Monthly Archives: December 2011

Glossary of terms

 Freedom may not mean what you think it means – at least not to someone else. I know you know what most of these words mean, I have this glossary because some regular words mean different things when you are talking about concepts, framing positions, and current political discourse. Clarifying terms is important when you need to be understood; here and in everyday conversation.

The Bill of Rights – The first ten amendments added to the Constitution to guarantee personal inalienable rights.  Please click here to read it.

Campaign Finance Reform – A movement that seeks to change how political campaigns are financed. Currently unlimited monies from corporations are the primary backers of major candidates. (see also Citizens United).

Citizens United – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a decision by the U. S. Supreme Court on January 21, 2010, declaring that the First Amendment prohibits placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions.

Civil – 1 : of or relating to citizens 2 : of or relating to the state or its citizenry 3 : adequate in courtesy and politeness (Merriam Webster)

Civil Disobedience – A purposeful, peaceful refusal to follow a law based on a principle or motivated by a principle. Civil disobedient actions may be planned and/or are part of a larger organization or movement.

Communism – A social and/or governmental system that is classless and all private property, land, and productions is collectively owned and operated by the people. This system has never been put in place according to the definition (in recorded history).

Conservative – Meanings vary yet are sometimes used interchangeably. 1 : a political philosophy relating to the idea of less government, creating economies to favor business, and socially conservative viewpoints. Affiliated loosely with the Republican party. 2 : an actual style of living or governing that preserves a resource, intention, or tradition. 3 : Modest and reserved.

The Constitution – The founding document of the United States. Please click here to read it.

Contested Concepts – Words or phrases that can have very different meanings and implications depending on who is using the word.

Example 1a: In my duties as his best friend, I knew that I needed to lie to the cop to validate his story.

Example 1b: In my duties as his best friend, I knew he needed to deal with this consequence so I told the cops the truth.

Example 2a: The true patriots enlisted in the service.

Example 2b: The true patriots marched on Washington to protest our nation’s military involvement.

In the first example, the contested concept is a how a “best friend” properly acts in a given situation. Even if a person doesn’t literally use the term best friend they might refer to the values that are held in the highest regard in your friendship. Those values that make a best friend vary greatly among people. A common political term is “family values”. The definition of the term is different for all. We sometimes use the term “family values” but infer a specific set of meaning that only applies to some of the audience. The second example shows how one person’s idea of patriotism can be a polar opposite of another person’s. Other common contested concepts in political discussions are words like “freedom”, “liberty”, “life”, “fairness”, “justice”, “bravery”, “cowardice”, and “equality” to name a few.

Democracy – A form of government in which involves some form of government sanctioned by the people or a majority of the people. A usual format is to hold elections but the touchstone element is that no social, economic, or hereditary class structure prohibits or favors one person over another.

Democratic Republic – The United States is a constitutionally limited democratic republic. It is both a republic and a democracy in that every citizen is born with the right to vote (at a legal age) but citizens do not directly make policy, they elect representatives to carry out the work of the government.

Dog Whistle – A verbal signal in a message that indirectly sends a message through implication and/or word choice. Many times the message is subtle and intended for only a portion of the total audience. Sometimes this device may be used unconsciously, other times it is very deliberate and covert. Either way the speaker can deny the implied message because it is not clear and direct – “code” words are used.

Example: Some think that when the candidate used the phrase “Keep America American” he was signaling the racists in the crowd that he was on their side.

Election Reform –A movement trying to create more transparency and accountability in the process of running elections. This may include a host of issues including vote counting procedures, redistricting boundaries, and voter eligibility among others.

Embody – What happens when someone not only learns new facts, but incorporates them into their belief systems and acts on them. For example, with the issue of plastic grocery bags, many people realize that reusable bags are better for the environment and they care about the environment, but it takes some time and practice to incorporate using cloth bags into your regular routine. Once it becomes habit, you have embodied the lesson you learned about changing that aspect of your behavior to benefit the environment.

