Newt inflates his word power

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The Independent Online
Washington - Forget political correctness. Newt Gingrich and the Republican hitmen who now run Congress were never a very PC bunch in the first place. Their new creed is verbal correctness: scientific choice of the right language to promote conser vatismand skewer Democrats, writes Rupert Cornwell.

The search for the mot juste is nothing new in poll-driven, public-opinion obsessed US politics. The Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, would spend hours before every speech trying out sound-bites. Bill Clinton regularly market-tests them before focus groups. But no one is as seriously into the business of words as Chairman Newt.

HarperCollins was ready to pay the Speaker of the House the mind-boggling advance of $4.5m (£2.9m) for two books. He has been in the job barely a month, and four anthologies of Newtspeak nuggets have already been published. And then, of course, there is the patented Gingrich manual of propaganda. First issued to devotees and would-be imitators in autumn 1990, Language, a Key Mechanism of Control, is suddenly the hottest political lexicon in town. It consists of 131 entries, half "optimistic positive governing words", half what are euphemistically called "contrasting words".

The latter include such 1995 Gingrich staples as "pathetic", "sick", "liberal", "traitor" and "hypocrisy", to be applied, says the guide, "to an opponent, his record, his proposals and his party". Read them, memorise them, it continues. "Remember, like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used."

And they are being used - so much so that President Clinton, a prime target of the vitriol, yesterday implored the annual National Prayer Breakfast, grouping America's great and good, Republican and Democrat alike, "for the grace of God not to use the power of words to divide and destroy".

Is Newt listening? Maybe. His pollster, Frank Luntz, has circulated a memo to House Republicans on how to describe the spending cuts Republicans are trying to push through. Never target "programmes", he says, but "bureaucrats". "Charities are OK; orphanages are not." And don't talk about slashing government, he advises. Better to "put government on a diet". With the average American having gained four pounds in the month to New Year's Day, Mr Luntz observes, "the diet analogy plays well this month".