Maverick Economist Alfred Kahn has a penchant for candor that is both refreshing and dangerous in Washington. When he said that there is the possibility of a “deep, deep depression” if inflation continues to soar, the President was furious. Kahn responded by purging the word depression from his vocabulary and instead using “banana.” So he now says: “We’re in danger of having the worst banana in 45 years.”
– Business: Yes, We Have No Bananas (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,919922,00.html)
Words have power. That’s why an ad slogan is so persuasive. It’s why people polish speeches. It’s why society sometimes considers words taboo.
Sometimes, words are taboo for politically expedient reasons. Economist Alfred Kahn learned this when he felt forced to substitute the word “banana” for the word “depression”.
Other words become socially unacceptable because of the emotions or ideas they stir, so we have “the N-word”, “the L-word”, and words with only one letter about which I have no clue. (Look in the dictionary under N or L, and see how many words you have to choose from.)*
Now, apparently, we have a new “N”: word: Nazi. You can’t invoke the word “Nazi” (or, I suppose, Hitler, Goebbels or Himmler) even if you can draw a distinct historical parallel.
There’s an old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
I have my own version of this. “The first time you tell a lie, it might be an honest mistake. If you are so informed and continue to speak the same lie over and over again, it’s not a mistake. It’s simply a lie.”
Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee tried to make this point in a floor speech on January 18th and has been roundly criticized for making the analogy that Republicans’ chronic strategic of lying about “Obamacare” is akin to the “Big Lie” technique used by the Nazis, to wit:
Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels explained his strategy like this:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
— From “Glenn Beck is fearful for America. And he’s right to be.” (9/2/10)
Rep. Cohen probably went an analogy too far when he brought “blood libel” into it, ala Palin, but that doesn’t make him wrong. (You can hear his excerpted speech for yourself here.)
What should you call it when an opponent argues against your policies not with honest points of dispute, but with lies and distortions and strawmen? Basically, making stuff up? And then they repeat it over and over and over, even after they’ve been told or heard many, many times that they are in error in their statements?
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
But it seems that you can’t call it “the Big Lie”. You can’t reference Goebbels or Nazi propaganda. So what do you do to point it out?
Maybe we should take a page out of Alfred Kahn’s book: “The Republicans are now following the ‘N’-word’s strategy against ObamaCare. They are telling Big Bananas over and over, with the intention that the American public should eventually come to believe them.”
Or maybe just call what it actually is: Goebbels-like propaganda.
*Note: This commentary should in no way be taken as my condoning use of the more-commonly-understood “N”-word, which I find disgusting regardless of who uses it.