“Seriously, This Is Insane.” And Other Debate Reactions.
Translating the GOP and Democratic Debates into Plain English
During the past week, the presidential campaign moved out of what Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazille calls the “minimum demographics” states (translation: their populations include very few African-Americans or Latinos), and, in preparation for the upcoming contests in South Carolina and Nevada, the Democratic and Republican candidates held their sixth and ninth debates, respectively. Following is our guide to the most exemplary deceptive language (or, as we prefer to call it, Spinglish) used in each:
The Sixth Democratic Debate:
Hillarycare. “Before it was called ‘Obamacare,’ it was called ‘Hillarycare,’” Hillary Clinton boasted, in response to Bernie Sanders’s criticisms of her current health policies. Well, not exactly. Clinton 1990s health proposal, like Sanders’s current one, called for a single-payer system (momentum for which, she said at the time, would soon “sweep the country.”). Obamacare is not a single-payer system, and Clinton now argues it is an impractical goal.
“But more importantly…” Bernie Sanders condemned Clinton for voting for the Iraq War, and then immediately used this time-tested Spinglish “pivot phrase” to change the subject before she could muster a response.
“We are not France.” This neatly nativist response by Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders’s complaint that the U.S. is the only major industrial power that does not provide universal health care for its citizens slyly implicated Sanders in a nefarious plan to turn our beloved country into a nation of beret-wearing, croissant-chomping, aperitif-swilling socialists. A classic mot injuste.
regime change. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton used this phrase more than once during the debate. The fact that it’s become such a commonly accepted term makes it easy to forget that it is a classic example of Iraq War-era Spinglish, coined by a neoconservative think tank, the Project for a New American Century (more about them later). The neologism, as authors John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton have pointed out, made it possible for President George W. Bush to promote the preemptive invasion of a sovereign nation “without even thinking about the human consequences: assassination, occupation, or the deaths of thousands of innocents.”
Coughing over some of your opponent’s key debate lines. It may or may not have been intentional, but Bernie Sanders managed to time a couple of very loud and distracting coughing fits to correspond perfectly with important points his opponent was trying to make about an issue that is generally considered his weakest—national security.
“It’s not my PAC.” Hillary Clinton tried to argue that “Priorities USA Action,” which, she admitted, “now says it wants to support me,” was not her Super PAC. Well, it’s true that laws do not permit candidates to control Super PACS, and it’s also a fact that two former Obama campaign officials founded Priorities USA Action in 2011 to support the current president’s reelection campaign. But the PAC is now run by Clinton’s 2008 campaign director, Guy Cecil, and according to FactCheck.org, by the end of January 2016 it had managed to raise more than $50 million for use during this election cycle. Coincidence?
The Ninth Republican Debate:
the Obama economy. Senator Ted Cruz referred more than once to the Obama economy, stating that “the middle class has been left behind” in the last seven years of it, and “we’ve got to bring jobs back.” What the term “Obama economy” conveniently fails to take into account, of course, is that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of 462,000 private-sector American jobs were lost during the eight years George W. Bush was president, while 12,877,000 have been added since Barack Obama took office.
“I’m the only one on this stage that said, ‘Do not go into Iraq. Do not attack Iraq,’ Nobody else on this stage said that. And I said it loud and strong.” Not only did Donald Trump not say “Do not go into Iraq” loud and strong, an assertion he made during the debate; as PolitiFact points out, no one has been able to find any evidence he said it at all. Yes, he did criticize the war many months after the invasion, when it had already become clear that things weren’t going according to plan, but that’s quite a different matter.
collateral damage. After asserting that President Obama was guilty of “asinine thinking” by establishing “rules of engagement” for American bombing directed against ISIS, the usually not very military-minded Ben Carson employed this classic piece of Pentagon war-speak in support of his argument that one has to “accept” some agreed-upon number of civilian casualties (not to mention blowing up the occasional hospital, school, or home) in order to achieve one’s goals.
