Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Healthcare Bill Has Grammarians Up in Arms

March 9, 2017 

     The new Republican health care law has caused grammar experts to be blitzed with phone calls.  With reports now coming out about the law’s effects, the proper punctuation to refer to the law is being closely scrutinized, according to Lisa Frank, president of Grammarians National Association for Zuper Instructorsor G-NAZ as the younger, hipper members call it.  The organization, originally begun as a sister organization to the premier language and grammar promoting institution in Germany in the early 1930’s, is a repository of experts and self-professed grammar nerds. 

     “This health care proposal is igniting a lightning war among our members. One of the first debates was over subject-verb agreement,” said Frank. “Instead of the concern about whether the subject and verb agree in number, though, this is more metaphysical.  Most members just don’t think that the verb 'care' actually agrees with the stated subject of this bill because it would remove health care access from more people than gained access through the old ACA.”  

     “We have consulted with the American Grammarians Executive Database on this,” she explained, “and AGED shows that there is just no particular grammar rule covering word and definition agreement.”  “Our members are getting phone calls, some every hour, from news reporters and legislators all over the world on how to properly refer to this bill,” she further explained, “but the best that we can tell people is they should contact a professional philosopher with experience in the intenstion-extension area of metaphysics and philosophy of language.   “Oh well,” she sighed, “at least they aren’t calling it affordable now,” she added, “It’s one less issue to contend with.” 
     We tracked down one such expert, Dr. Jeremy Byrd. Dr. Byrd explained that intension is the philosopher’s jargon for the definition of a word and the extension is corresponding real world examples of that word.  “Yes,” opined Dr. Byrd, “this isn’t really an area where you need that much philosophical expertise to see that the definition of “health care” is not covered by a proposal that removes health care from millions.  I read that Paul Ryan actually proposed this as a piece of performance art to troll all of America.  So, if you really want to understand this language, then you should consult with an expert in satire, like the Onion.”
     “There are also practical problems that we grammarians must deal with,” said Samantha "Sammy" Colon, the vice-president of G-NAZ.  “One hot-button topic now is how one should use quote marks when referring to the so-called American Health Care Act.”  Sammy explained that scare quotes are quotation marks sometimes put around words that indicate skepticism over the meaning of a word in a particular usage, or when a word is used in an ironic, sarcastic, or satirical sense.  “This issue is practical and not so philosophical,” she continued.  “The standard practice is to put the scare quotes around the entire phrase.” 
      “In extreme cases, if the language is so controversial that single scare quotes aren’t sufficient,” Ms. Colon continued, “then you have a couple options.  When speaking, you may exaggerate the scare quote gesture of crimping the first two fingers of each hand by moving the arms or even the entire body up and down to amplify the scare-quote-making gesture.  If writing or speaking, you may put scare quotes around each individual word to connote extreme skepticism or sarcasm.”        

Not really related content: 
Conservative Parents Demand New Conservative Verb Tense Be Taught in Schools

     There is one usage that G-NAZ does not give official approval, however.  Ms. Colon explained, “while there is no law against placing scare quotes around each individual word and then additionally around the entire phrase to connote uber-extreme and skeptical sarcasm, we here at the G-NAZ severely frown upon such usage.  Even among grammar nerds, there is such a thing as being too extreme.” 
      “Oh,” added President Frank, “don’t forget that, if you use the phrase “so-called” before a word or phrase, then scare quotes around it is just overkill, just like Sammy explained with putting extra scare quotes around an entire phrase of individually scare-quoted words.”  

 Here are some examples from G-NAZ vice president Sammy Colon of proper and improper usage:  
 Yes: American “Health” “Care” Act 
Yes: “American Health Care Act” 
No: “American “Health” “Care” Act” or “American “Health Care” Act” 
No: the so-called “American Health Care Act” 

     There are proper ways to use scare quotes, and we should take note that grammatical extremism, even in the defense of liberty, is considered a vice.  Please remember, readers, to watch your grammar.  We never know when a G-NAZ member will have to storm in like a Valkyrie and give our writing an uber-grammatik treatment, and nobody wants that.  Frank, however, asserts that they are only trying to help improve the quality of communication and that they aren’t some Gestapo sending people to re-education camps.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

RepubliCare – a Word that Works

     In the last two articles, we took a look at Frank Luntz’ messaging guide called Words that Work as a follow up to our article Don’t Call It TrumpCare.  That has been the playbook for Republican messaging for decades.  Luntz has repeatedly told us liberals to read his book and use it.  I took one for the team, read it, and am currently re-reading his book and taking detailed notes.  The last two pieces, Republicare – Working the Word pt1 & pt2 were written to set up a foundation for us liberals to understand how to do effective messaging, especially for those of us that chafe at the idea of using the same strategy that appears to have led the march to dumb down America.  Those articles were necessary because I know that liberals won’t just accept marching orders.   If you have questions about why this should work, then check them out in the links above.  In this piece, I’ll do a quick rundown of how the RepubliCare slogan applies the 10 rules.

