Four Years Later, Do Words Matter Again?

Back in December of 2015, I wrote a piece on what I believed at the time to be a somewhat momentous Fox News exchange between Bill O’Reilly and the late Charles Krauthammer. The discussion took place on The O’Reilly Factor right after a GOP presidential primary debate, and the topic was the performance of Donald Trump (who was the GOP front-runner and already the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination).

Prior to the debate, in a soundbite that got a lot of attention, Trump suggested that he (if elected) would order the U.S. military to kill the families of ISIS terrorists. Such an action, of course, would amount to a war crime, but Trump didn’t really seem to care. By that point in the election, he had already put together a long list of outrageous campaign statements that were unshackled from such qualms as decency, legality, and even reality. And as with the others, he wasn’t going to walk back the statement.

So, on the debate stage that night, when fellow candidate Rand Paul called Trump out for the remark, Trump responded with, “So, they can kill us, but we can’t kill them?”

“I thought that was a pretty good comeback by Trump,” said O’Reilly to Krauthammer, commenting on the Trump/Paul exchange. “What do you think?”

Krauthammer was clearly taken back. “A pretty good comeback by Trump?” he asked. “On the killing of the brothers and the sisters and the children of terrorists?”

O’Reilly qualified his compliment by saying, “It’s designed to get votes. It’s designed to get people emotionally allied with him. That’s what it’s designed to do. You know that.”

It’s important to note that this was a significant departure from O’Reilly’s longstanding “no spin” mantra. The Fox News host, who’d built and maintained his hugely successful media brand on calling out reckless political demagoguery (and shaming those who employed it) suddenly seemed smitten and even impressed with its usage at the highest level of U.S. electoral politics.

O’Reilly explained to Krauthammer that Trump wouldn’t really murder terrorists’ families, and that he’d only said it because, “he wants votes. He’s doing all of this. It’s theater to get votes. That’s what he’s doing.”

“So you’re saying this is a candidate for the presidency of the United States, talking to the American people and the world, saying x, y, and z…and that the words he says are meaningless?” Krauthammer asked.

“He wants to win,” O’Reilly answered matter-of-factly. “And he’s going to say, like almost every other politician… He’s going to say whatever he thinks is going to put him over the top to win…He’s getting people whipped up so that they will like him because their emotion and his emotion coincide…It’s almost a brilliant strategy. It’s almost brilliant, if all you want to do is win. If all you want to do is win, it’s brilliant, because he marginalizes everybody else around him, because he’s so provocative, and tapping into the fear and anger that is pervasive among the Republican adherence. It’s brilliant.”

When Krauthammer directly asked O’Reilly if he “approved” of Trump’s “demagoguery, untethered to the meanings of the words being used,” O’Reilly (who wasn’t exactly known to pass on an opportunity to cast judgement on a political bomb-thrower) stunningly answered, “I can’t really say whether I approve of it or not.”

O’Reilly wasn’t the first Fox News personality to willfully forfeit long preached principles and standards of conduct for Trump (and he certainly wasn’t the last). But he may have been the first prominent conservative-media figure to attempt to mainstream a now widely accepted theme among the political right: Trump should be assessed not by his words, but by his actions.

Just as a lot of evangelicals have given Trump a “mulligan” on his moral indiscretions (as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council once put it), the same has been true, on a larger scale, of his rhetorical ones.

This was an enormous capitulation from a political faction that, in addition to opposing nearly all of President Obama’s policies, loudly (and rightly) denounced Obama’s apology tour, knocks against American exceptionalism, dishonesty on everything from Obamacare to Benghazi, blanket criticisms of American law enforcement, racially provocative presumptions, class-warfare rhetoric, and other culturally detrimental oratory.

Yet, it’s a brand of hypocrisy that the right has willingly accepted in the interest of political expediency. An added benefit is that it has also alleviated the pressure on supporters who’ve felt inclined to try and rationalize every unhinged, offensive, or dishonest sentence that leaves Trump’s mouth (though there are clearly plenty who are still up for that task).

Now, four years later, we find ourselves at the next fork in the road: The 2020 election.

