The last several years have not been good ones for the progressive movement, and one senses a level of frustration akin to that of trying to disentangle 25 coat-hangers. Much of the frustration has to do with the fact that the truth about the conservative Right is not really getting through to people – at least, to those people who might be willing to change their views accordingly. The problem is partly a matter of the Left’s communication style and strategy, which need serious renovation, but also one of highly successful conservative efforts at neutralizing inconvenient truths, and at undermining the truth-tellers.
It’s a striking reality of our current political culture that criticisms of conservative policies or strategies are routinely denied having any truth value whatsoever. There are three main tactics by which the Right tries to delegitimize its detractors:
If you've noticed conservative politicians sounding strangely pro-environment lately, it's not a coincidence. Rather, it's a campaign designed to reduce the political liability of right-wing candidates on environmental issues. Unfortunately, the campaign is strictly rhetorical -- it's not about changing policies but about changing language.
And that's where Frank Luntz comes in. Luntz, the boyish Svengali of conservative politics, made his name as a pollster who concentrated on identifying the words that would prove most resonant with the American public. Now, in his message book "Straight Talk," Luntz brings his dark arts to the task of helping Republicans package themselves as concerned about the environment without actually having to be concerned.
In the wake of 9/11, ultraconservatives have used the concept of a War on Terrorism (WOT) – a “war” with no foreseeable end and hidden enemies lurking everywhere – to tighten control over the American public, undermine civil liberties, advance their own foreign policy agenda, distract attention from their own controversial domestic agenda, and intimidate the opposition.
We can expect terrorism to remain a dominant media story throughout 2004, and terrorism-related media-worthy events to be used in service of the political goals of the far right.
In the face of the media-dramatized WOT, it has been hard for dissenting voices to be heard. Opposition to conservative policies and actions, and to Republican candidates, is met by accusations that the opponents are unpatriotic or seek to put Americans at risk.