10 Words Progressives Should Never Say

How progressives platform right wing agendas through their speech

TLDR — We’ve made enormous progress in the development of racial and gender inclusive language in the past twenty years, but now we must focus on the language of economic equity.

No Democrat in their right mind would utter the words “illegal alien,” and rightfully so. The phrase is exclusionary, racist, and xenophobic. Using exclusionary language platforms exclusionary and racist politics. Progressives are well aware of the power and influence of language, but we have a lot to improve still in our language when it comes to talking about economic equity and the government.

Balancing Moral Language with Pragmatic Language

Many progressives rightly lean into the morality of their policies. Healthcare for all, an economy that works for working people, and one-person-one-vote elections are all morally upright stances to take.

One issue we face, however, is when we rely too much on moral language, and do not spell out the pragmatic benefits of these policies. Medicare for all could be the largest stimulus package for the economy ever devised. Free college education, onshoring jobs, and taxing billionaires means a chicken in every pot for working people. A Green New Deal means millions of jobs, lower electric bills, and more comfortable weatherized homes and buildings. Free and fair elections means everyone’s vote counts.

When progressives rely too much on moral language, and fail to make the pragmatic argument for progressive policies, we loose a large swath of Americans who are, at heart, very pragmatic.

Whether we like it or not, all of us tunes in to the same station: WIIFM — What’s In It For Me.

Here are 10 examples of where we could do better.

“Tax Breaks”

This word embodies a right wing, even libertarian, framing of public finances. We need to jettison this word entirely. But it is so baked in that even Bernie uses it.

  • Tax Loopholes
  • Tax Dodges
  • Public Theft
  • Raiding the Treasury

“Tax Hikes” / “Increase Taxes”

The right will always try to force us to use negative language around raising public funds. Never say these! Try on some better language instead:

  • Raising Public Funds
  • Raising Funds for Working People
  • Public Wealth for Public Good

“Capitalism” / “Socialism”

Discussions that reduce down to ‘isms’ are always politically weak footing. Instead we need to use language that conveys the humanity of the social democratic project. For instance:

“We have an economy that doesn’t work for working people” — Mayor Tubbs, Stockton California

  • “We are going to build an economy that works for working people” — Nina Turner.
  • “In this country we have socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for everyone else” — Bernie (this one uses the ‘isms’ but it forces the right onto their back foot bc they have to now make an account for socialism and capitalism).

“Entitlements” & “Welfare Programs”

These should be obvious ones. The right wing has dominated conversations about social programs. They succeeded in lodging the word “entitlement” into our vocabulary and did a successful job of souring the word “welfare.” But we don’t have to use them, we just get creative and use new alternatives.

  • Prosperity Programs
  • Public Goods Programs
  • Social Infrastructure Programs

“Class Warfare”

War is expensive and makes almost everyone poorer. If we frame programs like Medicare4All, ending endless wars, and relieving student debt as “class warfare” we might get some clicks for being outrageous, but we’ll turn most people off to our cause.

Good alternatives if you want to talk about class conflict, how about:

  • Poverty-to-Prosperity Flywheel — “Relieving student debt will drive a Poverty-to-Prosperity Flywheel”
  • Class Cutting Programs — “The advantages of Medicare4All cut across class.”
  • A Tide that Raises All Ships

“Jobs”

The right loves to be the party of “jobs.” This is hilarious because they do not support jobs (or good jobs). The democrats shy away from taking on the mantle of being the part of jobs. I think this is a mistake. The social democratic programs like medicare for all, a green new deal, and a federal jobs guarantee would be some of the biggest job creators in history. Not to mention our commitment to onshoring jobs.

  • Social democrats are the party of job creation, not republicans or corporate democrats
  • Social democrats are the party of economic growth

“Minimum Wage”

This makes it sound like it is not valuable. The people who make the least do some of the most important jobs. Instead:

  • Living Wage
  • Wages of Essential Workers

Not to mention that wages are … spent! Meaning when you raise the minimum wage you actually stimulate local economies. So why don’t we talk about that?

“Economic Growth”

Here’s another word that we cede to the corporate Republicans and Democrats for no reason. Social democratic programs would be the biggest growers of the economy in history.

  • Medicare for all would cause a boom in entrepreneurship, small business hiring, and even corporate profits
  • Relieving student debt would cause a boom in home buying
  • A green new deal would put American companies at the forefront of the post-fossil fuel energy market (worth trillions of dollars)

Why do we shy away from being the party of growth, jobs, and a prosperous and growing economy?

Educator, Founder, Engineer. Interested in Evidence Based Education and Solving BIG Problems.