Analyzing liberal speak

I’m one of those people who never, never has a good comeback in conversation. Hurl an insult or a fallacy at me and I’m the one with my mouth agape. (Typically, the French have a phrase for it: “Esprit de l’escalier.”) I can tell that something is wrong with what I just heard, but I simply need more time to process the flaws before I can respond. This is why I’m a much better legal writer than I am a courtroom attorney. In the courtroom, I just flap my mouth like a fish, whereas in the world of paper, I can carefully break down my opponent’s argument, analyze its failures, and rebut it at my leisure. This characteristic also explains why I like to confine my political arguments to the blog world — a written world — and avoid face-to-face confrontations with people.

Fortunately, there is help out there for people like me. Richard Mgrdechian, frustrated by liberal rhetorical tactics, decided to analyze them and break them down into their component parts. The result of these efforts is his book How The Left Was Won : An In-Depth Analysis of the Tools and Methodologies Used by Liberals to Undermine Society and Disrupt the Social Order. This book is not a political tract that analyzes Democratic/Lefist/Liberal politics and policies. Instead, it is what it promises to be — a book analyzing the rhetorical patterns that emanate from the Left to advance Leftist positions.

Mgrdechian, after reading my blog, thought that I might be someone who would appreciate his book, and was kind enough to send me a copy. As I explained to him later, I was terribly worried that I would read it and hate it. Since I had gotten a free copy, I would be tremendously bothered by the conflict between my obligations to him — to be polite and grateful — and my obligations to my blog — to be honest and reliable. Fortunately, there is no conflict. I read his book in one day, and thought it was just great. I can write about it with a clear conscience, which I’m happy to do, because it comes out of a small publisher and has almost no advertising. So, here’s the review for those of you plagued by chronic esprit de l’escalier.
Mgrdechian has straight-forward writing that’s easy to read and follow. You’re not going to get lost in a morass of scholarly terminology. Instead, in 15 chapters, he examines common rhetorical tools one sees coming from the liberal side of the political spectrum. (And I think that, whether you agree with the agenda or not, you’re going to have to acknowledge that Mgrdechian is correct in identifying the various tactics for imposing that agenda.) The multi-chapter book includes the following concepts:

Promote and Exploit Divisiveness — This chapter focuses on the habit, which the Democrats are working on hard lately, to make everyone feel like a victim. The Balkanization of our society into special interest groups isn’t only an on-the-ground fact but, as Mgredechian points out, a useful rhetorical devise to make constituent members of society angry and hostile. This rhetorical tactic doesn’t provide solutions or hope, but it does advance an anger agenda.

Bad Competition — This short chapter was one of my favorites, since it examines what I call the “race to the bottom.” Mgredechian opens by defining his terms, with good competition having people optimize their product to compete in the marketplace, and bad competition which focuses on impairing others, rather than improving oneself. This latter concept underlies so much government interference that’s predicated on impairing, rather than rewarding, success. I was aware of the phenomenon, but never actually stopped to realize that it’s a formalized tool in the liberal arsenal.

Relevancy and Proportion — Because I come by my analytical skills the hard way — they’re not innate, they’re the product of mental sweat — I loved the chapter on relevancy and proportion. Mgrdechian explains that,

[I]n any meaningful discussion or analysis, there are only two things that actually matter — relevancy and proportion. Relevancy is the concept of applicability — to what extent does a particular point or statement matter to the issue being discussed? Proportion, on the other hand, is how much an issue matters in comparison to the others that need to be considered. [p. 35.]

This is huge, because I tend to follow red-herrings like crazy. Unlike DQ, who is innately talented at spotting core issues in any argument, and ignoring irrelevancies, they’re all the same to me. In a carefully reasoned chapter, however, Mgrdechian gives examples of common arguments and then explains how to separate wheat from chaff. For example:

In the 2004 Presidential election, much was made of the military service records of both Bush and Kerry. But how much did they really matter? At the time of the election, Bush had been President (and therefore Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces) for nearly four years. He had never made a big deal about his National Guard service, and never used it to sell himself to the American people in terms of why he should be President. Since it was not an issue for him, its relevancy in the campaign was pretty close to zero.

On the other hand, most of John Kerry’s campaign — and indeed his entire persona — were built on his military record and all the medals he was somehow awarded in just six months of service. That being the case, the relevancy of his military records was pretty close to being a ten. However, despite this, liberals smeared Bush’s record every chance they could, while simultaneously attacking every effort to look into the details of Kerry’s record. They made every effort to focus on sabotaging something with a relevancy (and importance) of zero, and every effort to avoid any understanding of the details of something with a relevancy (and importance) of ten. [pp. 38-39.]

