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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kilgore: ‘Magic Word Gaffe’ Not Likely to Sell

The Republicans have got their knickers all in a gnarly wad about President Obama’s comments noting that most successful businesses and entrepreneurs have enjoyed considerable benefit from government services. In his Washington Monthly post on the topic, Ed Kilgore describes the GOP reaction as a “gigantic, “aha” moment in the campaign that would drive Obama from the White House like a whipped Kenyan dog.” As Kilgore elaborates,

…Even if you buy the twisted, mendacious version of the Obama quote that the Romney campaign is retailing, are Americans really so protective of the tender sensibilities of business owners that they are shocked anyone would suggest that each and every one of them built their businesses strictly on their own? (Aside from from roads and bridges and inheritances, how’s about employees as a significant factor in business success?).

Kilgore cites Dave Weigel’s explanation that the GOPers are always looking for the “magic word gaffe–a statement that reveals not what a politician believes, but what you already feared, in your bone marrow, that a politician believes,” then adds:

Bingo. The “magic word gaffe” is sort of the inverse of the “dog whistle” whereby pols use banal language that has a special meaning to ideologues (“constitutional conservative” being one notable example; “respect for life” being another). For our right-wing brothers and sisters, progressive (itself a magic word–maybe even a secret handshake–connoting Marxist convictions) discourse is full of these signifiers. “Equality.” “Fairness.” “Giving something back.” “Shared sacrifice.” Constant vigilance for these magic words is how conservatives have convinced themselves that the blandly pragmatic center-left politician Barack Obama pursuing leftover moderate Republican policies is a villain-figure straight out of Atlas Shrugged or (for the godly) Left Behind, hating success and righteousness.
The problem with this stuff, of course, is that the low-information swing voters who will decide the present election will require an awful lot of education to understand the magic word gaffes. They haven’t marinated their brains with Beckian revisionist history and don’t run around pasting “Breitbart Is Here!” posters on telephone poles. Many of them, in fact, probably don’t own businesses and don’t much think of their own bosses–much less the Mitt Romneys of the world–as heroic figures. So the nastiness aimed at Obama will inevitably get a lot coarser than what we hearing today. So what if a few facts get bent or invented along the way? America must be protected!

We may rest assured that the Republicans are not going to win a lot of new votes with this particular meme, since all those who would be gullible enough to buy it have likely long ago booked passage on the SS Wingnut.

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