Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Time's Loose Use of Political Labels

The sub-head of an April 10th story in Time magazine says of a Presidential hopeful in Mexico:
Leftist front-runner Lopez wants to give his countrymen less reason to cross the border

So, Senor Lopez is a leftist? What in hell does that mean? Does he say, "I am a Leftist." I can't find him doing that. So, we are left to ponder what Time magazine is doing?

The Left in politics arguably extends from the views of left-leaning centrists, though the views of liberals, on through the views of socialists, and then through the views of communists. Of course, this suggests that "leftist" is a scalar property, which is silly. We are talking here of a huge variation of points of view and any given individual who is left of center, generally speaking, may side with liberals on some issues, centrists on others, and conservatives on others. I like, for instance, the conservative notion, abandoned by both Reagan and Bush, of having a balanced budget for me and for the country. Does that make me a conservative? When I was a kid, Republicans used to argue that we can't survive long with unbalanced household budgets and the government can't either. Why did they change? It was a good idea though it took a long time for me to realize it.

Assuming, counterfactually, that "leftness" is a scalar property, Time doesn't tell us where Senor Lopez fits. This is left to us to decide. Time is doing this deliberately, of course, for it allows persons brainwashed into fearing liberals by the legionaires of the political right to imagine the worst. We are also told by Time that Senor Lopez "is the candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD)." As Reagan might say, "Here they go again." Is "leftist" the only word Time has for people to the left of center?

This is a long story and I want this to be a shorter blog than usual for I have to engage in some manual labor. So, I will comment on just two elements of the following passage of the Time story. See if you can guess which two.
Yet as much as the struggling campesinos enjoy hearing his lavish social welfare promises, they're more interested in his business plan — specifically, how he hopes to create Mexican jobs that will keep them from having to cross the border to seek work in the U.S. as illegal immigrants. "We no longer want thousands of our young people abandoning their towns and families every day in order to alleviate their hunger and misery on the other side of the border!" López shouts in a high-pitched voice.

I am attracted by the idea that Senor Lopez is offering lavish social welfare programs. The adjective "lavish" evokes in my mind the possibility is that Senor Lopez is offering the poor, which is most of Mexico, of course, a new home with as many rooms as the household needs, chiles and chickens in every pot, and a nice Lamborghini Diablo for every garage, perhaps a red one to go with Senor Lopez's leftist views. (Why do we color Republican states "red"? Are they closet leftists?) The other item is Time's choice of expressions of reported speech. I told you about these things in my blog on journalistic bias. Here we have Time saying "Lopez shouts in a high-pitched voice." You just can't trust men who shout and cerntainly not men who shout in "high-pitched" (at least Time didn't say "shrill") voices. It suggests to me that Lopez might not be manly for he didn't shout with a "deep-pitched" voice. Anyway, most of us don't trust shouters, high-pitched or not.

As for Senor Lopez being leftist, what is he doing proposing to "create Mexican jobs that will keep them from having to cross the border." Time claims that Lopez is leading in the polls "to the chagrin of the Bush Administration." Why "chagrin"? Isn't Bush trying to stop illegals from entering the country? It seems to me that Bush ought to send some excess Republican funds (perhaps left over from Tom Delay's account) to Lopez and stump for him in the Northern areas of Mexico where the people have not seen as much of him.

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Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Check out www.politicalcompass.org for an interesting quiz on this topic. They accept the left/right distinction as far as socioeconomic policy, but they also add an up/down axis for authoritarianism (more authoritarian is up rather than down). I took it a little over a year ago and turned out to be just barely to the right, and about 1/4 of the way up.

3:25 PM

Blogger Sean said...

The principle of "defining your adversary" has been a corner stone of public debate and politics for some time, and seems to have been taken to new depths in the last 10-15 years. Nothing is sacred anymore, as the swift boat veterans of the last presidential campaign proved. Time seems to be doing the same thing here, trying to paint Lopez in a particular light, in this case as a leftist, high-pitched voiced, "bad for Amur'ka" wacko. The question I have is "Why??" Why is this guy an adversary of Time magazine? What is their motivation in using this tactic? The only two answers I can think of are A) they have a political axe to grind against the guy, or B) they find this kind of rhetoric sells more magazines. The fist is highly unlikely in my estimation, barring some strange conspiracy theory, and I don't care for conspiracy theories. The second seems quite likely, and wholly despicable.