Fascism – Centralized authoritarian based political thought (or regime) that puts national homogenous identity above individual liberties and is characterized by a merger of corporations and government. Opposition is violently suppressed.

Frames – Due to a lifetime of experiences, we all have built in “frames” or stories that go with our language. For instance when you read the word “zoo” perhaps images of animals or enclosures pop into your head, you can’t really help it, it’s just a literal or visual cue of how to understand our world through language. In political thought, different frames are evoked whether you are talking about “global warming” or “climate change”; one feels like a crisis, the other feels natural.

Framing – The act of being able to recognize and correct a frame when involved in discussions. When persuasive language you disagree with is used, you can call it out and offer alternatives. You can always offer to go first in a discussion to set the stage for how the topic will first be presented. You can recall points that activate an empathetic viewpoint.

Issues –Topics of discussion. Policies are made to address issues, values drive how you feel about these issues. In the hierarchy of importance, policies are second behind values; they are harder to get agreement on with someone from a differing value system. An example of issues are healthcare, education, financial accountability, unemployment, market regulation, and immigration. If you talk about values before issues and create the frame, you are more likely to get some agreement when you talk about issues.

Laissez faire – A style of capitalism that rejects any involvement from the public sector. “Unfettered capitalism” will find a balance in this theory.

Lakoff, George – Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at University of California at Berkeley.  Known for his focus on metaphors in language and the physical neural connections we make around them that influence the way we live our lives. He is a progressive advocate and proponent of focusing on values before issues and issues before policies in effective political discourse. Many of his ideas around political discourse form the core of the approach of this blog. His website can be found here.

Liberal – Political thought focused on openmindedness, liberty, tolerance and equality. A lack of allegiance to authority or tradition; open to change to continually progress the human condition to be better for all.  Synonymous with progressive.

Luntz, Frank – A pollster and Republican advisor/analyst. Runs focus groups to find words that people respond to favorably and unfavorably to elicit an opinion change on an issue. He is considered to be the expert conservative ally in his field. Visit his website here.

Media Reform –A movement that seeks to democratize media sources and resources. Based on the principle that a democracy needs a well informed electorate to make decisions, media reformist seek to diversify content and ownership of media outlets and make media accessible and relevant to everyone, not just as a vehicle to serve corporate interests.

Non sequitur –Latin for “does not follow”. A mechanism used to change the subject or trajectory of a story or discussion. A distraction technique used intentionally but often used unconsciously as well.

Programs/Policies – In the hierarchy of persuasive political discourse, programs and policies are behind values and issues when considering the likelihood of finding common ground. Two parties that agree on values and issues may still find reason to argue when it comes to programs and policies. They contain details that are put forth in proposals, bills and declarations and can easily dominate a conversation with petty disagreements. Programs and policies are necessary vehicles to implement values but in the realm of political ideas, they can be non-starters with any audience – those with and without alignment to any given values.

Progressive – Synonymous with “liberal”. Progression of the human condition is center to the philosophy. Values such as empathy, liberty, open mindedness, tolerance and equality are characteristic.

Prosperity Doctrine – A religious philosophy which claims the Bible teaches that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians. The doctrine teaches that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth.

Republic -A form of government in which there is no monarchy and government representatives are elected.

Republican – One of the two major political party in the U.S. characterized by capitalism, social conservatism and a desire to privatize as many government functions as possible. Currently there are three main factions: religious evangelicals/social conservatives, and those for unregulated markets.

Socialism – A political philosophy that all of the people of a society own all natural resources and property, and work as a cooperative. Also a popular accusation in the U.S. meant to be negative when referring to any policies perceived to be anti-corporate. Sometimes loosely used as a misnomer to discredit democratic or Democratic ideas.

Spin -The phenomena of analyzing an event – audio, video, literary, or “live” – in such a way that it favors a particular school of thought or person.

Values – Set of internal guidelines that drive your everyday decisions and larger life trajectory. Priorities in your life mentally and emotionally arranged in an order of importance.

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