Republican Vocabulary: The Politics of Projection

28 Aug

You don’t have to be a psychologist to recognize projection when you see it. It’s a very simple process, especially in politics. People attribute their own behavior to their opponents. It’s a great way to camouflage one’s own motives and intentions.

It’s also the basis of the entire Republican campaign this year. And the problem is that it’s working, because the Democrats have not been at all effective at exposing it. Once you look carefully at Republican vocabulary, however, it doesn’t take much effort to see through the process and expose it for what it is. Let’s start with Mitt Romney’s four favorite words: “entitlement,” “redistribution,” and “job creators.”

Mitt loves that word “entitlement.” He says the President is “the entitlement candidate.” It’s a powerful word, because it implies that the President wants to win votes by giving people things they don’t deserve and haven’t paid for. It also plays into two not very subtle aspects of American culture. One is the cosmic American fear of paying for what someone else is getting. The other is racial animosity. Mitt’s audience knows the code, and he knows they know it. Newt Gingrich used it when he talked about the “food stamps President.” That was much too out front, however. Mitt is more subtle.

Ironically, his negative use of the word “entitlement” is also an inversion of its legal meaning, which simply denotes a right that can only be taken away by due process. Once a word becomes politicized, however, it’s not difficult to invert its original meaning if you have a receptive audience, which Mitt does. So now if you want to accuse people of taking things they’re aren’t entitled to take, or of offering things they aren’t entitled to offer, you call it an “entitlement.” Sound Orwellian? That’s because it is.

Then there is Mitt’s own behavior. Salon editor Joan Walsh recently pointed out on MSNBC that every time Mitt opens his mouth about his tax returns, “he sounds more and more entitled.” And that is precisely where the projection comes in.

Not only does Mitt feel entitled to withhold tax returns; he feels entitled to pay less than half the tax rate salaried employees pay. He also feels his corporate donors in the oil and defense industries are entitled to huge subsidies and no-bid contracts paid for with taxpayers’ dollars. And now with the Romney-Ryan budget he wants to lower his tax rate even further and raise middle-class taxes, and he feels entitled to do that.

That alone should expose the projection, but in fact it goes further. Mitt promises to repeal Obamacare, yet he hasn’t said a word about the federal health care benefits that Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary enjoy. He obviously feels the latter are entitled to what he would deny ordinary Americans. He also feels that companies shipping jobs overseas are still entitled to subsidies, while those producing goods “Made in U.S.A.” are not. So who’s the real “entitlement candidate”?

Bottom line: Mitt projects his own sense of “entitlement” onto the President, and so far the Democrats have utterly failed to expose the projection. It’s a powerful strategy, and it’s going to keep working unless and until the Democrats do expose it.

Then there’s that word “redistribution.” Mitt constantly accuses the President of redistributing wealth, implying that he takes from those who earn and gives to those who don’t. This likewise plays to the code and Mitt knows that, too. In reality, the last thirty years of Republican policy (with some Democratic complicity) have redistributed wealth to the extent that 1% of Americans now control over 40% of the nation’s wealth. And the Romney-Ryan budget would make it even worse.

In this case, the President has responded by labeling the Republican approach “Romneyhood.” While the term is gaining traction, he has nonetheless failed to locate Romney’s vocabulary within the larger, all-important context of Republican projection. Hence the overall Republican strategy remains intact and continues to have its effect.

And then, of course, Mitt’s favorite words, “job creators.” By now most people realize that every time American corporations close a factory and ship the jobs to China or elsewhere, they create jobs abroad and kill them at home. But that hasn’t derailed the Republican claim at all. They continue to accuse the President of destroying jobs via Obamacare and ignore the 4.5 million jobs the Administration has created. They also ignore their own sabotaging of the President’s proposed Jobs Act. The Republican mantra, “We create jobs; they destroy them,” is another projection, but again, no one is calling them out on the larger pattern, which thus remains both operative and effective.

Space does not permit an exhaustive list of all the other words and phrases that make up Republican strategy, but one of the most immediately dangerous is the phrase “voter fraud.” It denotes a very real phenomenon, but that phenomenon takes two forms. The first is when people do vote when they have no right to. The second, equally fraudulent in its effect, is when people who have that right are deprived of it, whether through police intimidation such as occurred in Florida in 2000, or in the various state laws now in operation in several battleground states.

In this respect, Republican-controlled state governments have not been the least bit subtle. By now, probably millions of people have seen the video of the Pennsylvania House leader saying, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the State of Pennsylvania; done.” More recently, in defending the abolition of weekend early voting, a long-standing tradition in Ohio especially among black voters, the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party announced: “We shouldn’t contort [sic] the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine.”

In both states, massive efforts are underway to minimize the effects of these laws. Whether those efforts will be successful only time will tell. Again, however, the attempt to perpetrate one form of voter fraud in the name of preventing the other amounts to a particularly unsubtle use of projection. Democrats have responded by renaming the state laws “voter suppression.” Like “Romneyhood,” the phrase itself is gaining traction, yet it, too, fails to expose the larger verbal pattern.

Underlying these other instances of projection is the most telling of all. Depicting the President as “angry and desperate,” Romney recently told an Ohio audience that the President should “take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.” One need only look at the faces in Romney’s audience to see the projection at work. These people don’t merely disapprove of the President’s policies; their faces show a visceral hatred of the President himself. And Romney revels in it.

What it comes down to is this: Projection is all the Republicans have. Without it, they’re finished. In the time remaining, Democrats should be calling them out non-stop. Romney is the real entitlement and redistribution candidate, Republicans are the real job destroyers, and Republicans are the ones promoting division, anger and hate. Democrats should be saying this in communicating with their base, in TV and radio spots aimed at the uncommitted, and above all in their face-to-face debates with Republican candidates. Fair-minded media will pick it up. Time is short, so the time is now.

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