This type of language is cheap and dishonest. It subversively makes claims against individuals and groups without offering any proof or debate on those claims. Even if there is proof or debate offered, the damage is done. I was warned some time back to be careful not to piss off my students, because one could make the claim that I had, for example, "touched them inappropriately." No amount of proof or debate to the contrary after the fact would remove the sigma that would follow me in the community. My teaching career in this area would effectively be ruined. While the example from Time is perhaps not as extreme as that, it in the same swift boat. “Define your opponent before he can define himself.” It’s Knife-in-the-Back politics and language.

3:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Living in OC, California I can see first-hand the devastating affects of this mass migration to "el norte". Huge amounts of money made here by Mexicans is sent back down south to help the rest of their families come here too. Instead of spending all their time and energy migrating, I wish Mexicans could invest in Mexico and make Mexico a better place to live in. Really, we should annex Mexico and make it the 51st and 52nd state being that half their population is already here, but that'll never happen. Really though, the same could be said for Russia too. The women are leaving Russia in droves. They don't want to raise their children there. This is what happens when corruption takes over and bribery rules the land. This is what is slowly happening here. Everybody is running away from something. The midwesterners are coming to California to leave the cold winters behind. Industry is running away from the American workers. We are all looking for greener grass.

4:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a cool test, Kelly. Thanks. I was -0.75, -1.13 and I pretty much knew that already. I'm closer to Gandhi's mindset than anyone else.

7:36 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Im also wondering what is the motivation behind the slandering of Senor Lopez.
Politics or business?

12:11 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Time magazine was founded by Henry Luce and was relentlessly conservative, if not further to the right until he died. Luce hated Truman with a passion and loved Eisenhower and its characterizations of how each communicated reflected these personal opinions ("said with a smile" sits in my brain as a characterization of Eisenhower). It was, in short, his private journalistic fiefdom.

Time says it is a weekly "news magazine" but back in the day it was anything but that. The news was overtly and unapologetically biased in favor of conservative to right wing positions though I suppose they would say they were "telling it as it is." I quit reading it for several decades and hppened on the Lopez story by accident. Based on it, I would say that Time is still biased against anyone to the left of Attila the Hun. The only good thing I know abut Time is that its only official editorial called for the resignation of Nixon. The fact is that the entire magazine is an editorial.

8:55 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Thanks, pf!

Interesting. This time I took the test, I ended up in the same quadrant as Stalin instead of Hitler. I think the change is because I've changed my views on how much government should support the arts, but I don't think I've changed much on anything else.
Economic Left/Right: -0.88
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 1.59
(Actually, it looks like I'm pretty much in line with the views of the current pope, although he's more authoritarian than I.)
In any case, I'm still very moderate in my views. I suspect that the average person is very much a moderate. So why is it that we can't get a truly moderate presidential candidate? Like, perhaps, Senator McCain? Something about the primary system must be broken.

An interesting thing about the test is what they name the different axes: up is fascism, down is anarchism, left is communism, and right is neo-liberalism. I don't suspect that there are very many people in the lower-right corner, but I do know one of them.

As to Time, I don't really know. I've never read it anywhere except in a waiting room. Things that have a realy wide appeal seem to avoid appealing to me in particular. The last time I do remember reading it I was waiting to get my hair cut, and they were following some of the soldiers in Iraq and it was generally supportive of the troops and seemed to imply that they were making progress in Iraq, so the conservative characterization could be right.

9:40 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I guess it's only logical that if a magazine has a conservative audience, they cater to that audience.

Personally, I like my news straight up.

The staff writers in my local newspaper like to practice their creative writting skills on us. It's very annoying. I can just see them typing w/a flourish, "Mayor so&so shouts in a high pitched voice."

10:57 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Sadly, L>T, there isn't any straight up. The news is always skewed by the choices journalists make (go here or go there in Iraq today, interview her not him today, etc.) and the perspectives journalists have. Normally we can get past that to some semblance of what really went on, especially if we take in three or so other sources of info, easy with the web papers. With Time, though, while "leftist" can simply be deleted, "lavish social programs" cannot be interpreted. We would have to know what the programs actually were.

12:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time magazine is owned by Time Warner/AOL. They own CNN (Ted Turner) too, hardly the bastion of right wing or conservative ideals. Time Magazine is not your Father's Oldsmobile, it has transcended into just another liberal rag as so many once great publications have over the last thirty or so years. Just like I’m behind the times on some of the political issues and the players of the day LG, it appears that you are too.

