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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Democrats Rework the Rhetoric -- A Notion of the 'Common Good'

From The Wall Street Journal:

The latest tussle in the world of political rhetoric is pitting Aristotle and Augustine against political pollsters and a raft of Democratic presidential candidates.

At stake is the notion of "common good," which many Democrats are embracing as a new framework for expressing their vision of broader opportunity and equality.

They see it as an effective way to talk about economic fairness -- and reduce the Republicans' big advantage in the linguistic arms race.

For much of the last decade or so, many Democrats complain, conservative strategists have been running rhetorical circles around Democrats with focus-grouped phrases such as "death tax" and "ownership society" that buttress Republicans' probusiness, free-market views. Meanwhile, Democrats' populist-style attacks on big business during the last two presidential elections -- for instance, by Al Gore and John Kerry -- have come across to many voters as shrill and outmoded.

Based on ancient philosophy and Roman Catholic social teaching, "common good" is becoming a poll-tested mainstay of Democratic rhetoric. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson are using the phrase frequently in stump speeches and position papers.

One little problem: No one agrees on exactly what it means, potentially compromising its effectiveness as a rallying cry for the Democratic Party.

Mr. Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, is using it in progressive fashion, to refer to leveling the economic playing field and backing strong unions and universal health care. Sen. Obama of Illinois uses it in a more centrist sense, to mean shared duties and responsibilities, not only among classes but between the two parties. Sen. Clinton of New York uses it in both ways.

As campaign strategists seized on the "common good" as a rhetorical weapon over the last couple of years, the phrase became reduced to "a slogan," complains George Lakoff, a University of California at Berkeley linguist and sometime Democratic adviser who was an early advocate of the message.

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