SOCIETY & CULTURE
Not Your Mother’s Weasels
by Tony Outhwaite
At the United Nations in the fall of 2009, Barack Obama acknowledged, with customary self-regard, “the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world,” no doubt referring to his pledge about the receding oceans, healing the planet and reviving the animal kingdom, and the unprecedented wisdom of his associates and himself.
Sure enough: The Russian “reset” has brought huge dividends for Europe and the Middle East; our alliances and economy are stronger than ever before; caribou, polar bear, and Cameroonian pygmy wildebeest have rebounded big time; and a dodo, thought extinct since around 1690, was reportedly spotted buying a Sporting News at the Indianapolis airport. Magic promised, magic delivered.
Or so liberals would like to think. Yet the liberal program has once again shown itself to be a con, a busted flush, punitive and expensive, a riot of misguided initiatives and outmoded policies, a cultish devotion to arrogance, foolishness, and failure. Thus, in today’s world, those dubious victories claimed by liberals tend to be through litigation, outright criminality and fraud, and the frequent manipulation of language in an attempt to hold what they see as the moral high ground by describing things in different terms or forbidding the use of other terms altogether.
To them, linguistic sleight of hand equals moral superiority. If Obama’s comments about the planets and oceans were preposterous hyperbole, Nancy Pelosi’s comment about ObamaCare—that “we have to pass it so we can tell you what’s in it”— stands oddly, doublespeak though it was, as one of the more straightforward statements made by liberal supporters of the Obama agenda.
During the Cold War, when many liberals— never much more than 20 percent of the American public in polls dating back decades—supported communism while pretending to be regular guys and gals, they took pains to explain away this intellectual preference as mere “dissent,” and after 1954 there was a magazine of that title, edited by the prominent socialist literary and cultural critic Irving Howe, who called himself a “social democrat.” The middle years of the 20th century were the golden good times for Stalinist true believers— the five-year plans, the staged famines, the forced emigrations, the summary executions, the Gulag, all the terrific stuff “for a better world”—and were passed off through typical weaselspeak as something grand and virtuous, intellectually high-minded and “nuanced.”
Support back then for this oppressive and murderous ideology, a grave threat to our country of 150 million and the rest of the free world along with it, was allegedly modern, “hip” and “cool”—it was “of the times.” Today, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders proclaims himself a “democratic socialist” to mask his own disaffection for the country and capitalism and calls for an updated smothering of democracy and capitalism through “breaking up the big banks,” increasingly coercive regulation, new government programs, and “free” handouts.
Nuanced is a word much favored by leftists, but, in the service of today’s political correctness, it has been tweaked, like many other liberal affectations, to represent a thought or endeavor suggesting enormous reflection, intellectual sophistication, and high morality. The general public is subjected on a daily basis to the spectacle of leftists altering language to make fraudulent points and influence thought and policy, trying to change the dialogue in their favor through descriptive, grammatical, and semantic subterfuge.
Used, on the one hand, to attack and undermine opponents or deflect criticism from themselves and, on the other hand, to simulate virtue, it is more subtle than the ribald language of Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, and Bill Maher as they shout down those who disagree with them; the disgraceful smears of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas by Teddy Kennedy and his pals; the outrageous accusation by the late civil-rights activist Julian Bond that “the Republican Party would have the American flag and Nazi swastika hanging side-by-side”; or shrill and childish claims by the likes of Sandra Fluke that women must spend many thousands of dollars every year on birth control, and of Cameron Diaz that women might “lose control of our bodies,” should a conservative win election.
Today’s liberal project involves the ongoing distortion of the English language.