Rule 1: “Simplicity. Use small words. Most people won’t reach for a dictionary.”

     RepubliCare is a combination of Republican and Care, which is short for health care.  Yes, we know that it’s not really a health care program, so we add the epithet “- the Republican Wealthcare Program.” It’s straight, simple, and to the point.

     Strategically, I want something that can be used to hammer ALL Republicans, and I want a phrase that will be memorable enough to pound them with in the next election.  Trump and Ryan are already trying to dodge responsibility for this fiasco.  Trump will almost definitely walk away unscathed (his career has been predicated on avoiding accountability), and it’s unlikely that this will hurt Ryan enough to cost him reelection.  So, the best strategy is to make this general enough to blast all Republicans with.   This should be a battle cry for Democrats in the next election.  Every Republican who did not immediately denounce this (which is all of them) should be labeled with it.  Those that eventually vote against it can be slammed for not actively opposing it earlier when they had more potential to influence this bill.

     By the way, this is also a good point to face the elephant in the Democratic room: Democrats are nowhere near as good as messaging as Republicans have been.   It’s a grand failure to think that we can label this with a dozen different variations and win the fight.  Don’t think for a moment that we can merely pin this on Trump and declare victory.  As we point out elsewhere, it wasn’t even his plan to begin with.  Also, he’s made a career out of dodging responsibility for everything.  If Democrats, progressives, and liberals want to win, then we need to unite on this and hammer it home.  Otherwise, we’ll be left with Trump, a Republican House of Representatives, and a Republican Senate. That’s a future that our nation cannot afford.

     Feel free to use scare quotes around “RepubliCare”.  Scare quotes are used to highlight a word, especially when it is used in an ironic, sarcastic, or satirical manner.  We are mocking the Republicans here, so use the scare quotes freely when referring to Republican “healthcare,” or when you want to highlight that “RepuliCare” is not really healthcare but a way to deny people health care.

Rule 2: “Brevity: Use short sentences. Never use a sentence when a phrase will do.”

     I think Luntz also says to never use a phrase when a single word will do as well, but I couldn’t find it before I began to write this.  This is important.   I’ve seen people suggest alternatives like “Trump-Don’t-Care”.   Say Trump-Don’t-Care and RepuliCare out loud.  “Trump-Don’t-Care” takes longer to say.  It sounds a little clunky.  (No offense intended to people who suggested it.  I appreciate the suggestions; we will need your help in future linguistic battles with these bigoted bastards, so don’t bail on us.)

Rule 3: “Credibility is as important as philosophy. If your words lack sincerity or contradict accepted facts, circumstances, or perceptions, they will lack impact.”

     This fiasco of a plan is showing the entire nation how morally bankrupt the Republican philosophy truly is.   When their proposal to improve the ACA actually denies people access and makes it multiple times more expensive, then the nation will not accept it.   That, however, is not enough.  That’s why I suggested the “Republi-” part.  Using RepubliCare, we can brand the Republicans with this for years to come if we are consistent.  They were happy to be the “Party of No” for 8 years.  Now let’s make them the “Party of No Healthcare” for the next 10 years.  This isn’t only about showing a lack of credibility on this issue or even the next election.   If we hammer this home, we can use this to brand them as the callous and bought-off bigots that they truly are for years to come.

Meme #15

Rule 4: “Consistency. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. You may be hearing the message for the 1,000th time, but someone else is hearing it for the first time.”

     Republicans have tried to prescribe tax cuts and the free market for every problem for decades. They do it even in the face of market failures like healthcare. The only time the market doesn’t fail for them is in their wealthcare proposals.  There they have been consistent.   This issue is a clear winner for us, but the odds are still stacked against us: Republicans hold the White House, House of Representatives, and the Senate.  If we are going to beat them, we need a united front.

     Again, we aren’t just trying to beat them on this issue.  We are setting the stage to knock the snot out of them in the next election.  In order to win this battle, we need to stay disciplined and on message.  (By the way, notice how I’ve repeated that this is not just about this proposal, but the next election? Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.   If you started reading this series at Don’t Call It TrumpCare, you’ll also notice that this is a consistent message as well.)
If you’ve read some of our other posts, you may also know that we aren’t trying to convert die-hard Trumpanzees.  Our target audience, once we’ve mentally prepared to engage, are people in the middle who now regret voting for Trump, or maybe didn’t vote for him but thought that we should give him a chance.   Every time they hear our message, we are adding a grain of sand to the scale.   If they hear the exact same words, each repetition is like two grains of sand on the scale.   We won’t win them over on any particular occasion, but, with repetition and time, we will win.

