If you don’t trust a particular political player – but can’t put your finger on why – these distinctions can help you test the language they use to distort a listener’s worldview ……
CATEGORY ONE: TRICKSTER WORDS
The two prime examples in this group are the terms centrist and non-partisan. We discuss them as if they really exist, but they’re provably false when submitted to a thorough analysis.
These labels are often featured in the language of the political con artist, who hides within them like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A few self-described “non-partisans” do use the description sincerely, however …… if only because the left-right model provided no other option.
CATEGORY TWO: THE BARNACLE-CLAD
This group includes words like libertarian and progressive. They aren’t falsehoods but neither are they adequate. The confusion lies in the layers of conflicting connotations that have gradually encrusted the terms. This makes them difficult vessels for maneuvering the choppy waters of complex political conversations.
CATEGORY THREE: THE ULTRA-SOPHISTICATES
This category includes words like communitarianism and theoconservatism. They can sometimes be useful when applied to a discussion of great depth, but are too complex and obscure to make sense in a pragmatic conversation.
Ultra-sophisticate terms can be recognized by their long syllable strings and by the personalities who use them: political science professors, media pundits, etc.
CATEGORY FOUR: INDISPENSABLE TERMS
Four words reside in this category: liberal and conservative …… and their synonyms, left and right. Our society can’t be discussed without them.
Try the following experiment some time: ignore the point being made by the participants in a political conversation and instead count the number of times one of these words is used. It can be surprising how often they come up …… and how frequently conflicting meanings are applied to the same term.
Unfortunately, the indispensables are incomplete until combined with other important terms that are rarely used: the “power words” like centralizing and citizen-empowering.
CATEGORY FIVE: THE CONFLATORS
This category subdivides into greater and lesser conflators, though the “lesser” group has still done “great” harm.
LESSER CONFLATORS: The terms Democrat and Republican are used by many as synonyms for left and right …… or liberal and conservative. Their basic nature is quite different, however. The political parties are coalition builders whose main goal is to get one more vote than the competitor: an outcome they hope will lead to greater political power. Liberal and conservative are merely marketed as the party’s “brand.”
GREATER CONFLATORS: The term fascist is a poster child for this category. The left accuses the right of being fascist, while the right makes the same accusation in reverse. Meanwhile, neither side separates the power component of the term from its values component. When the political circle’s two axes are insufficiently distinguished, some person (or group) will be posited as a villain without sufficient evidence.
A FINAL NOTE
There might be additional categories of political words. If you think of one that doesn’t fit within these five, suggest it in the comments section below.