After insisting all this time that their guy’s zany ideas and extreme rhetoric are inconsequential when it comes to leadership, Trump supporters (including many media-conservatives) are now saying that the zany ideas and extreme rhetoric from the Democratic presidential candidates illustrate a catastrophic threat to the very fabric of our nation.

That is the prevailing pro-Trump case to undecided voters after all, isn’t it? Sure, Trump has problems, but are you listening to all of that crazy stuff the Democrats are saying?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am troubled by what I’ve been hearing from the Democratic field. Abortion without restrictions? Abolishing private health insurance? Eliminating border enforcement? Gun confiscation? Voting rights for felons? Free college tuition and student loan forgiveness? Each of these ideas is very scary, whether it be economically, constitutionally, morally, or culturally.

It should be noted that not all of these candidates are running on every one of these positions, but there’s been enough overlap (including among the top tier of the field) that I think we absolutely should be more than a little worried.

I felt the same way when listening to Donald Trump put forth policy ideas in 2015 and 2016.

Some of you may recall that in addition to ordering our soldiers to target and kill terrorists’ children, Trump campaigned on “bombing the s—” out of oil fields in Iraq and Syria and claiming those nations’ oil for America. He also supported re-instituting waterboarding, not as an interrogation method, but as a punitive measure to teach the bad guys a lesson. Other highlights included a mandatory national tracking registry for Muslims living in America, banning all Muslims from entering our country, and potentially closing down American mosques. On healthcare, Trump praised single-payer and ran on universal, government-paid coverage (which is indistinguishable from what several Democratic candidates are currently running on). On illegal immigration, he promised mass deportations — over 11 million people booted out of our country, and the construction of a nearly 2,000 mile-long border wall — a totally free one, paid for by the Mexican government (who Trump claimed had been dumping their rapists on our side of the border).

That was some pretty nutty stuff (none of which was ever going to come to fruition), and it doesn’t even include the much longer list of character, temperament, and competency concerns that all stemmed from Trump’s rhetoric.

But let’s focus purely on policy for now. How should voters digest what the 2020 Democratic candidates are saying? Does any of it matter? Is their wildest rhetoric in any way an accurate preview of the America they could and would leave us with?

Or should we use the standard for political rhetoric that O’Reilly and so many others among the Trump faithful have set…in that it’s all just harmless, emotionally charged, unimplementable bombast brilliantly designed to appeal to a frightened and angry political base?

If it’s the latter, why should we be the slightest bit worried? And why should we be listening to the warnings of those who’d previously claimed that none of this stuff matters? I mean… they’re just words after all. Just a mechanism for stirring up emotions. Right?

Well, personally, I’m not buying it. My tent is still pitched in the “words matter” camp. Because you never know when even a largely dismissed campaign mantra about “trade deficits” or “endless wars” is going to lead to a self-mutilating trade war or the willful betrayal and slaughter of one of our most loyal and helpful Middle Eastern allies.

Megyn Kelly, on John A. Daly’s new novel, Safeguard.

The Highjacking of Conservative Philosophy to Sell Liberalism

fingersOne of the big political frustrations conservatives have had in recent years has been the left’s successful re-writing of the English language. By this, I’m referring to the proven ability of coordinated liberal mouthpieces, through the process of repetition, to remove the traditional definitions of certain words and terms and replace them with entirely new meanings.

Take the word “access” for example. We’ve heard it spoken ad nauseam throughout the debate over who should pay for people’s contraceptives, and it’s being used entirely wrong.

The traditional definition of access is “the freedom or ability to obtain or make use of something.” That was the understanding I had of the word when I learned it as an elementary student, and the definition pretty much remained intact all the way up until after the Democratic party took back the White House in 2009.

The word now apparently means, “the convenience of receiving something at someone else’s expense.” At least that’s the definition that would have to be recognized in order for the word to accurately reflect the rhetoric of the Sandra Flukes of the world, and those who believe a great injustice was done to women by the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling. If you recognize the old definition, the ruling of course didn’t deny access of anything to anyone. Only if you use the new meaning does the charge actually make sense.

