If Republicans Want to Win, They Must Stop Talking about Capitalism
One of the simplest rhetorical truths is that the side that defines the vocabulary of a debate wins the debate. Yet, amazingly, we still see experienced conservative politicians with access to advanced polling operations and an array of advisors use the Lexicon of the Left. And this election cycle is no exception.
I could almost cringe when I hear -- as I did repeatedly during Monday's South Carolina GOP debate -- Republicans talk about "capitalism." "I believe in capitalism..." "Barack Obama doesn't believe in capitalism..." Capitalism this and capitalism that -- look at me with my plump wallet, walking stick, and tony top hat. Oh, it's not that I don't believe in free enterprise; it's that we shouldn't use words that conjure up sentiments akin to the preceding rhyme.
And polls inform that this is precisely what "capitalism" does. For example, Pew Research Center reports, "[s]lightly more than half (52%) react positively to the word 'capitalism,' compared with 37% who say they have a negative reaction." According with this is a 2009 Rasmussen poll showing that, shockingly, "only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism." And the picture looks even worse with certain demographic groups. Writes Pew, "Fewer than half of young people, women, people with lower incomes and those with less education react positively to 'capitalism.'"
The shame of this is not just that 37 percent is a large minority to alienate every time you talk economic sense; it's that it's not necessary to alienate them at all. And the reason why is hinted at by another 2009 Rasmussen poll, one finding that "just 35% of American voters believe that a free market economy is the same as a capitalist economy." What does this tell us? It tells us that you could ask if a "free market" were better than socialism and more than 53 percent of Americans would say yes. It tells us that "capitalism" needs a rebranding. And the term all of us -- especially the candidates -- should be using is "economic freedom."
This is such a no-brainer that it's shocking how it still eludes presidential hopefuls. It's especially so when you consider that Frank Luntz, famed pollster and author of the book Words That Work, has recently been echoing the lexical anti-capitalist message. Capitalism may put people to work, but the word doesn't work with the people.
Some may now lament how we have allowed the left to demonize our terminology. But "capitalism" in the modern sense was never ours -- and the left didn't demonize it.
They spawned it.
In point of fact, it was originated by communism's founding fathers.
The two culprits were French socialists Louis Blanc and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. True believers both, Blanc claimed that man's evils were the result of pressures born of competition and gave us the principle "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" (Karl Marx stole it from Blanc), while the equally radical Proudhon believed that "property is theft." Of course, Marx the great imitator then popularized "capitalism."
And, sadly, conservatives now pick up that red ball and run with it (sometimes for president). The man on the street popularizes "capitalism" every time he utters the word. Writers popularize it with their pens. Talk-show hosts with their mouths. Presidential candidates do so in their debates. And every time we popularize the word, we depopularize what it represents.
Understand here the communists' marketing technique. Since they wanted to replace economic freedom with their ism (ism denotes "system"), they had to cast the former as just another ism itself, as this makes them seem more interchangeable. But free enterprise isn't a system in the sense that communism is because it's what naturally results when people are afforded freedom: they will produce, sell, buy, and consume. Hence what I have dubbed it: the Natural Economy. In contrast, what people typically view as a communist government requires a top-down, command-control, million-tentacled state to micromanage people's lives. It is what you could call Unintelligent Design.
Yet as far as propaganda triumphs go, the design of the term "capitalism" is anything but. Since the best known synonym of "capital" is "money," when you add the ism, it can easily be interpreted as "moneyism." Now, do we really want to be stuck defending moneyism? And why should we accept such a one-dimensional term, anyway? I mean, sure, the Natural Economy has a monetary system, but it also involves production and consumption. Yet would we characterize it oh-so-narrowly as "productionism" or "consumerism"? Let's not be guilty of suckerism.
For too long the side that has defined the vocabulary of our debates has been the left. Social engineers in academia mint new terms (e.g., African-American) and co-opt old ones (e.g., gender), which are then transmitted to the populace and infused into common usage by the media and entertainment arenas. Through the manipulation of language the left greases the skids for culture-war victory -- and conservatives reflexively parrot their Libspeak.
Of course, the solution is simple, and we all have a part to play. The left has sought to turn economic freedom into a dirty concept; we must turn "capitalism" into a dirty word.
Don't say it.
Don't write it.
Don't use it.
If we want economic freedom to live, "capitalism" must die.