Today, I was watching the Sunday morning news show of George Stephanapoulos, This Week, and during the round table (of so called political pundits) I heard a concept that struck me as very, very funny: “arugula eating liberals”!
I remember hearing various times phrases such as “latte drinking”, or “volvo driving” to describe liberals in a way to picture them as elitist and detached from the rest of the society. I always thought these labels are funny, but maybe I got used to them over time. But just this morning I heard a new one and could not help but think that it’s ridiculously funny. From now on, if I ever use arugula in a salad, that salad will be properly named as “liberal salad”.
Except laughing to this yet another stupid label coming from not so smart republicans, I did a search the web to come up with a list of phrases used by repuclicans to describe and demean so called liberals. I came up with some pretty funny stuff such as:
(Soy milk) Latte drinking, Sushi eating, Volvo driving, Arugula eating, White wine sipping, Tax hiking (rising –loving), Government expanding, Birkenstock wearing, NPR listening, New york times reading, Tofu eating…
I even came across one coming from ultra conservative Justice Scalia’s, “sandal wearing, bearded, flag burner”. Well, Scalia was using this in reference to someone who actually burned a flag, but as you see, flag burning can sit perfectly well next to the sandal wearing and bearded. (Remember they, Barack Obama, did not wear flag pins either). There are now polls on internet where you can test your degree of “liberalness” by determining how many of these things you do. (I tried myself: eat sushi, check; drink latte, i luv it; eat tofu, not only that but an aspiring vegetarian these days; eat arugula, hell yeah, i’m mediterranean; wear sandals, of course bro… i am such a liberal oh my god, how can i be forgiven? Thou shall eat three pounds of american burger three times a day, you shall drive a gas drinking truck to your work, get out of the grad school and get your plumbing license, watch (awfully boring) baseball, etc. Ok I’d rather stay liberal. That hurts less.)
As I was comparing the United States with Turkey on this issue, the “right” always seems to be better at utilizing slogans and labels, and thinking of writing my blog column for this week on this topic, I came across Geoffrey Nunberg’s book entitled, “Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax Raising, Latte Drinking, Sushi Eating, Volvo Driving, New York Times Reading, Body Piercing, Hollywood Loving, Left Wing Freak Show.” In this book Nunberg argues that the liberals lost the language war. Hijacking political language, the conservatives labeled democrats as liberals and sufficiently demonized the word “liberal” that democrats try to stay away from it now. He gives the example of Howard Dean in the primary season of 2003, qualifying his liberalness by saying things like, “if wanting a balanced budget is being liberal, then I’m a liberal.”
Another shift that Nunberg points at is the separation of the word liberal from the political and economic ideology behind it. When the conservatives set out to define liberalism and therefore get the upper hand, so to speak, in the electoral language wars, one of the things they did was to designate liberals by looking at their consumption patterns (hence, volvo driving, sushi eating, new york times reading, etc.) The conservative strategy of undermining the important points voiced by the democrats seems to be labeling them as elitist and out of touch with America, or man on the street, by reducing their ideas to mere consumption patterns.
In the last couple of months, we’ve seen more than ever how this strategy has worked. In an attempt to discredit Barack Obama, first Hillary Clinton, now John McCain has pointed to nothing but his liberal persona, which reveals itself in the latte drinking, arugula eating self of the first black candidate for presidency. The funny thing is this we don’t even know if the guy likes arugula, maybe not; or whether he likes sushi. But this is exactly how the so called republican attack machine works. It doesn’t matter who the person is, just stick the label. or even better keep it unknown because god forbid if he doesn’t like sushi, that may be bad for republicans. So just stick the label on him and it stays there. Next thing you know (as a democrat) is you have a candidate who is (labeled as) elitist, out of touch, etc.
Meanwhile of course, it is perfectly normal to be a gun-loving American (even though the gun craziness leads to major social problems in the country), or a burger eating guy (even though obesity is becoming the biggest health problem in the country), or an SUV driving suburban (even though global warming, partly caused by crazy spending of fuel in those cars, has become a major threat for America and the world) . Seen from this angle, there is nothing to do except applaud conservatives on their success in twisting issues and winning a war (the language war) that they must, in the normal circumstances, have no chances of winning. Then comes the stage where you get filled with anger: how could this be possible?
Why is this so, so to speak, why are conservatives better in shaping the language than liberals, could this be a universal phenomenon or is it specific to america or to our times? These are the questions for the next post.
(In the below link, you can see how liberal you are and depending on the results, you can go in your closet and secretly cry,