Thus, garden-variety misunderstandings between men and women have been transformed into sexual harassment and even sexual assault, disparagement of hip-hop music is described as racism or cultural genocide, murderous assaults by Muslim loons shouting “Allahu Akbar” are called “workplace violence,” illegal immigrants are termed “undocumented workers,” and a foolish and unsustainable increase in their numbers is praised as “humanitarian.” The Planned Parenthood definition of a woman watching her own sonogram is “rape” or “torture.” Raucous MSNBC talk-show host Melissa Harris-Perry has equated such words as work with slavery, while unassuming professors must take care when mentioning classic books like Huckleberry Finn lest sensitive students take this as a “trigger trauma,” freaking them out with alleged allusions to the days of slavery, forcing them to retreat to their campus “safe spaces” where no one is allowed to disagree with them.
Of course, the left has long amused itself with charges of “racist” and “McCarthyite” and, more recently, has brought out the tribal drumbeat of homophobia to denounce those who even mildly suggest that same-sex marriage and transgender rights are issues of importance only to a paltry three percent of the population. Some of the more deranged language monitors on the left, not satisfied with the weasel words already in their vocabulary, have now introduced “gender-neutral pronouns” xyr and xth—not even words—to pretend not to offend anyone who might be offended.
No doubt the block wardens of the transgender crowd will claim to be outraged at droll restroom signs in the South alluding to “Pointers” and “Setters,” demanding that these be changed to something more “inclusive” like “all y’all.”
An old criticism of liberalism was that a liberal is someone who would not even take his own side in an argument, but we seem to have reached a stage in which the modern leftist couches his innate dishonesty and intolerance in language too obscure to be meaningful, on one hand, and so immoderate, on the other, that one might be tempted to laugh outright were it not likely to bring arrest warrants from liberal authorities. Today’s liberals tend to be haters at heart, not much given to the niceties of social discourse unless they can get something out of it. Since today’s military is, according to most reputable polls, the most admired institution in our society, liberals allege that they “support our troops but not the mission”—an attempt to avoid the issue of cowardice altogether, as with the term smart power, an excuse to do nothing so as to hide their extreme discomfort with American power and influence in the world at large. This linguistic uneasiness relates not just to domestic cultural politics, but to foreign policy.
The repeated tut-tut admonitions of President Obama not to indulge in Islamophobia—with Islamic fighters lopping off the heads of journalists and foreign-aid workers for the international jihadist TV audience—have grown infantile and tiresome.
Efforts to combat Islamic terrorism have now been rebranded, lest Saracens anywhere feel bummed; these initiatives are no longer military operations, but are now “overseas contingency operations,” while a terrorist act is a “man-caused disaster,” a sort of enhanced, heavy-ordnance version of the 11-year-old delinquent who blows out the neighbors’ bathroom window with an M-80 during Independence Day festivities.
Not to worry, move it along, folks; nothing to see here. Yet, should the venerated Hidden Imam—or 12th Imam or Flying Imam or whoever is holding down the cultural-affairs desk back at Stone Age Headquarters—someday be waved in from the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen to wow the growing Muslim community in Michigan, it may no longer be possible for the liberal crowd to blame Western civilization for the slaughters of Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, and elsewhere. In that case, no matter what clever terms the left uses, the jihad we see will be the jihad we get, to paraphrase Flip Wilson.
Another perpetually droll leftist preoccupation involves the nonexistent “war on women,” in which all conservatives are seemingly complicit. A closer look suggests that, insofar as there is anything resembling a war on women, it is mainly Democratic Party liberals who are in on the act—Bill Clinton, the Kennedy family (at least a half dozen women involved with the Kennedys in the past have turned up dead), Jesse Jackson, disgraced former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, and various other party notables, including several New York City congressmen.
The liberal war on women charge is a linguistic scam used to hold the women’s vote, drummed up by liberal pundits and the types of self-involved toddler-savant celebrities who name their children Apple, Blanket, and Satchel, while an array of colorful charges of racism—voter ID (supported by some 60 percent of black voters) is called a “new type of poll tax”—are used to hold the black vote. Congressman Charles Rangel’s recent contemptible slur suggesting that conservatives are somehow KKK sympathizers was quickly repudiated even by many liberals and would be laughable, were it not for the fact that the mainstream media promptly passed it along, no doubt in the service of freedom of speech, as a possibility. Some years back, after an incident he provoked on New York City’s 125th Street that resulted in seven deaths, the Rev. Al Sharpton restrained himself just enough to denounce whites in Harlem merely as “interlopers.”