“Marco went on Univision in Spanish and said he would not rescind President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty on his first day in office.” This line from Ted Cruz, as Washington Post fact-checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee explains, fails to qualify as a bald-faced lie, but only because Cruz snuck in the reference to Rubio’s hypothetical “first day in office.” What Rubio actually said during his Spanish-language interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos was that Obama’s executive action granting qualifying undocumented workers temporary exemption from deportation was “going to have to end,” but that it couldn’t “be cancelled suddenly because there are already people who are benefitting from it.”
“I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision, because he doesn’t speak Spanish.” Rather than attempting to dissect Ted Cruz’s misleading charge about his “non-opposition” to Obama’s executive order, Marco Rubio countered with an insult. One reason the Florida senator’s retort qualifies as Spinglish: it enabled him to attack Cruz without justifying his own nuanced position on the deportation of immigrants. The second reason becomes clear when you consider Cruz’s response: “Marco, si quieres … ahora el mismo, díselo ahora, en Español, si quieres.”
death tax. Senator Ted Cruz used this ideologically loaded synonym—one of our all-time favorite political Spinglish terms–to describe what the IRS and most progressive economists refer to as the “estate tax” or “inheritance tax”—a levy Cruz branded as “cruel and unfair.”
lobbyists. Donald Trump invoked this dismissive term to describe everyone in the South Carolina debate audience who booed him during the debate, implying that the catcalls must have come from Bush supporters, Washington insiders, and “donors and special interests.”
“The Rubio-Schumer amnesty plan.” Senator Ted Cruz takes every opportunity he can to link Marco Rubio with New York’s Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer, and to use the word “amnesty” as a synonym for any program that provides a pathway, no matter how long and difficult, for the 11 million undocumented aliens currently in the country to achieve some form of legal status in the U.S.
“New American century.” Marco Rubio promised that, if elected, he would usher in a “New American century.” This term originally gained currency thanks to the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), the turn-of-the-millennium neo-conservative think tank referred to earlier in this article. One of PNAC’s co-founders, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, recently responded to Donald Trump’s candidacy by reassuring MSNBC that “Rubio’s going to win in November, and we should all calm down.” The organization’s other co-founder, Robert Kagan, is one of Rubio’s chief foreign policy advisors. “Rubio is campaigning as a visionary and new generational leader,” remarks Mother Jones mz1`agazine’s Pema Levy, “yet his policy ideas—and his key national security advisers—are Bush-era throwbacks.”
principled constitutionalists. Senator Ted Cruz offered this descriptive phrase for the type of Supreme Court Justice he would choose to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia—presumably a jurist who would regard multi-million-dollar political campaign contributions as a protected form of speech; the death penalty as kindly and common, rather than cruel and unusual punishment; and any controls on the sale and purchase of guns, including military assault weapons, as tantamount to acts of confiscation violating the Second Amendment. “If we get this wrong, if we nominate the wrong candidates, the Second Amendment, life, marriage, religious, liberty—everyone of those hangs in the balance,” Cruz said in his closing remarks. “My little girls are here. I don’t want to look my daughters in the eyes and say, ‘we lost their liberties.’”
“Two days ago [Jeb Bush] said he would take his pants off and moon everybody, and that’s fine. Nobody reports that. He gets up and says that, and then he tells me, oh, my language was a little bit rough.” Donald Trump gets the credit for being the first serious presidential candidate to bring up the formerly taboo subject of “taking off one’s trousers and mooning everybody” in a televised campaign event. Bush responded by saying, “If [my mother’s] watching the debate, I didn’t say I was going to moon somebody.” Actually both comments are misleading. Bush never said he was going to moon somebody, but during a private interview with a Boston Globe reporter, he did pose, in the context of complaining about his lack of media coverage, the suggestion that “I could drop my pants, moon the whole crowd. Everybody would be aghast, except the press guys would never notice.” Furthermore, Trump was disingenuous when he stated that Bush “got up and said” what he said, and totally misleading when he asserted, “Nobody reports that.” If Bush’s mooning quote hadn’t been covered in the media, Trump would never have heard about it.
* * * *
It is worth noting that Republican political consultant, pollster, and public opinion guru Frank Luntz, who has coined and promoted several subtle and effective Spinglish terms (including “death tax”), sent out this tweet after the South Carolina Debate: “Seriously, this is insane. The GOP is destroying itself, and they have no one to blame but themselves.”