Unfortunately, perception is now reality. Repetition and the inclination of the national news media not to challenge those they agree with has let the American Left frame debates with whatever rhetoric they like. Thus, the word “illegal” is now largely absent from the illegal immigration argument, government spending has become government investment,  and opposition is now obstructionism.

Heck, the left has even found a creative way to avoid distinguishing between individuals and organizations in their rhetoric. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a headline or heard a remark from a liberal in the media beginning with “Fox News Says…”, and followed by some egregious statement, only to find out that the person who actually made the statement was merely a guest or contributor on the Fox News Channel. Only when trying to marginalize conservatives does an entire network get cited for the remarks of a single individual appearing on that network. After all, when Bill Maher says something outrageous, no one accredits the quote to “HBO.”

Maybe Frank Luntz is to blame for this. When he used to peddle his book “Words that Work” incessantly on television, I thought he was making only a marginally effective point about marketing.  I’m finding out these days that I grossly underestimated the power of a few misused words to change the way Americans look at issues, or to even create issues out of thin air.

Liberals have gotten so good at this that they’re now even using conservative philosophy to sell liberalism.

I couldn’t believe my ears, a few months ago, when Democrats began promoting the results of a CBO report, that concluded the Affordable Care Act would reduce the American workforce by 2.3 million people, as a good thing.

“This was one of the goals,” said House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi. “To give people life, a healthy life, liberty to pursue their happiness. And that liberty is to not be job-locked but to follow their passion.”

Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, used similar rhetoric. “People shouldn’t have job-lock. We live in a country where there should be free agency. People can do what they want.”

These people, with a straight face, actually applied the hallmark conservative principles of freedom and liberty to having Americans’ non-participation in the workforce be subsidized by those who are paying taxes. Some Democratic strategist even came up with the term “job-lock”, not to describe a limitation of job opportunities in a weak economy, but to describe the burden of having to actually work for a living.

This stuff really is unbelievable.

A week or two ago, the aforementioned California Senate candidate, Sandra Fluke, received a great deal of mockery on Twitter for supporting an initiative against something called “wage theft.” Wage theft is the kind of term you would expect a conservative to use when describing the over-taxation of someone’s job earnings. And I’m sure that’s exactly what the “wage theft” opponents were banking on when they came up with the phrase.

As it turns out, the anti-wage-theft campaign is a lefty movement designed to squeeze as much money out of private employers as possible, without any consideration whatsoever to the hefty portion of earnings that the government soaks right up.

Going back to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, we kept hearing the message over and over again from the left that employers should be kept out of women’s medicine cabinets. People were shown on television, holding up protest signs in front of the courthouse that read, “Birth Control: Not My Boss’s Business.”

As Jonah Goldberg pointed out in a piece for the National Review, conservatives agree with that sentiment, and that’s precisely why conservatives supported the Supreme Court’s ruling. People upset with the ruling are actually the ones that believe birth control is their employer’s business, because they want the federal government to force employers to make it their business.

Yes, conservative philosophy is being twisted into faulty rhetoric to sell liberalism, and there’s ample evidence to show that it’s working.

I suppose the silver-lining to come from this is that the conservative message is apparently still a strong one. If it wasn’t, liberals wouldn’t be trying to steal it for their own purposes.
From a Dead Sleep by John A. Daly
The challenge for conservatives has to be to start doing what liberals have been doing: Coming up with a new language to better sell their ideas to the American public.

For far too long, conservatives have relied on commonsense messaging to garnish public support and win elections, but that just isn’t working anymore. The electorate has largely abandoned logic. Today’s culture is driven by emotion and knee-jerk impulses. Conservatives need to understand that, and start getting creative if they hope to build majority support again.

It certainly won’t be easy – especially with a mainstream media culture inclined to work against them – but it can be done.

