It is election day in Virginia, which shares a media market with Washington. So, this past weekend, while watching the Sunday talk shows or the Lakers-Magic game, I was bombarded with television spots for the three Democratic candidates for governor. This has put me in mind of one of my pet peeves of contemporary liberal campaign rhetoric, the phrase "working families."
Everything about the phrase is clunky. "Working" is one of those words that sounds more German than English. But, the real problem with the phrase is that families do not work; they love. There is no mental image you conjure when you hear the phrase, except maybe the horrific image of a slave family heading into the cotton fields in a movie about the ante-bellum South. At least in my family, the roles were pretty defined and they cut through the family and did not encompass the whole lot of us. Dad did the mowing and worked the pool filter. Mom did the cooking. I weeded the garden which my Dad had tilled and planted. Of course, my mother decided what would be planted. Actually, my mother decided everything.
Another problem with contemporary campaign rhetoric, especially for Democrats in Virginia, is their allergy to the word "liberal." I understand they are trying to get elected Governor not etymologist-in-chief, and that in still conservative Virginia, being tagged a liberal is maybe a little bit better to for your political future than be tagged as a lesbian, but not my much. Still, the substitution of the content-less adjective "progressive" in place of the content-laden "liberal" marks a decisive decline in political verbiage.
Don’t get me started on that other great content-less, and ubiquitous, campaign word: "change."
So, speechwriters and candidates, think before you speak. Words matter. They shape the discussion. They shape the way we perceive the world. They even shape our self-perceptions as individuals and as a people. Writers of the World – Unite! You have nothing to lose but your refrains.