It Depends… On What the Meaning of “Republican” Is.

It Depends… On What the Meaning of “Republican” Is.

Reflections on truth in advertising…

By John F. Di Leo – 

Almost twenty years ago, American philologists were treated to an amazing statement in the political realm: then-President Bill Clinton answered a question with the words “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

As shocking as that statement was in context, coming from a leading Democrat, it was also something of a Freudian slip, as Bill Clinton gave away quite a secret in that brief moment.

While it can be honestly said that all politicians may exaggerate occasionally, and all politicians may have different takes on the rightness or wrongness of a position, or on the success or failure of a program, only the modern Democrat has made a conscious tactic of deliberately abusing the words themselves, changing their meanings so that eventually a Republican and a Democrat can speak different languages when discussing the same issue, again and again.

  • The Democrats have rechristened a welfare benefit as “a refundable tax credit.” Why?  So that we don’t feel so bad supporting them?  No, to put the non-working or non-taxpaying on the same moral ground as the hard-working and overtaxed.
  • The Democrats redefined “unemployment,” so that only those actively spinning their wheels in a search every week are considered “unemployed;” the other ninety million who’ve given up are just “outside the labor force,” but not “unemployed…” so no matter how awful the employment picture, the “unemployment” number won’t honestly reflect the reality.
  • The Democrats redefined illegal aliens as “undocumented workers,” both to give the impression that this class of criminals, gate-crashers and welfare cheats are in fact honest laborers and to set them up as victims of an inept bureaucracy rather than of their own (or their parents’) criminal choices.

On the American political scene, the side of right – call it the Right, or the Constitutionalists, or the Libertarians or Conservatives, whatever you like – needs to confront this issue head on. Not only because we shouldn’t continue to have political campaigns in which one side gets away with unchecked lies by speaking a language all their own, but because the tactic has spread, most maliciously, to the very names of the political parties.

Ask any marketing professor, and he’ll tell you the cardinal rule of advertising: “Perception is Reality.”

And the perception surrounding the Republican brand, and the conservative adjective as well, is one outrageous and destructive perception indeed.

The Republican Brand

If you ask a Republican what it means to be a Republican, he’ll tell you it’s a commitment to a small, responsible government of the size and scope intended by the Founding Fathers.  A Republican is committed to lowering taxes, reducing the burdens of government regulations, protecting our citizens from attackers at home and protecting the nation from attackers abroad, with strong and honorable local law enforcement and a well-equipped military.  A Republican is proudly committed to the traditions and values of Western Civilization and Judeo-Christian ethics, and to the specific God-given human right to individual liberties as declared in the Bill of Rights.

While members of the party certainly have a range of dedication to the above themes, generally varying from conservative to moderate, these themes summarize the general family of positions held by Republicans.

But if you ask a Democrat the same question – “What is a Republican?” – in fact, if you ask any non-Republican the question – will you get that same answer?

Democrats are raised to believe that Republicans are “for the rich” (whatever that means) and Democrats are “for the people.”  Nothing could be more untrue, but that’s what they’re told.

Democrats are told in school that Republicans are bigoted – against blacks, against Hispanics, against the handicapped.  It doesn’t matter how many actual Republican blacks are elected, appointed, or celebrated by actual Republicans; the Democrats who control the messaging to their base don’t allow that truth to get out.

Ask any Republican to name his favorite Supreme Court Justice, and Clarence Thomas will be one of his top two or three.  Ask his favorite economist, and Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams will be at the top of his list.  But as this information would counter the official line of the Democrats, they just disregard it, and keep on calling Republicans bigots anyway.  Republicans elect Hispanics to high office and celebrate their talent – Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Susannah Martinez, Linda Chavez are rock stars to the conservative movement, but the Democrats don’t let the truth get in the way of their definition of “what Republicans are.”

How do the Democrats spread this narrative so effectively?  How is it that Democrats have been able to define their opposition party so successfully, when the Republicans have never been able to define their opponent – the Democrats – as the socialist villains that they are today?

It’s a one-two punch, perhaps even a one-two-three punch:  Schools, churches, and pop culture.

Democrats control the public schools in our big cities to a degree unimagined by most suburban and rural voters.  No matter how sophisticated we may think we are, no matter how “aware” we may be of the problems within the big city limits, the level of indoctrination that goes on a few miles away, in our big city schools is unfathomable to the rest of America.

We regular Americans have been brought up with a commitment to honor in our jobs:  Don’t take advantage of your position as a teacher, trainer or manager to insert politics into our instruction materials.  The teachers’ unions have no such moral compass.  With few exceptions (which are rare and difficult because of the pressure of the herd), teachers, especially teachers in overwhelmingly Democrat areas, tend to make anti-Republican rhetoric a conscious part of their lesson plan.

(Author’s asides:  I personally give lectures on trade compliance for a living, for example, and I consciously work to keep my lectures nonpartisan, to avoid insertion of political bias as much as possible, because it would be an abuse of power.  I consciously limit myself to perhaps a political joke now and then, nothing more. The Democrats of the teachers’ unions simply don’t posess such an inner governor).

