Mitt Romney and the Deceptive Use of Racist Language
By Ben Cohen: There’s a very creepy book called ‘The Game’ that every woman should read in order to protect herself from sleazy, desperate guys. Written by Neil Strauss, the book details the authors infiltration of a network of ‘pickup artists’ in Los Angeles who have dedicated their lives to manipulating women and sleeping with them. I read about half the book before I had to stop. While it was interesting, it was at the end of the day, depressing beyond belief given the levels of deceit the characters would go to in order to get themselves dates. Amongst other deceptive tactics, the major strategy centered around ‘Neurolinguistic Programming’, a method used by hypnotists and motivational speakers to ‘program’ listeners into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t. The guys in ‘The Game’ would use manipulative and suggestive language with their targets that would create a subconscious impression that would (at least in theory) get women into bed.
The use of this type of suggestive programming is nothing new – speech writers have been using these tactics for centuries, and the art has been boiled down to fine art in the modern political era. Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, is a master of the buzz word and advises politicians on the language they need to use to create the best impression. Luntz encouraged his Republican clients not to say “oil drilling,” but “energy exploration”, and told them not to mention “inheritance tax.” but the “death tax,” instead. On the environment, Luntz advised Republicans not to talk about “global warming,” but the more digestible “climate change,” and on healthcare, Luntz suggested “government takeover,” rather than “healthcare reform.” The language creates an impression with voters that changes the way they feel about issues – either riling them up or calming them down depending on the desired effect.
Mitt Romney’s campaign has clearly been paying attention to the use of language and is rolling out its latest attack strategy against Barack Obama based on buzz words and innuendo. And true to Republican form, it’s actually incredibly xenophobic and racist playing on Obama’s ‘foreign’ sounding name and belief in the use of government to help people.
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Romney told an audience that Obama’s policies were anti success and innately un-American (via CNN):
“It is changing the nature of America, changing the nature of what Democrats have fought for and Republicans have fought for,” Romney said, adding: “celebrating success instead of attacking it and denigrating it makes America strong.”
“That’s the right course for this country,” Romney continued. “His course is extraordinarily foreign.”
It’s quite a telling couple of sentences. Romney is not directly stating that Obama is a foreign communist, but the language is clear. Obama is: “Attacking success”, “Changing the nature of America” and “Extraordinarily foreign”. Those are the impressions his audience will leave with, playing into the still prevalent myths that Obama was not born in America, is in fact a Muslim and wants to destroy capitalism.
This is clearly the strategy going forward – a nastier approach that does not rely on any particular vision for America, but one based on fear of the foreign and fear of the black man in the Oval Office. Of course the Romney campaign can always deny this – the language used isn’t explicitly calling Obama a Muslim Communist, and from a technical point of view, there’s nothing wrong with his speech. But anyone who understands the use of language knows otherwise.
It was only a matter of time before Romney engaged in this kind of racist dogwhistle politics that’s intended to fire up the resentful white Republican base. Every election season, the party just can’t help itself: demonize minorities, pump up the angry whites and win.
John McCain and Sarah Palin adopted exactly the same strategy in 2008, using innuendo and suggestion to ensure as many angry white Republicans came out to vote as possible. It’s amazing that this type of thinly veiled racism still works, making it more depressing than ever. There is latent racism everywhere in America, most of which is a product of the country’s complex history, but our politicians should attempt to rise above it for the sake of moving the country forward. But politics is a ruthless game and politicians will do pretty much anything to win, including good ol’ fashioned black hating.