"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." – George Orwell
Earlier this month The Huffington Post published an Op-Ed written by Advocates for Youth President James Wagoner, in which he picks apart the new Trojan Horse Republican Congress.
The basis for the "Trojan Horse" description is clear, especially given horrible bills like the recently introduced "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." On the surface, GOP leaders have talked a big game about fiscal responsibility, job creation, and renewing a "commitment to limited government [that] will unshackle our economy." Dig just a little deeper, though, and you’ll find the real beating heart of the Trojan horse. It’s the core of what many Republican representatives really care about. And it’s the program that these representatives want to ram through this year with lightning speed. Here, I’m talking about this Republican Congress’ attempt to realize its own perverse vision of "traditional culture" and "traditional social values."
Consider, for instance, HR3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." As Mother Jones‘ Nick Baumann reported last week, the bill includes a cruel and dangerous redefinition of rape.
Federal law, which has long prohibited the use of government funds to cover abortions, has at the same time included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. HR3, though, would drastically narrow this exemption: the bill would limit the federal exemption to instances of what it calls "forcible rape." As Baumann explains,
"…This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion."
That 173 Members of Congress (by the latest count) would support such a policy and co-sponsor this bill is shameful and disgusting. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. In one way, these culture warriors of the 112th Congress are simply executing the message and action plan of their most strident supporters. You just have to read once the slogan that anti-choicers adopted for this year’s "March for Life" to see that it perfectly mirrors the forcible rape language in all of its extremism:
"Thou Shalt Protect the Equal Right to Life of Each Innocent Born and Preborn Human in Existence at Fertilization. No Exception! No Compromise!"
No exceptions. No compromise. Whether its denying health care access to rape victims, defunding Planned Parenthood, creating a new category of second-class citizenship for LGBT citizens and undocumented young people, or telling us that young girls forced into child marriage simply don’t matter enough, extremist Members of Congress are driving an agenda that should make us wonder: Where is your moral sense? And where is your compassion?
And also, how do they get away with all of this? I have one theory, and it’s related to an incisive analysis that George Lakoff published on Daily Kos last month. The argument is this: these fringe conservatives are very adept at selling their selective morality — their plan to instantiate the ideology of a few at the expense of hurting the vast majority of our fellow citizens — with misleading yet evocative and motivating language.
The perversity of a dichotomy like "pro-life" versus "anti-life" has been well examined, but for a newer example you don’t have the look further than the aforementioned "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." The loaded name of HR3 suggests that it is combating a current reality and system — that the bill is trying to save taxpayer money which is currently being used to fund abortions. However, no such thing is true. There is no public funding for abortion today in this country. Period.
But no matter the truth, because the language serves its purpose. It’s clever marketing. You can readily imagine one of the intended audience segments. Those who are on the fence about abortion rights and who don’t know the ins-and-outs of U.S. abortion policy might very well think to themselves: in this struggling economy, I don’t want my tax dollars being spent on abortion. Each one of these myth-fueled thoughts equals one political point for social conservatives.
This language factory isn’t a frivolous thing. More often than not, it’s a key tool that extremists use to set the agenda and draw the boundaries of the new status quo on a number of important issues. And of course, abortion isn’t the only example. For one other, just look at the immigration debate in 2010 and the derogatory misnomer "anchor babies." I just did a quick search for records and transcripts from in-district town halls held last year, and they’re filled with people falsely complaining about undocumented workers automatically earning U.S. citizenship by having a child in this country.
At the end of the day, we can’t simply wave off and dismiss such political spin and solipsism. Because it can and has already produced damaging political consequences.
How does the progressive community fight back? Fortunately, strong marketing doesn’t have to entail manipulation and delivering Trojan horses. Sometimes you can simply tell the truth. That’s why, in the case of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," we should be calling it what it really is: the "The House GOP Doesn’t Think Rape Is Really Rape" bill.