Regarding the other side’s language, a while back in “National Review On Dead Tree,” Jonah Goldberg noted that when the GOP retook Congress in 1994, they ended up having to argue in the language of the left, as “progressivism was already “the terms of the debate:”
Indeed, so steeped are we in progressive assumptions that “traditional” has become a category to be tested and prodded like any other. One can imagine some study with towers of numbers falling in neat columns. One of these appears under the heading “traditional” and stands alongside a dozen others. Whichever category scores the highest, wins.
This outlook gained currency on the right with the triumph of neoconservatism. As William F. Buckley Jr. noted long ago, the chief contribution of the neocons was their ability to argue in the language of the Left: social science. An ideologically diverse group, the neoconservatives nonetheless shared the view that politics and government were important tools for shaping and directing society. Their influence was acutely felt, though not widely recognized, in the 1990s. The Weekly Standard picked up the cause of “national greatness.” When Newt Gingrich took over the House, he declared the dawn of a new progressive era. Jack Kemp offered the word “progressive” to frightened liberals as if it meant “I come in peace.” Lamar Alexander put out a book whose title, The New Promise of American Life, paid homage to Herbert Croly’s odious opus. John McCain openly modeled himself on Teddy Roosevelt (the Progressive party nominee in 1912), and George W. Bush embraced Marvin Olasky’s “compassionate conservatism,” which promised to be — and later revealed itself to be — predicated on deep progressive foundations.
Why has this happened? The answer is that we live in a progressive world. If you live in Japan, you’ll be hard-pressed to persuade people of anything if you don’t speak Japanese or understand the culture. Similarly, conservatives must speak the language of progressivism in order to persuade progressives that they are wrong. The danger in this is that you can go native. John Blackthorne in James Clavell’s Shogun becomes more Japanese than many Japanese people. So, too, conservatives can end up more progressive than the progressives.
If Progressivism was the lingua franca of DC politics in the 1990s, in his latest post here at PJM, Barry Rubin notes that language of politics has shifted even further left, and writes that nowadays what’s needed is a “Marxist-Style Analysis to Understand the Left:”
Thus, “false consciousness,” traditionally a tool that revolutionaries thought benefited their enemies, is now turned into an asset by those who have mastered the art of public relations and all of the modern methods of manipulation. One might call this system the mass production of false consciousness. That is why the New New Left seized control of these instruments, leveraging them into political control. Historic Marxism was the exact opposite, getting into control of the means of material production to seize state power.
All that was needed is a leader who embodies those characteristics. In that sense, Obama is not so much of a Manchurian candidate but a Manichean candidate, that is someone who seems to embody all that is “good” (young, black, hip, handsome, intellectual, compassionate, modern, urban and urbane, etc.) and able to conceal the true import of the movement and its goals. What’s important is not where Obama was born but where the ideas he espouses were born.
Finally, since the existing society is evil and rotten, those warring against Western democratic states were external allies. And in the early twenty-first century that means predominantly revolutionary Islamists, along with some radical nationalists (notably, for example, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez).
Any attempt to counter this movement, its ideology, and its control of key institutions must begin with a proper understanding of the enemy. Moreover, it should be emphasized that those people who know most precisely that the above analysis is true are those who are quickest to ridicule it.
Yet to portray what is happening now as merely a typical example of past liberalism misses the point and plays completely into the radical forces’ hands. And real liberals face precisely the same task as their ancestors, particularly in the 1930s-1960s era: how to oppose the far left that seeks to corrupt their ideas, and to throw these radicals out of controlling their institutions. This task has not even begun.
One weakness of the radical movement, however, is clear. The old revolutionaries created a new regime that ensured their hold on power. Failures, such as economic decline, need not worry them because they could repress any dissent and did not need to win fair elections. The New New Left, however, is trying to run an existing capitalist society in which its misfit policies inevitably produce failure and even disaster. What they are doing is somewhat akin to trying to get your computer to boot up by hitting it with a club. There are also big holes in its control over information, allowing reality to shine through.
Thus, the failure of their program will be increasingly obvious and sooner or later they will be voted out of power. There is a big difference, however, between “sooner,” when the damage might be reversed, and “later,” when things have gone too far, too many people bought off or indoctrinated, and too much debt accumulated.
Not coincidentally, as the language shifts farther to the left, the language available to discuss politics continues to shrink, a la Oceania’s ever-shrinking Newspeak Dictionary. But none dare use the M-word.
Related: Debra Saunders asks, “Where Are All the Moderate Democrats?”
(Apologies to Leonard Cohen for the headline.)