Newt’s Hypocrisy

15 Jun 2017

Of all the people blaming the rhetoric of the left for the shootings in Virginia, Newt Gingrich has the weakest leg to stand on.

In 1996–over 20 years ago–Gingrich’s GOPAC published a memo called, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” that I still use in my rhetoric classes.

The entire goal of the memo is to weaponize language in order to make your opponent look evil, decadent, and “other.” Literally! Under its list of “Optimistic Positive Governing Words” is “we/us/our.” Meanwhile, under the list of “Contrasting Words” is “they/them.”

According to the memo, “The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible.” A few other phrases include:

  • “traitors”
  • “destroy”
  • “betray”
  • “endanger”
  • “lie”
  • “sick” and
  • “urgent”

Two decades of this kind of rhetoric, and here we are, courtesy of Gingrich.



1b52b3955b99483d6c9fd65f5284825dThe year 2016 saw Disney give Rudyard Kipling a new cinematic boost. Not to be outdone, Rudy Giuliani has gone #FullBurden in an attack on Beyoncé’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Here’s Giuliani, according to Politico:

I saved more black lives than any of those people you saw on stage by reducing crime and particularly homicide by 75 percent…Of which, of which maybe 4,000 or 5,000 were African-American young people who are alive today because of the policies I put in effect that weren’t in effect for 35 years…I didn’t fail Harlem. I turned Harlem around. I didn’t fail Bedford-Stuyvesant, I turned it around. Go there now. Go walk in Harlem. Then flash back to 25 years ago and go to Harlem before I was mayor, and one was a place where crime was rampant and no national stores and now there’s a thriving community in Harlem.

Sorry, Bwana, but you are not the first to express such outrage. Here are some comments by Lyndon Johnson, from a 1976 New York Times article, written by Doris Kearns (!):

How is it possible that all these people should be so ungrateful to me after I have given them so much? Take the Negroes. I fought for them from the first day I came into office. I tried to make to possible for every child of every color to grow up in a nice house, to eat a solid breakfast, to attend a decent school, and to get a good and lasting job. I just asked a little in return. Just a little thanks. Just a little appreciation. That’s all.

There’s plenty more to that quote, of course, as the White Savior butthurt runs long and deep. But let’s go back even more, to 1899, and Rudyard Kipling:

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.





A few years ago, one of my students said, “I use to love movies, but then I made the mistake of taking a film class. Now I can’t watch them any more.” And, just last week, a similar incident occurred.

We were coming off a module on rhetorical analysis. As usual, I had used movies as a language that could be read and analyzed. We went over the Rule of Thirds, and discussed film scores, especially the move away from the brassy fanfares of John Williams, to the dramatic strings, Carmina Burana choirs, and big, tribal drumming of, e.g., Hans Zimmer and Steve Jablonsky:

Then, out of perversity, I suppose, I introduced them to the Wilhelm Scream, and then to the practice of counting shot lengths, which I first learned from an article called “Quicker, Faster, Darker: Changes in Hollywood Film Over 75 Years,” by Cutting et al., from the Department of Psychology at Cornell. According to the study,

short shots likely increase viewer response to films and film segments, forcing observer eye movements to quickly reevaluate each new visual depiction and increasing heart rate and other bodily responses…Adding more motion to these short shots is likely to increase viewer response all the more. We suggest that this increasing correlation may help to couple attention to broader physiological responses.

Here’s the example I used in class, one of my favs: the central battle scene from the first Avengers movie, with the incredible 30-second tracking shot (!!!) that Joss Whedon manages to squeeze into the middle of an explosion of choppy chaos. (I love the arrow, in particular.)

Anyway, when the module was over, a few students admitted that they had started compulsively counting shot lengths when watching movies, and listening for the Wilhelm Scream, which should have been an epic win for me, right? But one student seemed more annoyed than anything else, almost disconsolate. I tried to make it better by saying, “But now that you’re aware of these things you should be able to ENJOY THE MOVIE EVEN MORE! And, anyway, there’s no going back now.”

The force of what I’d said struck me immediately, and it kept barging into my mind as I tried to move the class forward.

There’s no going back. You can’t go home again. “The place where you came from ain’t there any more, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out.” (Oates.)  A necessary threshold to cross, certainly, and I had assumed that everything would be better once I’d led the students over it with a slight sense of gleeful superiority. Plus, as I made sure to tell them, it’s best to know when, and how, one is being manipulated by rhetoric. But still…

Am I overthinking this? Perhaps. But when class was over for the day, and the students were filing out, I couldn’t help but recall the end of Paradise Lost:

They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand; the gate
With dreadful faces thronged, and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

With apologies to Milton. And, of course, to the students.


Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 10.51.30 AM
Katherine Krueger, at Talking Points Memo, writes,

If Republican Donald Trump wins the White House in November, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said he expects unprecedented “levels of violence” from upset liberals.

Of course he does. That kind of rhetoric is pretty much boilerplate in some quarters. For example, Brian Tashman, at Right Wing Watch, has a blog post called, “Five Right-Wing Predictions About Marriage Equality That Still Haven’t Come True,” in which he presents a whole list of horrors that were supposed to have brought the country down by now. Here’s one:

Radio host Rick Wiles predicted that “God will cut off America’s food supply and this nation will be hit with disease, pestilence, drought, natural calamities and a great shaking” and urged people to flee the country.

Where does this apocalyptic mindset come from? Possibly, it has something to do with our religious heritage: terrified Puritans clinging to the edge of a “howling wilderness,” listening to Jonathan Edwards, or fiery leaders of the Second Great Awakening. One such was James McGready, a Presbyterian minister who, according to George McKenna, in his book, The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism,

depicted the “furnace of hell with its red-hot coals of God’s wrath as large as mountains”…People fell in trances and some even went into seizures known as “the jerks”…Strange as “the jerks” were, there were reactions even stranger. There were, for example, “the barks.” One contemporary observer described them this way: “Both men and women would be forced to…move about on all fours, growl, snap the teeth, and bark in so personating a manner as to set eyes and ears of the spectator at variance.”

On the other hand, a historian I know believes apocalyptic rhetoric reflects the “slave-owning mentality.” When I think about how much of this hysteria is reserved for even the slightest expression of Black agency, his label makes sense. Here, for example, are a handful of quotes. The first is from Bill O’Reilly, as quoted by Caitlin Cruz, at TPM; the others were made by antebellum slavers, as quoted by James McPherson, in Battle Cry of Freedom:

“Here are two extremely famous individuals,” O’Reilly said [of Beyoncé and Jay Z], to briefly explain the couple’s accomplishments. “Do you think they know they’re giving money to an anarchistic group like [Black Lives Matter] that wants to tear down the country and talking about genocide, really extreme things?”


James Hammond, of South Carolina, commenting on the Wilmot Proviso in the 1840’s: Enactment would “proclaim freedom or something equivalent to it to our slaves and reduce us to the condition of Hayti…Our only safety is the equality of POWER. If we do not act now, we deliberately consign our children, not our posterity, but our children to the flames.”


“Do you love your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter?” a Georgia secessionist asked non-slaveholders. If Georgia remained in the Union “ruled by Lincoln and his crew…in TEN years or less our CHILDREN will be the slaves of negroes.”


“If you are tame enough to submit,” declaimed South Carolina’s Baptist clergyman James Furman, “Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands…Submit to have our wives and daughters choose between death and gratifying the hellish lust of the negro!!”

Birth_of_a_Nation_Still-Lust_view2(It’s interesting—and pertinent—to note that the “wives and daughters” routine is also the default argument resorted to by most of the people scare-mongering over transgender bathrooms.)

Another example of this fear of a Black planet is the freak-out over Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, which Saturday Night Live perfectly skewered in “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black.” Still another, even more recent, is the controversy that rocked the heretofore impervious bastion of West Point, over a photo of 16 Black women cadets raising their fists. The Army Times quotes Sue Fulton, a former Army captain and “long-time diversity advocate” for the military:

I would not have re-tweeted the raised-fist photo because I am well aware that our culture views a black fist very differently from a white fist…I knew it was their expression of pride and unity, but I am old enough to know that it would be interpreted negatively by many white observers. Unfortunately, in their youth and exuberance, it appears they didn’t stop to think that it might have any political context, or any meaning other than their own feeling of triumph.

In other words, they weren’t intelligent enough to know what they were doing, and they didn’t defer enough to White fears. Apparently, they should have known that, when many White Americans look at a picture like this:

635979918593929460-black-lives-matterthey actually see this:


Must have been their “youth and exuberance.”

My favorite response to all these apocalyptic visions comes from Sojourner Truth who, in an 1851 speech, said:

The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble….But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

And now BLM and the LGBTQ community are “coming on him,” too. That would be enough to give anyone with the slave-owning mentality a case of the barks.


Six-Actors-Poster-WebI had a dream about Wikipedia once. (I know, right?)

