Partisan dialects: A look at the rhetoric of 2016 presidential candidates

Sean Lundergan | Contributing Writer

As of last week’s Democratic Party Primary Debate, America’s quadrennial partisan rhetoric-fest is officially in full swing. This year has already established itself as a particularly prolific installment of our beloved season of unwarranted personal attacks, made-up statistics, hilariously cringe-worthy gaffes and what we’ll generously call “creative” use of language. Politics have a strange ability to distort the meanings of words, and this election cycle has revealed the different dialects in which Republicans and Democrats speak.

This lexicographical phenomenon is at the heart of our divided political landscape. To understand the disparity between the parties, not only in their proposed solutions to the country’s woes but in what they perceive those woes to be, we may look to these two dialects that have developed as a result of this polarization.

1. Liberal

Liberal (adj) to Republicans: A Republican insult to characterize anything they don’t like; applicable to anything from far-left politics, to relatively neutral news organizations, to science, to Republicans whose economic or social policies don’t sufficiently favor upper-class white people.

Liberal (adj) to Democrats: Usually replaced with the more positive-sounding term “progressive.”

As the primary contests in each party heat up, many candidates like Ben Carson and Hillary Clinton use their opposition to the other party’s ideology as a quality to boast about. Here, the lines of discourse are clearly based on and perpetuating the animosity between the competing ideological viewpoints and show no concern for the effects it may have on their chances in the general election.

2. Independent

Independent (n) to Republicans: Doesn’t matter; you won’t get elected.

Independent (n) to Democrats: See above.

Maybe not the best thing for the two competing sides to agree upon; recent history has shown that candidates who don’t vote only along party lines, like Scott Brown and Jon Huntsman, are incapable of overcoming more extreme opponents.

3. Conservative

Conservative (adj) to Republicans: Saintly.

Conservative (adj) to Democrats: Racist and/or sexist and/or subservient to the wealthy.

4. Abortion

Abortion (n) to Republicans: Tantamount to murder.

Abortion (n) to Democrats: Commonly referred to as “a woman’s right to choose” due to negative connotations of the word “abortion,” but those supporting abortion rights are seen by the left as champions of women’s rights.

Republicans think it’s a matter of a right to life. Democrats think it’s a matter of a right to one’s own uterus. Clearly we’re speaking two different languages here.

5. National Rifle Association

NRA (n) to Republicans: The ultimate protector of the unlimited freedom awarded by the Second Amendment.

NRA (n) to Democrats: SATAN.

The epitome of American politics—rhetoric becomes so polarizing on issues that the “middle ground” or even moderate left or right views are derided by both parties.

6. Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton (n) to Republicans: The other great Satan, a symbol of leftist debauchery and the go-to punching bag for any conservative looking to earn some cheap points among the Republican base.

Hillary Clinton (n) to most Democrats: A pillar of current Democratic politics and someone whom even many Bernie Sanders supporters would be comfortable with in the White House.

Hillary Clinton (n) to the three irrelevant Democrats running against her and their collective 1-3 percent support among Democrats: A walking embodiment of the futility of their efforts.

7. Donald Trump

Donald Trump (n) to Republicans: Someone who makes Republicans look bad and generally an embarrassment to America.

Donald Trump (n) to Democrats: Absurd even for a Republican and generally an embarrassment to America.

At least most of us can agree about Trump, I guess.

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