July 20, 2005

Civility — Or Else!


I was listening to George Lakoff on the radio this morning talking about the right wing exploitation of language.  Frankly, I was shocked how circumlocutious he was.  I thought, if Lakoff himself can’t put his arguments in a crisp package, we are in trouble.

Which brings me to my main point, which is how Rove manages to use the (so-called liberal) media as his own personal instrument of persuasion,  Let’s look at this morning’s NYT front page as an example. 

Here we are on Day 1 of the White House’s combined “Hello Mr. Roberts/Forget About Karl” campaign, and what does the paper do?  They use their headline to directly quote (and thus propagate) the key memes (these used to be called “metaphors”) Karl wishes to embed to underpin the nomination process and cripple any opposition.  (Quotation marks in blue.)

Rove must have woken up this morning, checked the NYT, then looked in the mirror and told himself (for the umpteenth time) what a genius he is.  Listening to NPR today, that was the key word the Repubs were sprinkling around to smooth the path for Mr. Tabula Rasa.  I must have heard it at least four or five times (until, by the afternoon, the commentators were using it):


As in: The Democrats (as part of the Gang of Fourteen) agreed to act reasonably (meaning, not filibuster) as long as a reasonable candidate was put forth.  We Repubs are just replacing the term “reasonable” with “civil.”

As in, Mr. Roberts is a civil man, so to question his qualifications would be an attack on civility.  (And an attack on civility would be tantamount to an attack on patriotism, because — in this time of war — any threat to civility must be considered a potential act of “civil disobedience.”)

And: We will be referring almost continually to “civility” for the next week or so, while mixing in various synonyms (such as: consideration, decency, geniality and respectfulness) to avoid redundancy.  It will sound like we are simply appealing for civility, but, in fact, we actually will be insisting on it.  You might want to keep in mind, however, that while we make reference to “civility,”  it is always in a context that connotes “compliance.” 

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

The Big Picture

Follow us on Instagram (@readingthepictures) and Twitter (@readingthepix), and


A curated collection of pieces related to our most-popular subject matter.


Comments Powered by Disqus