If you analyze the format of a Wikipedia page, you’ll see that, at the top, there’s the main concept, and the page becomes increasingly detailed and fractured the further down you look.

Well, as my dream opens,  I’m looking at the very bottom of a Wikipedia page—at the “External links,” probably—and then I begin visually scrolling up, higher and higher, with an increasingly urgent need to reach the controlling Word, where all the scattered instances will finally fuse together into One, the only One there is.

I woke up about 2″ from the top.

Anyway, sometimes I think that the secret of academic writing is not to look for examples to support a thesis, i.e. “cherry picking,” but to allow examples to suggest a meaning, to hint, tantalizingly, at a concept, just as they are wont to do in waking life. Similarities propose a marriage; resemblances suggest a unity. Find 3 or 5 or 7 of these things and you’ve got yourself a paper.

I just watched a YouTube video of Collin Raye’s 1993 country classic, “That’s My Story,” while I was doing some research. (It’s complicated.) At the beginning was an ad for Tough Mudder. I never watch the ads, but the text of this one caught me. Here it is:

Immediately, I was reminded of a number of similar texts we went over in my ENG101 sections just this semester. The first is an entry in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, “Yu Yi”:

Some Mudders might find it strange—or annoying—to be lumped in with the existential lyricism of the Dictionary, but tough. It works.

A second example is “Cycle of Fear,” an article in the New York Times where Tim Kreider writes about how he deals with his anxiety by bicycling at high speeds through Manhattan traffic:

I’m convinced these are the conditions in which we evolved to thrive: under moderate threat of death at all times, brain and body fully integrated, senses on high alert, completely engaged with our environment. It is, if not how we’re happiest — we’re probably happiest in a hot tub with a martini and a very good naked friend — how we are most fully and electrically alive.

I could go on. There are many other examples, but they all add up to one thesis: something’s missing, I know not what. Is it a nostalgia for a fresh and exciting world? A fealty to some atavistic trait long forgotten? A longing to express a kind of immediate, pre-linguistic experience that language itself has absorbed into its dry concepts? How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem all the uses of this world.

We seem to have gotten everything backwards.

Pick the cherries first, then dream of red.


It hardly seems necessary to counter the assertion by Republicans that they are still “the party of Lincoln,” but what the heck.

“Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter,” by toown, at Deviant Art

I’m rereading some of Lincoln’s speeches and letters, and finding passages that, if uttered today, would make him Enemy #1 to today’s Republicans. These are from his July 4th Message to Congress, in 1861. The whole thing is a refutation of the secessionist argument, but these parts stand out:

This sophism derives much, perhaps the whole of its currency from the assumption that there is some omnipotent and sacred supremacy pertaining to a State—to each State of our Federal Union. Our States have neither more nor less power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitution, no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union…

Having never been States, either in substance or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of “State rights,” asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself? Much is said about the “sovereignty” of the States, but the word even is not in the National Constitution, nor, as is believed, in any of the State constitutions. What is a “sovereignty” in the political sense of the term? Would it be far wrong to define it “a political community without a political superior”?

Tested by this, no one of our States, except Texas, ever was a sovereignty; and even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union, by which act she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States and the laws and treaties of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution to be for her the supreme law of the land.

Ted Cruz would have a field day with that one.

The States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase, the Union gave each of them whatever of independence or liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the States, and, in fact, it created them as States.

More to come, probably…


CS1954283-02A-BIGI was at the Rochester Public Market the other day, and a little boy in a stroller pointed to some kind of vegetable and asked his mother, “What is that?,” and she answered, “I don’t know what it’s called, honey.”

Which, of course, was not the question.

Something’s name is not what it is; it’s only the pin through the butterfly. Or the bat. I think Bill Clinton had it about right. So did Gertrude Stein:

As I say a noun is a name of a thing and therefore slowly if you feel what is inside that thing you do not call it by the name by which it is known. Everybody knows that by the way they do when they are in love and a writer should always have that intensity of emotion about what ever is the object about which he writes. And therefore and I say it again more and more one does not use nouns.

So what’s to be done? Stein suggested switching over to verbs and adverbs, but I think nouns are a challenge that needs to be taken head on.

There’s something of an adage in college writing that a student should never use the word “thing” in a paper. I’m starting to have my doubts. It feels more honest to tell them to use “thing” every time they need a noun. If that word begins to get tiresome, they can pick from a list of nouns coined by Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad. (Twain is mocking the ostentatious use of foreign phrases in travel writing, but we can utilize them, nonetheless.)–


It’s too bad that mom didn’t have this list in her pocket when her kid pointed to what was clearly a beet.