One of the most important functions of labels is to summarize a large quantity of information in a single symbol. Because people don't have the time to comprehensively analyze the specific attributes of a product they often rely on labels or simply branding information to serve as a proxy indicator of the properties they wish to measure. Labels perform a similar function in politics.Just returned from wandering through Mammoth Cave in Kentucky (which is surely a metaphor for something) over Thanksgiving Week, Wonker is pleased that folks like Wretchard are finally starting to grapple with the real problem that intellectuals on the right face on a regular basis. The hard left has systematically controlled the "labeling" of social, political, and artistic terminology for well over a half-century. This has, slowly and subtly, contributed alarmingly to the weakening of our energetic and optimistic American culture, pushing it toward the failed European amalgam of economic determinism, nihilism, fatalism, and elitist corruption disguised as progressivism.
The term "soft power" sounds like it might be better than "hard power". Countries which don't sign up to the Kyoto climate agreement are presumably rogue states intent on polluting the planet. Greedy, money-grubbing capitalist countries are presumably less environmentally friendly than gentle Socialist countries.
People buy on the basis of labels; people vote on the basis of labels, and sometimes they are misled. The power of labels creates an opportunity for hucksters to substitute fiction for reality, as anyone who has ever bought a Rolex made in Pakistan knows. For years the United Nations presented itself as a saintly organization bent on saving the whales when it wasn't preserving world peace. Reality fell somewhat short of this ideal, and the process of disillusionment is always painful to watch. In a way, even those who didn't believe in the fake labels can feel a sense of loss at watching the hope, and then the belief fade from the faces of those who have been suckered. The truth will set you free; but first it will make you miserable.
A classic example of this "relabeling" is what has become one of today's most contentious terms, "liberal." Wonker would contend, with considerable justification, that today's "liberals" are more like yesterday's "conservatives." Stuck in a time warp, America's left (which always identifies itself as "liberal" to obscure their connection with discredited Marxist beliefs) have successfully wrapped themselves in the positive mantle of "liberalism," while behaving precisely like the elitists and intellectual fascists that they like to imagine exclusively inhabit the right. There is, in fact, nothing whatsoever "liberal" about denigrating religion, pushing sex education into lower and lower grades in public schools, glorying in abortion, dissing our troops in Iraq (while proclaiming "patriotism"), blacklisting Republican-oriented professors in college tenure situations, etc. We could go on, but you get the picture.
Wonker would propose that the "conservative right"—consider taking the "liberal" label back. Why not. "Conservatives" believe in freedom of religion, the sanctity of the family and of life, the rightness of democracy, the success of Americanism, and the freedom of intellectual expression. Why then have "conservatives" been stuck with this stodgy label? Something to ponder as we head for the Christmas season. Er, the "Holiday Season," yet another relabeling effort, courtesy of the anti-democratic left, meant to exterminate our country's acceptance of its Judaeo-Christian roots. Words and labels do matter. We need to take them back.