Obama’s Legacy: Selling Us on Fluff in the Face of Crisis

obamaOn January 20, 2009 (the day Barack Obama was sworn into office) the country was in pretty rough shape. We were in the depths of the Great Recession. Millions of Americans were losing their jobs, companies were shutting down left and right, the stock market was tanking, 12.5% of Americans were living in poverty, and 34 million Americans were receiving food stamps. Our national debt was over $10 trillion. And even with a new president coming into power – one who had an approval rating of over 70% – only 40% of the country thought the nation was headed in the right direction.

I wonder what I would have thought back then, if someone could have looked five years into the future and told me what kind of issues were on the agenda of a re-elected President Obama in the year 2014. According to the president’s State of the Union address, those things are the injustice of rich people becoming wealthier at a faster rate than non-rich people, the need for legislation to deal with women being paid 9 cents less on the dollar than men (not 23 cents as the president stated), and the raising of the minimum wage.

I’m pretty sure that I would have thought something like this: My God. This guy must have been the greatest economic president in the history of our nation! If these things are our country’s greatest economic hurdles in the year 2014, he must have ushered in a level of prosperity and economic solvency that no one could have ever imagined!

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

After five years of President Obama (and 4 1/2 years after the Great Recession ended), our national debt is over $17 trillion – $7 trillion more than when he took office, and $8 trillion more than the amount Candidate Obama told us was both “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic”. The debt is projected to reach $20 trillion by the time Obama leaves office, much in part to the refusal of the administration and the Democratic party to reform our entitlement programs – the leading drivers of our debt.

The U.S. poverty level under Obama has broken a 50-year record, sitting at 15% for three straight years. 47 million Americans now receive food stamps – 13 million more than when Obama took office. Again, this is 4 1/2 years after the recession ended.

The labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low with 1.3 million fewer jobs than when the recession began. This means that if the labor force participation rate were the same as it was when the recession started, the current unemployment rate would be around 11% right now – not the much lower number the administration is now bragging about.

Since Obamacare has been signed into law, the cost of healthcare has continued to rise. Insurance premiums and deductibles have also risen as a direct result of Obamacare. Several millions of Americans (with millions more to follow once the employer mandate kicks in) have been thrown off of their insurance plans, again because of the law.

It sure seems that there are lots of economic challenges out there are far more pressing than the income gap between the rich and the non-rich (which has grown four times faster under Obama),  a trivial income discrepancy between genders, and raising the minimum wage. Yet, those are the primary issues being focused on by our president as we head into the 2014 midterm campaign season, and perhaps the most glaring absurdity of the whole thing is that few people find that weird.

Even with only 30% of Americans now believing this country is heading in the right direction (10% less than when President Obama took office at a very chaotic time in our country’s history), the national narrative is centered around small-ball, abstract, petty issues that no one would rank at the top of their list of concerns. Yet, they’re reliably at the top of the media’s concerns, along with the tiresome War on Women nonsense, so that’s likely what we’ll all be talking about until November.

The political pundits often state that Obamacare will define Obama’s legacy as our president. I understand why they say that. After all, the law (which has never had popular support) affects nearly 1/5 the U.S. economy and is changing (for better or worse) the healthcare system in this country for each and every one of us, either directly or indirectly.From a Dead Sleep by John A. Daly

I’m of a different opinion, however. I believe the legacy of Obama, when the true state of the union is looked back on years from now, will be his astonishingly successful knack for distracting Americans from the big, historical challenges our country faces – challenges that he has never had an appetite to deal with. I believe his legacy will be his ability to convince a large portion of the country (with a lot of help from the media) that their problems could be solved with aimless pursuits of economic fairness and equality, for which his policies only made less attainable in a capitalistic society that already lends its citizens the best chance of achieving both.

Regardless of what you think about President Obama, there’s little doubt that he’s an incredibly impressive individual, especially when you recognize how completely impotent his rhetoric has rendered the opposition party. Even now, as more and more people are waking up to the unfortunate realities of Obamacare and are realizing that the president can’t be trusted to make the right decisions (2/3 of the country according to a recent poll), he’s still able to set the national narrative with his smile, his eloquence, and a litany of poll-tested slogans that we’ve been hearing for years now.

President Obama is undoubtedly a masterful salesman. I just wish my countrymen weren’t the marks being conned.