Re-Defining Politics

The GOP tried their hand at writing the dictionary, but the dictionary is striking back.

A lot of Republicans have a saying—you’ve probably heard it—that goes like this:  “I believe that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.” 

That’s how candidates state their position, specifically using that phrase:  “the definition of marriage.” 

I teach English, so I’ve always found that an odd way of stating your approach to a complex issue.  It seems very odd to me to reduce this discussion to semantics, and to structure your argument as though you were in the board room of Merriam-Webster.  You don’t often observe that in other issues. 

And I really don’t think that framing arguments like this is a wise strategy.

No English teacher would approach teaching vocabulary by saying each word only has one, strict definition that everyone accepts.  To do so would hamstring a student’s ability not only to grasp the language, but a fundamental understanding of reality.  That’s why we teach things like connotative meanings and denotative meanings: to get across that both our language and thoughts are complex.

Therefore, defining this issue through defining a word is an impossible task, because words change over time:  New ones show up, old ones go away, and they substantially evolve. 

Kind of like marriages, actually.

Another (hyphenated) word the GOP sticks by the definition of is the puzzling “pro-life.”   It’s a euphemism that describes people who are, more succinctly, “anti-abortion.”   Nobody in the nation is “anti-life” (well, except maybe serial killers). 

Nor, for that matter, are many people “pro-abortion.”  I don’t know all the women in this world, but I would imagine the vast majority of them do not include “abortion” on their list of hobbies or turn-ons.   I’m sort of assuming the centerfold for Playmate of the Month does not usually say, “I enjoy long walks on the beach, hanging out with friends, and a relaxing abortion in my free time.”

And, speaking of abortion, the Republicans are also concerned with the definition of the word “life,” and when it begins. 

Now, as stating that life doesn’t begin at conception; and that, to murder something, that thing would have to have been able to sustain life on its own in the first place.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t step back and admire the anti-abortion protester’s manipulation of the language to decide that a bundle of cells at conception qualifies as someone with rights.

However, I have to admit that kind of sucks.  Because once we start assigning rights to microscopic objects that can’t sustain life outside the body (but are technically alive), it’s only a matter of time until I go to jail for tossing out a snot rag.

Anyway, regardless of how I personally feel about the definition of “life,” or the euphemism “pro-life,” or the word “marriage,” words are starting to fight back against the GOP.

Lately, they’ve gotten in trouble trying to define the word “rape.”  I had (heretofore) never considered this a very controversial word to define, but the GOP went out and tried to make it one anyway (whether by choice or by accident).

The thing about this word is that the GOP not only wants legislation to define one of the possible outcomes from a rape, but some of them don’t seem to understand what the word and its modifiers mean in the first place.  They start splitting hairs about whether a “forcible” rape makes it a “legitimate” rape.  Then Todd Akin came along and seemed to believe that a woman’s body itself was aware of that distinction linguistically and conceptually, and so it simply shut down certain biological processes in response.

But just when you thought Todd Akin was the only Republican with his foot in his mouth over the word rape, now there’s GOP candidate Tom Smith (PA) who equated rape as synonymous with “having a baby out of wedlock.” And the more the Paul Ryans, Todd Akins, and Tom Smiths of the party start discussing a word that (in and of itself) our culture took for granted as communally understood, the more people start to question if this party really knows what they’re talking about. 

I didn’t frame this argument of solving political problems by literally changing the definitions and meanings of words.  The GOP did.  And so it shouldn’t surprise them when these discussions backfire, and words end up hurting their party. 

Because if people start thinking the GOP doesn’t really understand what words mean, as expressed when they can’t define a word as simple as “rape”; then the electorate is going to wonder if they’re a credible authority on the more complex issue of “marriage.”  And it’s not much of a further leap, then, to think that they really don’t have a grasp on the meaning and definition of the even more complex definition of “life.”

And then it would just be a matter of time before people start asking questions about other words the GOP takes for granted. 

Like what "small government" really means.


You can now follow Patrick on twitter @PatrickInPublic


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Phyllis Stager September 14, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Well said, MZ. How about that 'right' to go ahead and kill a living botched abortion product? Even though it is no longer a part of the woman's body (over which she is in total control), it has been established and backed by our President that the aborter may go ahead and kill it. I looked and looked for alternative definitions of marriage on online dictionaries and they all start with a legal union of a man and a woman. I have nothing against Civil Unions with all the legal privileges of marriage.
Tim Torrence September 15, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Remember bills that the Democrats propose on the subject of abortion. If a fetus / child / baby / zygote or whatever you chose to call it, survives an abortive procedure the medical personnel are required to finish the job. Remember that Democrats propose that medical personnel are required to perform these procedures even if they find them to be against their personal beliefs. No matter how extreme you believe the Republicans become the Democrats become just as extreme. The issue is not that they are becoming extreme the issue is your inability to admit that the people you support do exactly the same things you say make the people you do not support just as extreme. Remember the party of women chose their national convention to place the only President to admit he used his position to sexually harass an intern in a prominent roll. Remember the party of women chose their national convention to do a video tribute to their hero Senator who drove a woman over a bridge and then left her to die. Honesty is honesty you cannot get away from it no matter how fast you run. I understand that when you talk politics and social issues you are used to debating people that come with a set of talking points counter to yours because that is the norm. I do not fit that mold. There are a few of us in this country that have the ability to call both sides out.
Patrick Giusto September 16, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Tim, I don't expect that you've read every single thing I've written, so I'll give you a pass on this logical fallacy you've created for me. I'm not a Democrat. I even wrote a blog literally titled, and explaining, "Why I'm Not a Democrat." In it, I say I am liberal, and am sort of forced to support the Democrats in our political system-- but the absolute, number one most important issue is education, and the Democrats have been in agreement with the Republicans in privatizing and destroying our schools. You can see it right now in President Obama's inaction in helping the Chicago teachers on strike; you can see it in that same strike from Rahm Emanuel; and you can see it again with Democrat Frank Jackson in Cleveland. But education is not the only issue I've hammered the Democrats on. Between the blog and my twitter feed (hooray for my 28 followers!), I've berated the Democrats for being weak in not getting at LEAST a public option, criticized their campaign strategy, and mocked them for not getting a bigger stimulus. I really think you're looking at this through the lens of thinking I'm two-dimensional, and seeing what you want to see. Yes, I hit the Republicans harder, but that is because I believe they have become radicalized, and have done this with exceptionally ridiculous rhetoric and denial of fact. They're just easier to hit, frankly. But the Democrats are by NO MEANS free and clear of ridicule. I do, as you claim to, call both sides out.
Tim Torrence September 17, 2012 at 05:48 PM
A) Just like you, I'm sure, I am a registered Democrat. Therefor it is your party. B) The Democrat Party has also adjusted their pro-choice stance by eliminating one word from their platform. They removed the word rare. This was overlooked with all the anti-God and anti-Israel rhetoric going on. So Democrats now do not want abortions to be rare to go along with the finances pushed on those who cannot bring themselves to support a pro-choice stance. C) The federal government cannot step in to this Chicago strike unless the public welfare is put at stake or the strikers' civil rights are being violated. So far neither has proven true. D) Private education has proven itself better than public education for decades now. Even children who come from the same lower class, broken home, etc who attend these private and charter schools prove themselves capable students when based on every measure. That argument falls on deaf ears when it comes to the general public and you know this.
James Thomas September 17, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Patrick, "Guilty, Guilty, Guilty" you may not be a "Democrat" but you are a progressive Liberal and therefore guilty of the greatest "guilt by association McCarthyism". As Mark Slackmeyer of Doonsbury says "Guilty, Guilty, Guilty"


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