Talking Right

Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show (PublicAffairs, July 2006).

It was chosen as one of 10 best nonfiction books of 2006 by Washington Monthly.

Some reviews:

Nunberg writes about the political language with partisan gusto, bemoaning the failure of the left to come up with ”words that do the kind of work that values and elite have done for the right.”
— William Safire, New York Times, June 18, 2006

His is a long-overdue call for Democrats to start talking like the populists they should be. . . “Talking Right” takes us — with terrific wit and eye-opening research — about as far as language alone can go to counter what Nunberg convincingly calls the conservatives’ “linguistic coup”… Liberals should read Nunberg for the best advice yet on how to talk their way in from the cold.
— Leslie Savan, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 17, 2006

Part cogent analysis, part rallying cry, “Talking Right” could be as influential during this election cycle as Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” was in 2004.
— Don Aucoin, Boston Globe, July 5, 2006

Talking Right actually reads as a rallying call for the Democrats and their army of dormant linguistic analysts. While Nunberg is not entitled to impartiality here, his account of the linguistic clash is amply substantiated and compellingly written.

— Andrea Katz, Financial Times, July 15, 2006

Nunberg goes beyond the consultants’ conventional wisdom, using news databases and other online resources to document just how far, and how fast, some of the core political vocabulary has moved. Within a generation, he says, words like color-blind, hate speech, moderate, freedom, faith, and Christian have all been winched rightward–not just for conservatives, but for everyone sharing the language…. Though he’s a partisan, frustrated with the Democrats’ ineptitude at selling their political story, Nunberg is no frothing polemicist. My Republican relatives will enjoy “Talking Right,” too—heck, considering how generously Nunberg acknowledges the right’s rhetorical accomplishments, they may enjoy it more than I did.

  — Jan Freeman, Boston Globe, July 9, 2006

A succession of lively chapters explains how the Republicans turned “government into a term of abuse”; torpedoed affirmative action by introducing and promoting reverse discrimination; made “liberal” into a word of accusation; redefined the middle class so it encompassed everyone from the proprietor of a corner grocery to the president of the United States (all standing in alliance against the effete mob of latte-drinking, Volvo-driving Eastern seaboard snobs); invented a cultural divide that masks the economic divide between the haves and have-nots; narrowed Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms into the freedom of corporations to do what they like; drove a wedge between “patriotic” and “liberal,” so that one cannot be said to be both; and, in general, “radically reconfigured the political landscape” in ways that even liberals themselves accede to because the right’s language is now the default language for everyone.
— Stanley Fish, New York Times, July 16, 2006

An astute observer of the rhetorical wars, Nunberg has written a fascinating book that reveals the strategy (or lack of strategy) on each side. Conservatives won’t like his political leanings, but they may appreciate his praise and his insights. Liberals, who have the most to gain from this book, may find it painful to read, as it recounts episode after episode of how they’ve lost the battle.
— Bill Adair, St. Petersburg Times, July 9, 2006

What Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Nunberg is doing in this book is giving a thorough shaking to what is universally perceived as the Democrats’ current crises in language and “narrative” in which the Right has, clearly, had not just the lion’s share of success characterizing the opposition but the tiger’s and rhinoceros’ share too. Nunberg is a rough and ready partisan, not a theorist suffering emotional frostbite. It’s just that his prescriptions for the revival of a persuasive political language for the Left come from as much scholarly breadth as hard-headed realpolitik.
 — Jeff Simon, Buffalo News, June 25, 2006

How can you not love a book with the line: “It’s hard to think of any leading right-wing broadcaster whom even his most devoted fans would welcome having as a brother-in-law.”…Nunberg’s analysis of how the right wing has shifted our entire political discourse is thought provoking throughout. His dissection of how the Republicans have stifled the Democrats from discussing class issues while it is the Republicans who are conducting class warfare is essential reading. Nunberg’s analysis of how the right wing has shifted our entire political discourse is thought provoking throughout.
  — Buzzflash

Articles and Interviews:

  • “The Political Power of Words,” by Dean Powers, The Nationonline, June 12, 2006.
  • “In politics, the right words rule, linguist asserts,” by Sam McManis, Sacramento Bee, July 13, 2006.
  • “How ‘liberalism’ became a bad word,” Toronto Star, July 4, 2006.
  • “A guardian of language interprets the triumph of the right” (Interview), Boston Globe, July 30, 2006.
  • “A liberal interpretation: The current definition of right- and left-wing politics comes out of a consumer-based idea of what it is to be liberal or conservative,” Chicago Sun-Times, July 30, 200

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