Words aren't just ink on a page. They have immense power, as we know in marketing, to encourage prospects to buy what you're selling. As good marketers, we work never to manipulate, but to illuminate. (At least, that's the intent for most of us, I hope).
But the power of words can be used not just for business, but for politics. There's no better illustration of how you can twist, re-frame, and completely distort the meaning of one word into a completely different concept.
Wherever your political views fall on the spectrum, hear me out. The way politicians from both sides of the aisle phrase and position policy is critical to how people respond—and often, can obscure the truth of the matter.
When The Language Matters
In politics, the power of words is their ability to shape truth in a way marketing only aspires to do. Take, for example, UN Security Council Resolution #242, which was adopted unanimously in 1967 following the Six-Day War. This resolution re-affirms the principle that states cannot acquire territory through conquest, and was in direct response to Israel's actions against Palestinians in the Six-Day War.
What's interesting about this resolution is not the result (it's fairly boring, otherwise) but that there is one clause that actually means something different in English and in French. With both languages serving as official UN languages, this poses a problem.
In English, the clause states:
In French, the clause states:
The reason this is controversial is that in the English version, the use of "territories occupied" implies that Israel only occupied these territories during the time of conflict; however, in the French version, the use of "des" means "THE territories" instead of the implied "SOME territories" in English. This means the resolution requests that Israel withdraws from specific occupied territories that they had been occupying since before 1967 (I won't go into the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but needless to say, they had been occupying those territories for years!)
A small change of an indefinite article, and BOOM. Controversy. Ambiguity. And an international debate that defines the legal precedence for the two-state solution in Israeli-Palestinian relations. It's a pretty thorny subject, as you might imagine.
When the Name Matters
Closer to home, a more recent political controversy: the repeal of Obamacare. Whatever your views on affordable healthcare for all, one thing that's important to ask: Do you know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is actually the same thing?
Yes, in a brilliant marketing campaign by the Republican party, associating a health care plan that provided insurance for millions of individuals and brought our health care system almost up to par with the rest of the developed world with President Obama enabled them to completely disassociate the benefits with the person who created them.
When the Slogan Matters
It's not just names, but slogans that build movements. As individuals rally behind one cause or another, it's all about the marketing.
For example, the backlash to "Black lives matter," from white people was that "all lives matter."
The point of the BLM movement isn't to say that all lives don't matter. It's that it's time to draw attention to the POC community, specifically the police brutality and violence against it. It's not seen as the kind of kumbaya-everyone-come-together hashtag that some white folks want it to be. Instead, it de-emphasizes the racial tensions and issues that created the movement in the first place. (I'll leave it to the POC community to explain it better than I ever could.)
Similarly, take "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice." Again, whatever your views on abortion, it's pretty clear that no one is against life. Very few true evil-doers exist in the world. But the pro-choice movement continues to underestimate the power of bias.
No one wants to say they're not "pro-life." Except the pro-life movement isn't quite pro-life. It's anti-abortion, and pro-birth, that's for sure. But if it was truly pro-life, the movement would encompass economic and human rights for the poor, education, and the other essentials for everyone to live.
Now, Pay Attention
With "alternative facts" now a thing, it's more important than ever to pay attention. I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat, black or white. What matters is that you're informed about what's going on, and how politicians are using their words to obscure the truth.
If you're into truth, justice, liberty, and the American way, I'd strongly encourage you to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. Their mission actually aligns with their organization name: To fight for the civil rights of every American.
Because history has its eyes on us.
If you're interested in how language can shape politics, you might like this article I wrote for Paste Magazine on pop culture and narratives of resistance.