Anyway, I’m going to be away tomorrow and won’t blog, so I’ll be posting a few excerpts from the book so you can get a better feel for what it’s all about.

UPDATE: If this post has you thinking about rhetoric, check out Catherine Seipp’s funny, on point, article about hypocrisy, an article that opens with her describing some of the usual attack tactics emanating from the Left. (And yes, I know the Right does it too, but that’s no what I’m talking about. Also, as a long time Leftie and a fairly new Rightie, I can tell you from personal experience that, whether or not you agree with the underlying position, the Right uses more fact and logic to argue its points.)
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  1. Marguerite says

    I had no idea there was a name for it! I, too, need time to process information. Pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard is the only way I can organize my thoughts. There must be a robust American slang for this syndrome, esprit de l’escalier” is so . . . . French.

  2. Danny Lemieux says

    Without having read the book, let me add one more to the list…trashing the speaker! William Shirer, in his “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” noted that Adolph Hitler was an admirer and student of socialist rhetorical tactics, including thoroughly smearing the credentials and reputation of anyone that didn’t agree with them. Sound familiar?

  3. says

    Promote and Exploit Divisiveness — This chapter focuses on the habit, which the Democrats are working on hard lately, to make everyone feel like a victim. The Balkanization of our society into special interest groups isn’t only an on-the-ground fact but, as Mgredechian points out, a useful rhetorical devise to make constituent members of society angry and hostile. This rhetorical tactic doesn’t provide solutions or hope, but it does advance an anger agenda.

    Divide and conquer. Make people fight each other, while you setup into a position to backstab the winner. Useful at times when outmatched.

    Bad Competition — This short chapter was one of my favorites, since it examines what I call the “race to the bottom.” Mgredechian opens by defining his terms, with good competition having people optimize their product to compete in the marketplace, and bad competition which focuses on impairing others, rather than improving oneself. This latter concept underlies so much government interference that’s predicated on impairing, rather than rewarding, success. I was aware of the phenomenon, but never actually stopped to realize that it’s a formalized tool in the liberal arsenal.

    Bureacracies are always a problem. One tool to separate true from false liberals is to see whether they will allow bureacracy to get in the way of helping the downtrodden. Laws, are included in bureacracy.

    I have never heard of a liberal bureacrat.

    This is huge, because I tend to follow red-herrings like crazy. Unlike DQ, who is innately talented at spotting core issues in any argument, and ignoring irrelevancies, they’re all the same to me. In a carefully reasoned chapter, however, Mgrdechian gives examples of common arguments and then explains how to separate wheat from chaff. For example:

    Will you give an example of some red herrings you followed?

    They made every effort to focus on sabotaging something with a relevancy (and importance) of zero, and every effort to avoid any understanding of the details of something with a relevancy (and importance) of ten. [pp. 38-39.]

    A feint within a feint.

    Also, as a long time Leftie and a fairly new Rightie, I can tell you from personal experience that, whether or not you agree with the underlying position, the Right uses more fact and logic to argue its points.)

    There’s two ways to use logic. You can use logic to argue the position, or you can use logic to determine by what ingredient is required for the other guy to believe in something other than what he currently believes to be true.

    Meaning you can either focus on what’s important to the other guy and determine if it is something you can match on this mortal realm, or you can focus on a standard mix of facts and arguments. Most Republicans and those on the right do not take into account what will convince their opponents. This leaves the use of logic to be entirely too passive in my view, and not concentrated on the opponent enough.

    It is true Hitler was a good rhetorical orator, he studied a long time to get his body gestures down. Hitler had an almost fanatic intensity around him.

    Here’s some excerpts from a CIA manual that is on the internet, concerning rhetoric.