In 1938, George Orwell wrote that what infuriated him about left-wing people, especially intellectuals, was “their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen.”
Today, as Bernie Sanders refers to food stamps as “nutrition programs” and denounces the entire world financial system as “rigged” against the poor, California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law an increase in the minimum wage to $15 by 2023, pointing out that, “economically, minimum wages may not make sense, but they make sense morally, socially, and politically.”
The reality that such legislation results in job losses for younger and temporary workers does not register with him, nor will President Obama, after complimenting himself that he has changed “the way America does business” at the United Nations, ever acknowledge that his ongoing campaign to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay (calling the jihadists still interned there “detainees” rather than terrorist adversaries captured on the battlefield) will free its occupants to continue their murderous assault on civilization. Climate change is the righteous “national-security threat,” according to the President.
Some decades back, Zsa Zsa Gabor commented drily, “I don’t know anything about sex. I’ve always been married.” Liberals have for a long time indulged in a tortured relationship with reality and common sense, but their ongoing campaign to camouflage this inbred flaw through clever equivocations, often comical in their vaudevillian narcissism, may actually be more obvious to the general public than they—or conservatives—are willing to admit.
It is tempting to suspect that today’s leftists often don’t realize what is real and what isn‘t, but that doesn’t mean that their gyrations aren’t infuriating and destructive.
Not long ago, the front cover of New York Magazine featured a bevy of good-looking and scantily clad young women with the headline “Not Your Mother’s Lesbians.”
The fact that they were, in fact, lesbians was the whole point, appearances and irony to the contrary. But these are neither ordinary times nor our mothers’ times, and truth is always bitter, as Saint Jerome said back in the day.
We may not know whether MSNBC’s Chris Matthews still boogies to that tingle up his leg at the magic of Obama, but the button proclaiming Hillary Clinton’s reset with the Russians was mistranslated and actually said overcharge, her statement that Bashar al-Assad was a “reformer” was absurd kookietalk, and the introduction of the President’s euphemistically named Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has obviously not “bent the cost-curve of health care downward,” whatever he and his cocooned advisors may insist.
Despite his pronouncing that ISIS is a “JV team,” these enemies of civilization are not cartoon cardboard woodchucks from Michael Jackson’s Neverland or out-of-touch latter-day Confederate deserters hiding out along Florida’s Tamiami Trail. The Wikileaks release of classified material was not a grand blow for “transparency,” nor is the suggested abandonment of America’s stewardship of the internet likely to end in “more widespread communications freedom” but rather the prospect of interference and censorship by a variety of world-bad actors. President Kennedy, with the airy “Ich bin ein Berliner” shtick in his West Berlin City Hall speech in June 1963, may not have realized that the phrase more properly meant “I am a jelly doughnut,” but he at least used the correct word for it.
The great beauty of language, especially English, is its almost endless adaptability, inventiveness, and color. It is a work in progress, constantly evolving. Visitors to the United States are frequently puzzled by American idiom, struggling in their honest attempts to communicate, understand, and get the lay of the land. Today’s leftists, however, in their infatuation with weasel words and censorship of comments they don’t like, have made it far more treacherous than ever before to speak plainly and honestly and write clearly, a situation that is evolving into a state our parents never could have imagined, let alone tolerated.
One doesn’t need to be a Von Trapp to figure out that the hills in which today’s liberals hang out are alive—not with music, but with the sound of liberal spitefulness, dishonesty, and lunacy.
Credits: Tony Outhwaite is a literary agent in New York City. He is my literary agent.
This article ran in the July 2016 issue of Chronicles, in the Society and Culture section.