Rule 5: “Novelty: Offer Something New.”

     RepubliCare is different and new, as far as slogans go.   I haven’t seen it in any major news piece yet.  The news on the AHCA that I see right now is like more horse race politics.   They are tossing around Trumpcare and Ryancare because they are trying to foresee who will take the political fallout from this fiasco*.  Who do you want to see take the political hit for this?  As we’ve said before, this will roll off Trump’s slimy back, and Ryan is politically safe.   Our best bet is to brand all Republicans with this train wreck.

     *As we finish the final edit on this piece, TrumpCare seems to be the reigning moniker.  That's too bad because when the damning repercussions begin, Trump will just whine that it wasn't his plan but he had to support his party.  He'll get away with that too.  It might not be too late at that point to shift to RepubliCare, but it will be an opportunity lost.  If you'd like to see liberals united in confronting not only Trump but also the entire Repbublican destruction machine, then please send these articles to your local Democratic representatives.

Rule 6: “Sound and Texture Matter.”

     One of the other suggestions was “Trump-Don’t-Care”.   The problem is that “Trump-Don’t-Care” doesn’t roll off the tongue like RepubliCare.   Say each one out loud again.  (Also remember that Trump will dodge responsibility for this monstrosity anyway!)  We've already noted that RepubliCare is much quicker to say.  The T in Trump and the D in Don’t make the tongue jump back and forth in the mouth too much, and that makes it easier to stumble over. We need this to be smooth so that others will pick it up.   If it rolls easily, it will stick easily.  We want this message to stick so that we can bring it up again in the 2018 elections.

     Another really good suggestion was wealthcare.  I liked it a lot, but it sounds a bit general.  I want this to stick to Republicans like bugs guts on a windshield on a hot summer day.  So, we decided to incorporate it as an epithet that gives us “RepubliCare – the Republican Wealthcare Program.”  It still works well, and we can use it like the guitar solo for our slogan.  It takes the initial message and adds a memorable punch to it.

     On a side note to the notion of the musicality of language, we should use this slogan as the chorus to our message.   So, we may point out that RepubliCare will lift the amount of tax-free compensation that a health insurance CEO can be given; that this will only result in CEO’s making millions more every year; and that means our health insurance premiums will rise even faster.  Then, just like a good song, we tie that message into the overall message by saying “that’s why RepubliCare is nothing but a Wealthcare program for the economic elites.”  (Also notice that we apply the rules of consistency and repetition here as well.)

You may notice that our memes have focused a lot on money going to CEO's instead of health care.
If you have an idea for a different meme, let us know in the comments.  If we can make it happen, we'll do it.

Rule 7: “Aspirational Speaking.”

     To be truly aspirational, we need an uplifting message, but RepubliCare is very much an intentionally destructive slogan.  However, it does point to the aspirations that we all hold, especially when we include “wealthcare” as part of the message.   That aspiration is for a better life, and, as James Carville’s said, “it’s still the economy, stupid.”  When people hear the message behind the slogan – that RepubliCare will send health insurance prices up astronomically for everyone except the top 10% of income earners – then “wealthcare” becomes a trigger word.   They will know that Republicans aren’t concerned about them or their families, but only the wealth of economic elites.

Rule 8: “Visualize.”

     RepubliCare begins to paint the picture we want.  We are already used to “-Care” from the way that the Republicans branded the ACA as Obamacare.  So, it brings the concepts of Republicans and health care to mind, then we fill that picture in by showing how destructive it is.   Adding the “wealthcare program” epithet really finishes the image by making us remember that it is the super rich who will benefit at the expense of everyone else.

Rule 9: “Ask a Question.”

     Not every slogan or message will have a question in it, as the RepubliCare doesn’t.   That’s OK.   We can supplement that by using questions in our conversations with others.  We begin to cover the topic of skillful dialogue and questions in another post.

Rule 10: “Provide Context and Explain Relevance.”