    The purpose of this appendix is to complement the guidelines and
    recommendations to the propagandist-guerrillas expressed under the topic of
    “Techniques of Persuasion in Talks and Speeches,” to improve the ability to
    organize and express thoughts for those who wish to perfect their oratorical
    abilities. After all, oratory is one of the most valuable resources for
    exercising leadership. Oratory can be used, then, as an extraordinary
    political tool.
    2. The Audience
    Oratory is simultaneous communication par excellence, i.e., the orator
    and his audience share the same time and space. Therefore, every speech
    should be a different experience at “that” moment or particular situation
    which the audience is experiencing and which influences them. So the
    audience must be considered as “a state of mind.” Happiness, sadness, anger,
    fear, etc., are states of mind that we must consider to exist in our audience,
    and it is the atmosphere that affects the target public.
    The human being is made up of a mind and soul; he acts in
    accordance with his thoughts and sentiments and responds to stimuli of ideas
    and emotions. In that way there exist only two possible focuses in any plan,
    including speeches: the concrete, based on rational appeals, i.e., to thinking;
    and the idealized, with emotional appeals, i.e., to sentiment.
    For his part the orator, although he must be sensitive to the existing
    mass sentiment, he must at the same time keep his cold judgment to be able
    to lead and control effectively the feelings of an audience. When in the
    oratorical momentum the antithesis between heart and brain comes about,
    judgment should always prevail, characteristic of a leader.
    3. Political Oratory
    Political oratory is one of the various forms of oratory, and it usually
    fulfills one of three objectives: to instruct, persuade, or move; and its method
    is reduced to urging (asking), ordering, questioning and responding.
    Oratory is a quality so tied to political leadership that it can be said
    that the history of political orators is the political history of humanity, an
    affirmation upheld by names such as Cicero, Demosthenes, Danton,
    Mirabeau, Robespierre, Clemenceau, Lenin, Trotsky, Mussolini, Hitler,
    Roosevelt, etc.
    4. Qualities in a Speech
    In general terms, the most appreciated qualities of a speech, and
    specifically a political speech in the context of the psychological action of
    the armed struggle, are the following:
    • Be brief and concise
    A length of five minutes [line missing in Spanish text]…that of
    the orator who said: “If you want a two-hour speech, I’ll start
    right now; if you want a two-minute one, let me think awhile.”
    • Centered on the theme
    The speech should be structured by a set of organized ideas that
    converge on the theme. A good speech is expressed by concepts
    and not only with words.
    • Logic
    The ideas presented should be logical and easily acceptable.
    Never challenge logic in the mind of the audience, since
    immediately the main thing is lost – credibility. As far as
    possible, it is recommended that all speeches be based on a
    syllogism, which the orator should adjust in his exposition. For
    example: “Those governing get rich and are thieves; the
    Sandinistas have enriched themselves governing; then, the
    Sandinistats are thieves.” This could be the point of a speech on
    the administrative corruption of the regime. When an idea or a
    set of guiding ideas do not exist in a speech, confusion and
    dispersion easily arise.
    5. Structure of a Speech
    Absolute improvisation does not exist in oratory. All orators have a
    “mental plan” that allows them to organize their ideas and concepts rapidly;
    with practice it is possible to come to do this in a few seconds, almost
    simultaneously with the expression of the word.
    The elements that make up a speech are given below, in a structure
    that we recommend always putting into practice, to those who wish to more
    and more improve their oratorical abilities:
    • Introduction or Preamble
    One enters into contact with the public, a personal introduction
    can be made or one of the movement to which we belong, the
    reason for our presence, etc. In these first seconds it is
    important to make an impact, attracting attention and provoking
    interest among the audience. For that purpose, there are
    resources such as beginning with a famous phrase or a
    previously prepared slogan, telling a dramatic or humorous
    story, etc.
    • Purpose or Enunciation
    The subject to be dealt with is defined, explained as a whole or
    by parts.
    • Appraisal or Argumentation
    Arguments are presented, EXACTLY IN THIS ORDER: First,
    the negative arguments, or against the thesis that is going to be
    upheld, and then the positive arguments, or favorable ones to
    our thesis, immediately adding proof or facts that sustain such
    arguments.
    • Recapitulation or Conclusion
    A short summary is made and the conclusions of the speech are
    spelled out.
    • Exhortation
    Action by the public is called for, i.e., they are asked in and
    almost energetic manner to do or not to do something.
    6. Some Literary Resources
    Although there exist typically oratorical devices of diction, in truth,
    oratory has taken from other literary genres a large number of devices,
    several of which often, in an unconscious manner, we use in our daily
    expressions and even in our speeches.
    Below we enunciate many of their literary devices in frequent use in
    oratory, recommending to those interested moderate use of them, since an
    orator who over-uses the literary device loses authenticity and sounds
    untrue.
    The devices that are used the most in oratory are those obtained
    through the repetition of words in particular periods of the speech, such as:
    Anaphora, or repetition of a word at the beginning of each sentence,
    e.g., “Freedom for the poor, freedom for the rich, freedom for all.” In the
    reiteration, repetition is of a complete sentence (slogan) insistently through