There are conservative publications such as the Weekly Standard, The National Review and The American Spectator and they make no argument about the nature of their publications. As far as Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report are concerned, they are liberal leaning publications that sometimes have consevative columnists but their editors, writers and editorial boards are in the left column. In the test that Kelly linked to I'd say most of the people that occupy those positions would be in the social liberal quadrants.

Corporate doesn’t always mean conservative in this day and age that idea is long gone. You will find that there are many Corporate CEOs are liberal, i.e. the former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway, George Soros of Quantum Fund(you can go find out what that comapny does for yourself)in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles.

I can't pretend to know why Time would go after one of their own but I have a pretty good idea it has something to do with Lopez wanting to stop the flow of illegals out of Mexico into the US. I don't know maybe since they lost all their credibility being deemed nothing more than another liberal mouthpiece they are swinging the pendulum back the other way. It appears that CNN has been doing a little of that style of pandering itself to get ratings back up.

I scored Economic Left/Right: 2.25
Social Libertarian/ Authoritarian: 0.21

I could have put that on my resume, those beliefs and ideals haven’t changed in many years. I believe in fiscal responsibility of the government and the freedom to earn a living without being burdened by over taxation and endless bureaucratic supporting regulations. I do believe though that the government has no business telling me how to live my life. No matter who is in office from here on in the people will demand more services and the politicians will oblige and you and your children will be saddled with more and more debt.

McCain, don’t look for that to happen Kelly. The man has worn out his welcome with social conservatives.

12:10 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I think,J_G, you and I are not agreed as to what a "liberal" is. The New Yorker is liberal and I would be stunned blind, stupid, and mute if Time or Newsweek or USN&WR were anything like the New Yorker in political stance. But, as I said, I have not read these three so-called "news magazines." I think for you, J-G, liberal must be anyone to the left of, say, McCain given his new "born again" conservative stances. I don't mean that in an insulting way. I just find it astonishing that you would say what you did.

You are right about Corporate America, though, not being my Dad's Corporate America. It is internationalist in perspective. Most people I know in academia who are internationalist in orientation tend to be left of center. Linguists, anthropologists, and others who deal with other cultures would be examples.

2:47 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Well, I took the test and got these results:
Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: -3.38
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.62

I am therefore a bit to the right of Ghandi on the economic scale and about twice that distance down the scale toward the libertarian position than he was.

I have always been a bleeding heart, something I've known since I was in junior high when I felt badly when kids didn't have enough money to buy a decent lunch at the cafeteria, but have moved more conservative economically from my most liberal period of the '60's up to the time that I decided I hated Reagan's deficit creating policies. My bleeding heart personality characteristic also shows up in my supporting equal rights for minorities of all sorts, so long as the minority isn't a part of the criminal class.

3:08 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Well, since we're baring our souls to one another:
Economic Left/Right: -4.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.82

When I first took this quiz, in October 2004, my results were -3.88 & -4.21, resp.

Ch-ch-ch-changes...never a bad thing. (You know what they say about consistency.)

I don't know, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama don't seem like such bad company to keep. : )

8:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:49 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last two deleted posts were mine and they didn’t explain what I meant to say. First John McCain to me is a middle of the road moderate and the social conservatives to the far right of me do not like the man because many of his views run contrary to the agenda of social conservatives. McCain will get little support from social conservatives.

The New Yorker Magazine is an unabashed liberal publication and they make that abundantly clear. They are a liberal publication in the same manner that the National Review is a conservative publication. I have nothing against such publications. They are upfront about their views and they attempt to back up their views with whatever writings, research, and bloviation they can muster.

The words from Time magazine are those of a hidden agenda. This is what most people despise. They will be accused of being right wingers by the left and the right will accuse them of being leftists. This article may have been written by a conservative but those articles are few and far between. The only thing that is clear is that there will be a new President of Mexico soon and both of our political parties will want “their” candidate that represents “their” interests to be the winner.

I would also like to say that; No, President Bush does not want to stem the flow of illegals into our country. Bush is fighting the Congress to stop legislation that will put a lid on this destructive tide of illegals into the country. There are many reasons for this but the main one is “cheap labor”. We are a nation of immigrants not a nation of law breakers.

10:34 AM


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