Politics of Language (Part 2)

Sep 22, 2011

Today we continue our series on political language. In part one we spoke to a linguist about the power of language and the effect it has on our view of world. In part two, we’re going to look more closely at the political strategy behind language use. Michigan Radio's Jennifer White talks with Craig Ruff, senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants. Don't forget to check out the extended audio below.

Language is being used more strategically in politics than it has been in the past. Ruff says:

"It's become a body of science now particularly through focus groups, and so it's become more refined. It’s become more of a science than an art about how politicians use words. ” 

Here's an example. Ruff points to President Johnson's use of the phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats," to talk about the war on poverty and getting people out of poverty.

"Very emotional and designed to get middle America to buy into the fact that they had a responsibility to alleviate poverty... Then, move forward twenty years and Ronald Reagan is in the White House and one of his policy goals was to reduce reliance, by Americans, on government and he used the phrase "limousine liberal," and that connoted that there were wealthy people running around the country trying to get government into everybody's business. And that kind of morphed into an anti-war on poverty campaign. So, there was a huge shift in language just on the topic of social welfare policies and just in the course of 20 years.

Now let's put this idea to work! Craig Ruff helps Jennifer White craft a campaign for new comfy chairs in our studios.