Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show

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9781586485092: Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show

Geoffrey Nunberg breaks new ground with this fierce and funny narrative of how the political right has ushered in a new world order, aided unwittingly by the liberal media. Democrats are well known for their "lousy bumper stickers," as Joe Klein puts it. As liberals wade through the semantics of "social security lockbox," "single payer," and other wonky locutions, the right has become harder, meaner and better at getting out the message: the estate tax became the more menacing "death tax" and a contentious education initiative was wrapped in the comforting (and memorable) blanket of "No Child Left Behind." But Nunberg shows that the real story is more subtle than just a bumper sticker war. Conservatives' main goal wasn't to win voters over to their positions on healthcare, education, or the environment. They had a much more dramatic ambition. By changing the meaning of words like "values," "government," "liberal"; "faith," and "freedom," conservatives have shifted the political center of gravity of the language itself to the right. "Whatever our politics," Nunberg observes, "when we talk about politics nowadays, we can't help using language that embodies a conservative world-view."

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About the Author:

Geoffrey Nunberg is a linguist who teaches at the Berkeley School of Information. He is chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. Since 1989, he has done a language feature on NPR's "Fresh Air," and his commentaries on language and politics are regularly seen in the Sunday New York Times and other publications. A winner of the Linguistic Society of America's Language and the Public Interest Award, he is also the author of The Way We Talk Now and Going Nucular. Nunberg lives in San Francisco, California.

From Publishers Weekly:

Nunberg, a professor of linguistics and columnist for the New York Times, believes that Democrats are at a loss for words when it comes to the use of political language. As the Democrats feebly argue that they must "reframe" their arguments to reach voters, Nunberg (Going Nucular) believes that "what we have here is more than just a failure to communicate." Though conservatives have gained political ground using loaded terms such as "death tax" for estate tax, "climate change" for global warming and "hate speech" for any criticism of the president or fellow Republicans, their true triumph is more subtle, hijacking the "core vocabulary of American political discourse"-like "values" and "elite"-and using them to Republicans' exclusive advantage. Nunberg insists that liberals cannot model their strategy after GOP successes, though he offers little in the way of practical strategy. Though the phrase "politics of perception" has been overused-and therefore, as Nunberg might argue, rendered empty of meaning-Nunberg proves in this thoughtful, funny and rousing effort that the use and misuse of language is still of vital concern to the body politic.
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