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland.
Republicans, black Republicans in particular, should make the case that we are the party founded on love for black people. Instead, though, by invoking the Democrat Plantation rhetoric, we insult black Americans (calling them stupid), and our enslaved ancestors (downplaying slavery).
“I’ve never really understood the argument. Black people trade their votes to Democrats for the ability to sit home and collect government checks or something like that, right? But you know that doesn’t sound like slavery at all, right? I mean, first, you argue that black people just want to be taken care of and do nothing all day, except cast a couple of votes when the time comes. And in exchange, we get free food, housing, and health care. That’s insulting enough. But then you suggest that such an arrangement would be akin to the slavery of our ancestors. As though American chattel slavery consisted of slaves lolling around all day watching t.v. and waiting for the next election. The first claim is infuriating, the second, unforgivable.”
I note that the greatest offenders of this rule are often, themselves, black. Imagining the firestorm that would engulf a white public figure for claiming that blacks voting Democrat do so out of a plantation mentality suffices to show the daftness of the phrase.
Republicans, don’t say it. Leave stupid sayings to the Democrats.