     I think the context here is pretty clear.   RepubliCare, the Republican wealthcare program, is another front in the class war that Republicans have waged against us for decades.  The relevance will come not so much through the slogan but through our extended messaging along these lines:  We can make it relevant by asking Republican supporters if it is acceptable to raise the health care rates for their parents to $14,000 a year?  (Based on an estimate from Vox prior to the CBO numbers being released.)  Note that we make it relevant by personalizing it, and also use rule 9 and ask a question.  Or we can ask why it is that a healthcare CEO should make more money in a single year than the average American will in his lifetime?   If someone tries to go on about free markets, then we can ask, how many people must suffer for his yearly bonus?  How many people must die before we are willing to admit that this is not a market efficiency, but a market failure?

     The subject of context brings up the big picture, and it is important to note that we won’t win this fight from a slogan alone.  As I said earlier, the slogan is like the chorus to our messaging song.   We make a verse by making a point, either by asserting a fact or skillfully asking a question.  Then we can drive it home with the chorus, either the full epithet or simply RepubliCare.

The big picture: harming millions of Americans in order to line the pockets of your campaign donors is un-American.

     So, I hope that this convinces folks to get on board with this slogan so that we can work as a united team and beat back this affront to our American Way of Life.  If you agree, or if you think this is a helpful and workable strategy to fight back against the Republican’s class warfare, then please consider sharing this post or one of the others in this series.   You can post it on social media (there are share buttons below) and, if you really like it, send a copy to your Senators and Congressional Representatives.  Below are links to help you find your local legislators.

Thank you for reading, and Don’t Let the Bastards Win!

Articles in this series:

Providing context - people want peace of mind.
How can you have that when you are always one bad day away from financial catastrophe?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

RepubliCare -- Working the Word, pt 2

    This is the third part of a series of posts that began with Don't Call It TrumpCare, and RepubliCare - Working the Word pt 1.  These two Working the Word posts use the RepubliCare topic as a primer into part of the political messaging system that Republicans have used for decades.  We ended the last installment after covering Luntz’ first three rules of effective messaging: simplicity, brevity, and credibility.  A good message must first be simple, short, and true.  Those three rules provide a solid groundwork for any effective message.  In this installment,  we will finish up the rest of the rules.  These rules focus on shaping a message for memorability and how to get it out effectively.  We begin with the fourth rule.

     The fourth rule: “Consistency. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.  You may be hearing the message for the 1,000th time, but someone else is hearing it for the first time.”  How often have we heard the Republican solution for anything is a tax cut?  How often have we liberals said that you can shout a lie a million times and it doesn’t make it true?  Yet, we liberals still cannot understand why so many people fall for the Republican lines?  Like it or not, their messaging works. 

This is a question to ask everyone who has voted Republican that makes less than $500k/yr.
     This rule makes sense if we think about it.  We all remember playing the telephone game as kids where each person in a line is supposed to whisper an exact repetition of what was whispered to them in the next person’s ear.  It doesn’t take much to completely change the message as it goes down the line.  One person changes one word here, the next person doesn’t understand that change and so repeats the line in a way that makes more sense, and so on down the line.  We have all experienced how a single message can get mangle.  How can we expect to convey a consistent message when we start out with 10 different variations of the message? 

We offer several different messages on the memes, but all consistently label it RepubliCare.

      I understand the value of being able to explain issues in different ways for different people to understand.  That, however, is the job of explaining the message.  First, we need to get people to pay attention with a strong and consistent message encapsulated within effective slogans.  If the message works, then don’t change it.  We need to be unified now more than ever.  Even if you think your version of the message may be a little better, we are still more effective as a unified front than as a cacophony of chaotic voices.  As a childhood friend was fond of saying, “If it’s not fixed, don’t break it.”  Stay on message.  

We are neither professional pollsters nor memesters here.
So, not all the memes will correspond to the particular text in the article.
That's ok, you can still share them to annoy your Trumpanzee friends.

     If you’re reading this, you’re most likely an intellectual progressive liberal and are starting to bristle at the idea of conforming for the sake of conformity.  Let’s look at this in a different way.  We know that music is much more memorable than just spoken words.  Music affects our brains in ways that the normal spoken word cannot.  Music is also repetitive.  How often have you only been able to remember the chorus of a song?  Think of slogans as the chorus of a song.  They are the part that hook you and catch your interest.  The verses of the song really tell the story.  For messaging, the slogans and sound bites are the chorus, but the discussion is in the verses.  They aren’t quite as memorable, but the song is missing its heart without them.

     Music is also unifying.  Would it make sense if everyone just made up their own words to a song?  Would you want to hear a song if the band members each made up their own words for every chorus?  We need to sing together in order to get that message out.  Sometimes songwriters will change a verse after a song is first published.  That’s okay.  That’s our discourse with others.  We need to change that in order to connect with the other person in their unique circumstances.  You can tweak the verse, but stay consistent with the chorus.

Can we agree that people shouldn't have to choose between living and bankruptcy?