Democrats also control the media in a way that Republicans don’t fully appreciate.  We often talk of the bias of network news and the major newspapers, and yes, that’s true, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The big cities have radio stations that Republicans never listen to, hiphop and pop stations, sports and talk stations, that employ disk jockeys who work attacks on Republicans into their standard patter.  It’s so endemic that they probably don’t even do it consciously; if you’re raised to believe that Republicans are bigots, or abusers, or exploiters, you’ll eventually use “Republican” as a synonym for these terms without even thinking about it.  And if you’re in a position to talk for a living, that careless but regular insertion of bias will gradually shape your listeners’ worldview – especially if you’re not ostensibly a political commentator, so people’s “bias alerts” aren’t turned on when they listen.

Now consider the people who grow up in that environment – the people who grow up attending “churches” like Jeremiah Wright’s and Al Sharpton’s, “churches” that preach against Republicans every week.   Consider people who grow up attending these schools that attribute every societal wrong to Republicans – why are we poor, why are we endangered, why are we surrounded by gangs and drugs? “because the Republicans keep us that way.” Consider people who listen to music radio programs and  watch TV networks that use Republicans as a default whipping boy on issue after issue.

We then hold an election and wonder why their voters won’t give the Republican candidates an equal consideration for their vote.

Why on earth would they?

Repairing the Brand

The GOP has learned to live with certain assumptions: we’ll never get more than 85% of the black vote, so give it up.  We’ll never get more than 40% of the Hispanic vote, so let’s try harder with them.  But we’ll never lead in any minority group.  This is an assumption, based on facts, sure, but fatalist and as such, inherently destructive.

The GOP has taken two approaches to dealing with these problems – just giving up in some areas, like the big cities, and where it doesn’t give up, it panders. We’ll run some Hispanic candidates for office and give them extra visibility, or we’ll give in on a racially charged issue here and there in hopes that such capitulation will “make them like us.”

How pathetic.

Would you vote for a person you believe to have gone on record as personally hating you, personally robbing you, personally abusing you and your friends?   Of course not.  But when the Republican party asks many in the underclass and the indoctrinated to consider Republican candidates, that’s exactly what we’re hoping for.  OF COURSE it doesn’t work!

The Republican party needs to stop forcing its nominees to compete with a lifetime of indoctrination. Both the perpetual underclass and the continually arriving non-English speaking newcomers (immigrants, both legal and illegal) are indoctrinated as described above with a 100% immersion approach that Berlitz and Rosetta Stone would envy.  There is no way that an individual candidate, even one of the same minority as the targeted voters, can compete in that environment.

The Republican party needs to acknowledge that the brand is responsible for the brand, so the RNC and the state parties must advertise the brand in order for individual candidates to have a prayer.  The Republican party needs to start an advertising effort –  on THEIR stations – much like the brilliant television commercials of the 1980 cycle, when the party generically took on the Democrats in ad after ad, hammering home the key truth that the Democrats have lied to them, about themselves and about us, and it’s time to overcome their lifelong prejudices.

Such ads would be easy to write.  There’s no shortage of things to say:

“Democrats told you that Republicans don’t care.  Democrats told you that Republicans are against you.  But Democrats have controlled your city your entire life, and your city has gotten nothing but worse.  More crime, more danger.  Higher prices, fewer jobs.   Stuck in public housing, surrounded by gangs and drugs and muggers. Maybe it’s time you fired the Democrats.  Maybe it’s time you give the Republicans a chance. Hey, how could they possibly do worse?”

Now, I’m a columnist, not an ad man.   I’m sure the GOP has talented writers who could do a much better job than that, and could produce an effective string of ads that would do what needs to be done: to reclaim the Republican and conservative brands, to open the minds of closed-minded voters so they’ll at least consider the GOP’s nominees.

The days when the GOP could simply live with such prejudice are long gone.  The massive vote fraud of our big cities, combined with gerrymandered districts, has increased the power of the anti-Republican subculture.  Every Republican nominee has a millstone around his neck – the unfair branding by a corrupt bargain between the Democratic party and the institutions they control.  Somehow, this stranglehold on the minds of a growing portion of the electorate must be broken.

There’s more to be done besides this, of course.  Churches have an obligation to be honorable and truthful in their preaching… teachers have an obligation to be fair and objective, and to resist the temptation to abuse their offices by lying to a captive audience.   But these are difficult societal problems to address… and are somewhat out of the control of political party.

But what a party CAN do, it MUST do.  A party owns its brand, and to allow it to be besmirched for generations without response is unforgivable, an utter dereliction of duty by the leadership of the party, both nationally and in so many states.   It’s time for the party of freedom – the party of Lincoln, in fact! – to reclaim its brand.

If the GOP fails to do, it is doomed… and with it, the nation.


Copyright 2014 John F. Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicago based trade compliance trainer.  A former political activist and minor GOP official (an area chairman in the Maine Township GOP in the 1980s, and a Milwaukee County GOP chairman in the 1990s), he has now been a recovering politician for over seventeen years.

Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut and the byline and IR URL are included.  Follow John F. Di Leo on Facebook or LinkedIn, or on Twitter at @johnfdileo.


“It Depends… on What the Meaning of ‘Republican’ Is” was originally printed in Illinois Review, here.

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