The Semantic Landscape of American Politics Part 1

Nothing like some extended rest and recreation to recharge one’s batteries, even if that rest and recreation ended up being longer than I originally intended. I think that the computer and vision issues that led to my extended absence have been resolved as well as possible and that I should be able to return to posting here on a regular basis once again, which is good, because I have missed you all.

During my absence there have been a number of interesting political developments, especially here in the United States dealing mainly with the economic crisis. I am not going to deal with each specific event, but rather I want to talk about what I see as a common element in all of these events. That common element is a difference of semantics. Although everyone uses the same words like spending or investment, the two opposing sides on how to deal with the economic crisis mean very different things when each side uses those terms. And that is why there is no bipartisanship on this issue, nor will there be any until the two sides get a translator/
The easiest way to summarize this semantic difference is to say that the liberals – the Democrats – live on Main Street and want to focus on improving their improving their neighborhood, while the conservatives – the Republicans live on Wall Street and want to focus on fixing up their neighborhood. But Wall Street is not Main Street. In fact, that confusion of streets is what got us into this mess in the first place and we will not see the road to recovery until we end that confusion.
Let me offer a simple explanation of the difference between the two positions and how each side uses the same terms to refer to diametrically opposed concepts. In the process, we will come to understand the fundamental differences that divide the two parties.

Main Street is a euphemism used used to refer to average middle-class Americans. Although the left and the r9ight have somewhat different notions of what constitutes the middle class in the
USA, both side agree that the middle class is the backbone of the American social fabric. Both sides also agree that the middle class represents the largest voting bloc in the American electorate, which is why the middle class is so important in American politics.

As I said above, the left and the right have somewhat different notions of what constitutes the middle class. These opposing notions not only inform each side’s stand on policy issues, these differences inform the dialogue on those issues, so much so that it appears at times that, even though both sides use the same buzz words, the two sides are speaking two different languages.

What I want to do in this series of short articles is to offer some insights into the semantics of the discourse between the left and the right in order to help you understand what these politicians are really saying, and perhaps facilitate the dialogue over policy issues in these difficult times. We will start next time with a look at what each side means when they talk about the middle class.


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