"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is an old verse that just isn't true. Indeed, words can hurt, break up marriages, destroy careers, and defeat political candidates.
Even words out of one's own mouth can be destructive. We recall such bloopers as presidential candidate George Romney self-destructing his 1968 presidential candidacy with the word "brainwashing," or President Gerald Ford losing in 1976 after saying "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe," or President Richard Nixon pleading "I am not a crook."
In the fast-moving battleground of the Internet, words used as epithets can be powerful missiles to hurl at an enemy. Among the arrows with poison tips designed to slay a political enemy are the words "racist," "bigot, "fascist," "nativist," and "extremist."
The spin artists, now a fixture in modern politics, tell us what we are supposed to think about what we just saw, such as a presidential debate. They use word power to set the parameters of political debate.
More insidious are the words that are redefined to stifle political discourse. As Humpty Dumpty told Alice in Wonderland, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."
Alice demurred: "The question is whether you can make words mean different things." Humpty Dumpty countered, "The question is which is to be master; that's all."
The word definers who choose to be master frustrate rational debate by redefining good words into bad words, mouthing them with a sneer until they become a smear.
"Protect" is an obviously good word. The dictionary defines it as preservation from injury or harm. Most of us fervently believe in protecting things that are precious to us.
We all want to protect our homes from being invaded by a robber. Parents want to protect their children from predators in person or on the Internet, as well as from immoral curricula in public schools.
We want to protect the institution of marriage so we can have a stable society based on the family, and so children can grow up with a mother and a father. Most of us want to protect innocent, unborn babies from knife and scissors. We believe in protecting our country and our flag. Our soldiers fight to protect us from foreign enemies. Our police stand guard to protect us from thugs on the street.
We want to protect our liberties from overreaching bureaucrats and from supremacist judges who pretend to "evolve" the U.S. Constitution. We want to protect the Pledge of Allegiance and the Ten Commandments from the lawsuits that try to ban them from schools, courthouses and parks.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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