    the speech, e.g., “With God and patriotism we will overcome Communism
    because…:
    Conversion is the repetition at the end of every phrase, e.g.:
    “Sandinismo tries to be about everyone, dominate everyone, command
    everyone, and as an absolute tyranny, do away with everyone.”
    In the emphasis, repetition is used at the beginning and at the end of
    the clause, e.g., “Who brought the Russian-Cuban intervention? The
    Sandinistas. And who is engaged in arms trafficking with the neighboring
    countries? The Sandinistas. And who is proclaiming to be in favor of
    nonintervention? The Sandinistas.”
    Reduplication, when the phrase begins with the same word that ends
    the previous one. For example: “We struggle for democracy, democracy and
    social justice.” The concatenation is a chain made up of duplications. For
    example: “Communism transmits the deception of the child to the young
    man, of the young man to the adult, and of the adult to the old man.”
    In the antithesis or word play, the same words are used with a
    different meaning to give an ingenious effect: e.g., “The greatest wealth of
    every human being is his own freedom, because slaves will always be poor
    but we poor can have the wealth of our freedom.”
    Similar cadences, through the use of verbs of the same tense and
    person, or nouns of the same number and case. For example: “Those of us
    who are struggling we will be marching because he who perseveres
    achieves, and he who gives up remains.”
    Use of synonyms, repetition of words with a similar meaning. For
    example: “We demand a Nicaragua for all, without exceptions, without
    omissions.”
    Among the figures of speech most used in oratory are:
    Comparison or simile, which sets the relationship of similarity
    between two or more beings or things. For example: “Because we love
    Christ, we love his bishops and pastors,” and “Free as a bird.”
    Antithesis, or the counter-position of words, ideas, or phrases of an
    opposite meaning. For example: “They promised freedom and gave slavery;
    that they would distribute the wealth and they have distributed poverty; that
    they would bring peace, and they have brought about war.”
    Among the logic figures are the following:
    Concession, which is a skillful way to concede something to the
    adversary in order to better emphasize the inappropriate aspects, through the
    use of expressions such as: but, however, although, nevertheless, in spite of
    the fact that, etc. For example: “The mayor here has been honest, but he is
    not the one controlling all the money of the nation.” It is an effective form of
    rebuttal when the opinion of the audience is not entirely ours.
    Permission, in which one apparently accedes to something, when in
    reality it is rejected. For example: “Do not protest, but sabotage them.” “Talk
    quietly, but tell it to everyone.”
    Prolepsis is an anticipated refutation. For example: “Some will think
    that they are only promises; they will say, others said the same thing, but no.
    We are different, we are Christians, we consider God a witness to our
    words.”
    Preterition is an artifice, pretending discretion when something is said
    with total clarity and indiscretion. For example: “If I were not obligated to
    keep military secrets, I would tell all of you of the large amount of
    armaments that we have so that you would feel even more confidence that
    our victory is assured.”
    Communication is a way to ask and give the answer to the same
    question. For example: “If they show disrespect for the ministers of God,
    will they respect us, simple citizens? Never.”
    Rhetorical questions are a way in which one shows perplexity or
    inability to say something, only as an oratorical recourse. For example: “I
    am only a peasant and can tell you little. I know little and I will not be able
    to explain to you the complicated things of politics. Therefore, I talk to you
    with my heart, with my simple peasant’s heart, as we all are.”
    Litotes is a form of meaning a lot by saying little. For example: “The
    nine commanders have stolen little, just the whole country.”
    Irony consists of getting across exactly the opposite of what one is
    saying. For example: “The divine mobs that threaten and kill, they are
    indeed Christians.”
    Amplification is presenting an idea from several angles. For example:
    “Political votes are the power of the people in a democracy. And economic
    votes are their power in the economy. Buying or not buying something, the
    majorities decide what should be produced. For something to be produced or
    to disappear. That is part of economic democracy.”
    The most usual plaintive figures of speech are:
    Deprecation or entreaty to obtain something. For example: “Lord, free
    us from the yoke. Give us freedom.”
    Imprecation or threat, expressing a sentiment in view of the unjust or
    hopeless. For example: “Let there be a Homeland for all or let there be a
    Homeland for no one.”
    Commination, similar to the previous one, presents a bad wish for the
    rest. For example, “Let them drown in the abyss of their own corruption.”
    The apostrophe consists of addressing oneself towards something
    supernatural or inanimate as if it were a living being. For example:
    “Mountains of Nicaragua, make the seed of freedom grow.”
    Interrogation consists of asking a question of oneself, to give greater
    emphasis to what is expressed. It is different from communication, since it
    gives the answer and is of a logical and not a plaintive nature. For example:
    “If they have already injured the members of my family, my friends, my
    peasant brothers, do I have any path other than brandishing a weapon?”
    Reticence consists of leaving a thought incomplete, intentionally, so
    that mentally the audience completes it. For example, “They promised
    political pluralism and gave totalitarianism. They promised political
    pluralism and gave totalitarianism. They promised social justice, and they
    have increased poverty. They offered freedom of thought, and they have
    given censorship. Now, what they promise the world are free elections…”

