How to Talk About the Opposition

When you can help it, don’t say conservative. As the polls above demonstrate, conservative is no insult. The word and the concept are both quite popular. This is because, while conservative policies are awful, Americans overwhelmingly support stereotyped conservative principles—small government, low taxes, free markets, strong defense, traditional families. It is very clever framing. Who favors a bigger government than we need? Who wants to pay more taxes? Who can oppose freedom, an effective military, or families?

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Conservative plan

Conservative solution

Fiscal conservative

Right wing

Risky scheme

Extreme, outside the mainstream

Fiscal responsibility 

Why . . .

When it fits, you can use the term right wing. Voters are somewhat unfavorable toward a right wing candidate (although they are much more unfavorable toward a left-wing candidate). You can also call conservatives extreme. The current crop of conservatives at the federal, state and local levels are far outside of the American mainstream. They are extreme compared to Ronald Reagan!

Risky is another good word to use, because it highlights what America stands to lose by adopting any particular conservative measure. Finally, when you’re arguing against a conservative proposal, never call it a solution. It will never solve a societal problem.

What about the Tea Party? Let’s first understand the polling. There are two kinds of questions asked about political organizations: do you favor or oppose the group, and do you consider yourself a supporter or member.

Only 30 percent are favorable toward the Tea Party and about half are unfavorable. That has not changed much since 2011. Labeling someone as a Tea Party candidate is a negative, but not a terribly strong one. When asked “do you consider yourself a supporter of the Tea Party movement,” only about 20 percent say they are and by this measurement the Tea Party has declined by one-third over the past three years. The group does not represent a big percentage of all voters, but it remains a large and influential part of the Republican Party.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .


Fascist, Nazi

Partisan, political and divisive


Playing partisan politics

Putting politics above what’s best for America

Why . . .

We cannot call Tea Partiers Confederates or fascists, or compare their actions to the Civil War or World War II. Persuadable voters don’t understand the comparison, it seems dated, and it alienates some of our friends.

Americans are increasingly aware that the Tea Party is far outside of the mainstream, and that its members are divisive, extremely partisan, and playing politics.

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