Language Lessons

God help me, I listen to public radio and read the New York Times. People talk and write in those places in ways that normal human beings just don’t. What’s worse is that the gap between how liberal elites talk (or at least the language they accept) and how average Americans speak is growing and becoming deeper. Literally, we’re losing the ability to communicate across cultural lines.

So, if you’re a Democrat who just wants to win elections, here’s a handy guide.

Here are some words and phrases Democrats should never use.






Harm (when what’s meant is just hurt feelings)



Kindness (when it means hatred for the insufficiently woke) 


Any letters after LGBTQ

Lived experience

Marginalized communities


Self care

Systemic racism

The male gaze

The patriarchy

They/Their (as a pronoun referring to only one person)

Toxic masculinity

Unconscious bias

White privilege (or privilege of any kind) 

White supremacy (when not referring to the KKK or Nazis) 

The bottom line: If you hear it on NPR, don’t say it. 

Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying that all of the concepts in the speak-no-evil list above are false, though I think some of them are. I’m saying that that language is incredibly politically damaging when Democrats are identified with it. If you want to do something about systemic racism, which I think is real, find a better way to talk about it.

If you hear it on NPR, don’t say it.

Conversely, here’s some language Democrats should use. 


Color blind



Hard work


Personal responsibility

The bottom line: Go anyplace that it is not near a college campus. Listen to how people talk. Talk that way. Link your policies to traditional American values, not abstract, vaguely insulting ideas coming out of the ivory tower.

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Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

7 thoughts on “Language Lessons

  1. I sometimes make comments at the NPR site, but, my non-inclusive systemic oppression, and the constant microinvalidations of their marginalized community, resulting from my repeated non-consensual co-platforming is “problematic”. (That is NewSpeak for differing opinions, or alternate perspectives.)


  2. Dave, I’m sorry, but I can’t help but see this post as incredibly cynical. You’re basically saying that so much of the American public does not support the Democratic/woke agenda that Democrats should hide their intentions by using the language of people who do not support their ideas. Rather like the lie Biden sold to the American public that if elected, his administration would be “moderate”. As a true independent, “moderate” voter, I know “moderate” when I see it and the current Democratic agenda is far from it. (And of course, Republicans are simply trying to run moderates out of their party, but at least they make no secret about it.) If Democrats continue to hold these unpopular beliefs, at least they should have the courage to “own” them. I have seen, time and again, Democrats bemoaning the lack of support for much of their agenda and falling back on the old bromide that the flaw must be in their “messaging”, Your post is another tired example. When are Democrats going to realize that the flaw is actually in many of their positions? Telling Democrats that they should hide their positions by cynically tinkering with their vocabulary — without changing their intentions — is beyond deceitful. From some of your past posts I had hoped you were better than this.


    1. Politics is about language. In fact I don’t support all of the policies that are imbedded in the language I listed, and I’ve made that pretty clear in my writing to date. For example, I don’t support discriminating against a group of “oppressors” now to make up for past oppression by people who shared only their group identity. But I do support — and I’ll bet you support — simple fairness. Why should anyone have less of a chance in life because of the color of their skin or their gender? That’s the way I think Democrats should talk about it. To the extent that some on the left actually think that formulation doesn’t go far enough — that we should actively discriminate now to make up for past discrimination — well, then that’s not just a difference in language, but a fundamental disagreement I have with them.


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