  4. says

    It takes 10 years to master any skill or profession. 10 years to become a Grandmaster in chess, 10 years to acquire expert competency in a job, and so forth.

    No one is born an orator, they have to practice it, just like any other skill. They have to learn. Bush probably prefers doing something else, while Reagan praciced his speeches again and again.

    Some people have a sharper tongue than most, but weren’t they the kids that always used words to benefit themselves? Their experience came during childhood years, it did not spring up magically.

    I was reading an article about Grandmasters in chess and how they got to be what they are. Using cognitive science, we can tell how long it takes someone to do something so well that it is automatic and seamless.

    Depending upon how many hours you devote a day to something, you can master it in less than 10 years or more than 10 years.

    But there’s a difference. When I say “practice”, I don’t mean a hapazard action. I mean a deliberate, planned, logical action. An action that sets to test the limits, to exceed it, and to procur success not just a waste of time.

    Thus amateurs can play golf for many years and not get any better, because that is not their goal and not their methodology.

    One reason why combat experience makes a soldier so much better than a lot of training, in proportion, is because combat challenges a person’s limits, and thus induces a greater rate of learning by pitting the individual against progressively higher and higher challenges. To the effect that the individual either fails and dies, or succedes and survives.

    If you are just going through the motions, then you are not going to get any better. You can shave off some time, you can improve your reactions, but you will not progress beyond to the next level.

    In terms of oration, many people like Hitler were motivated by something very enticing. Power.

  5. mamapajamas says

    I, too, have a problem with this “Esprit de l’escalier”. Then I found a partial solution.

    When I KNOW that there is something wrong with something a liberal has just told me, I take advantage of my Southern drawl. I give them a long, amused stare, look as if I’m about to laugh (this takes up a few extra seconds of time) then slowly, while thinking my way through the logic, drawl my way through some sort of introductory comment that denies them acceptance of their comment. It doesn’t matter what I say as long as I look totally amused at their lack of logic ;).

    I’ll usually drawl something like, “Bein’ a downhome Southin’ gal (totally irrelevant), raised up to believe that ever’body’s gotta take responsibility for their own actions (only semi-relevant), I’ve jest gotta say I reject your base premise right from th’ get-go (the real point of that entire paragraph).” THEN I worry about what it is that I’m disagreeing with. By that time, I usually have figured out what bothered me about what they said.

    A solid rule of “Speakin’ South’un”… never use one word when ten will suffice :D. It works extremely well as a delaying tactic while you’re trying to think your way through the problem.

    And when people try to use my accent against me, in the old “if you speak that way, you must be ignorant” kind of insinuation, I whack ‘em with my academic creds, and all but accuse them of rampant bigotry.

    Libs really HATE being accused of bigotry… LOL!

  6. jg says

    “Libs really HATE being accused of bigotry..”
    BUT, MamaPJ, THEY don’t THINK THEY’RE bigoted!

    By the way, I once wrote Paul Greenberg (conservative Little Rock pundit) about “southern liberals,” calling them a sorry breed.

    I had thought the Civil War finished them off! (my parting shot at their hypocrisies..)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] How Liberals Promote and Exploit Divisiveness By Bookworm at Bookworm RoomAugust 22, 2006 at 6:34 am in Feature Article, Book Review As promised, and with the author’s permission, here’s an excerpt from Richard Mgredechian’s How The Left Was Won : An In-Depth Analysis of the Tools and Methodologies Used by Liberals to Undermine Society and Disrupt the Social Order. [...]

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