     The fifth rule is “Novelty: Offer Something New.”  We all want new experiences.  That’s part of what keeps life interesting.  When crafting the message, we must ask how can we combine surprise and intrigue in the message?  However, once a novel message is created – stay with it.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Be consistent. Repeat. See #4. 

He promised to give America something new and better for 7 years.

     The sixth rule is that “Sound and Texture Matter.”  Alliteration (the same first sound among several words), the same first letter, or a cadence will help make a slogan memorable.  While teaching English abroad, I noticed that there is a rhythm to language, and the rhythm of language is musical. (Words that Work says this too.)  We should design our messages so that the words flow and roll off the tongue easily.  That fluidity, that musicality, helps people to remember the message, and that’s one of the first steps to persuading them.

     The seventh rule is “Aspirational Speaking.”  We must humanize the message by making it apply to the human condition in general, then personalize it by applying the message to listener’s personal experiences.  If the message is credible and makes logical sense, then it will make sense in the mind.  The next step to getting it accepted is to get listeners to feel its truth in their guts.  How can we find a way to trigger an emotional response? How do we show it is part of the human condition? How do we show that it can affect them personally? 

These were certainly the aspirations that his supporters had.
Now, let's make sure that everyone sees the reality and remembers it in 2018.
Can you feel the impact of this in your gut?

     The eighth rule is “Visualize.”  There are a few simple ways to structure the message so that it paints a picture in the listener’s mind.  Use action words in the active voice.  A simple way to do this is to look for prepositions and try to find a way to say the same thing without those prepositions.  For example, don’t say that the “The proposal that was designed by Mr. Ryan seems to have the effect of causing millions of people to lose their health insurance.  Instead, “Ryan’s plan will deny healthcare to millions.” Compare those two sentences.  We drop from 23 words to 7 in the second sentence.  This is also consistent with the first two rules: keep it short and simple.

     One other technique that I’ve seen is to mix the senses.  Something like “a taste you can feel,” is an oddly effective way to describe the richness of a cup of coffee.  For RepubliCare, we might combine our senses in a slightly different way and say “RepubliCare – a broken promise has never cut so deep or hurt so bad.” 

     The ninth rule is to “Ask a question.”  Statements and assertions can invite an argument, but questions demand contemplation.  If I say to someone that “RepubliCare is likely to will cause 24 million people to lose their health insurance according to the CBO,” then a Trump supporter could reply that they should just learn to budget their money better, or not buy an iPhone (like an idiotic Republican congressman did).  However, if I ask that person if “you think it’s OK if your neighbors and parents are part of the 24 million people that suffer because they lose their health insurance?”, then I’ve totally changed the conversation. I’ve followed the seventh rule by humanizing and personalizing it. By including the word “suffer” I’ve employed the eighth rule and begun to make it a proposition that they can visualize, and I further the visualization by personalizing and asking about people close to the listener.  Notice too, that once you read a question, you must stop for just a moment to make sense of the question (which requires visualizing it in your mind) before you can respond.

(By the way, as we discuss in other articles, we don't need to persuade very many Trump supporters to gut his support.  Also, you won't always win people over, even with good dialogue and persuasive techniques.  That's ok.)

     The tenth and final rule of Words that Work is to “Provide Context and Explain Relevance.”  Another way is to call it framing the issue, but Mr. Luntz prefers to use context and relevance.  For context, we must put this issue into the big picture.  Luntz uses James Carville’s slogan of “it’s the economy, stupid” as a great example of this.  It was never intended to be a slogan, but only a reminder for campaign staff to focus on.  In Luntz’ examples, I see that the best slogans also capture the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times – in the message. 

     The other part of this last rule is to explain the relevance to the listener: what motivates the decision for the listener?  During the ‘92 election, Carville knew it was the economy.  Luntz suggests that “safety, security, & peace of mind” will always be of primary importance in motivating listeners.   It seems that what Luntz pointing to is something like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Safety and security rest in the first two levels of the hierarchy. Peace of mind and Carville’s focus on the economy are a little more vague and seem to touch on all the levels at once.  This copies of Maslow’s hierarchy, below, should be a useful tool to help us focus on ways to get our message across to others.


That wraps it up on the rules for effective messaging from Words that Work.  In the next article, we will take a look at how those rules apply to RepubliCare.

     As always, thank you for taking the time to read this piece.  Feel free to grab any of the memes from this article to repost on social media.  There are others in a few different meme stashes on the blog too.  If you think others would benefit from this article, there is a share button at the bottom of the page.  If you'd like to get new articles as soon as they come out, there is a "Follow" button at the top right.