Democrats Must Use the Most Powerful Word In Politics

They must play hardball; the future of our republic is at risk. When your opponents are deeply corrupt, using the word corruption isn’t just a strategy, it’s an imperative

There is one word Republicans fear more than any other, for good reason. That word is corruption, and they fear it because it has brought down multiple rightwing politicians and governments. When dealing with a corrupt political party, it’s the most powerful word in politics.

Corruption is the word that Alexei Navalny used against Putin in Russia. As Robyn Dixon notes at the Washington Post: “In the past, Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation has published hard-hitting reports on corruption, including “Putin’s Palace: History of the World’s Largest Bribe,” viewed on YouTube more than 116 million times.”

Corruption was the word President Zelensky used against Poroshenko in Ukraine. Zelensky was an actor/comedian, starring in the TV show Servant of the People, who ranted about corruption. “Who's there to vote for?” his character demanded to know. “It's always the lesser of two assholes and it's been this way for 25 years. If I could have just one week in office, if at all possible, I would show them!”

In Guatemala, Jimmy Morales became president on an anti-corruption platform with the slogan: “Not corrupt, not a thief.”

Corruption is the word Naftali Bennett used against former Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. “Israel is not a monarchy,” he said when elected by the Knesset yesterday. “Every government, when it becomes withered and corrupt after many years, is eventually replaced and so on. It is the natural, healthy course of action in every normal country.”

Corruption was the word that tipped off the Arab spring back in the day. As Stuart Levey noted on Fareed Zacharia’s blog back in 2011, “Egyptian courts have charged former President Hosni Mubarak with corruption.... Frustration with cronyism and corruption is a key grievance of those protesting in the streets in Libya, Syria, and Yemen as well.”

Corruption was what took down Richard Nixon, and Americans knew it. As The New York Times reported in July of 1973, more than a year before Nixon resigned (August 9, 1974), “The Gallup analysis said that the Watergate scandal and the issue of corruption in government were the key factors in Mr. Nixon's decline in popularity.”

People hate corruption, because they know it damages their own country, weakens democracy and is a form of theft from “We, the People.”

Back in the mid-1990s House Speaker Newt Gingrich came up with a “suggested word list” to describe Democrats including words and phrases like “corrupt liberal welfare state.”

When Gingrich ran for Congress from the district in Georgia where I lived for 13 years, he ran as an anti-corruption candidate. During last year’s presidential campaign he tried to reprise his schtick on Fox Propaganda calling President Biden corrupt, telling one host, “But for the country at large, the key is the Biden corruption scandal is actually very big….”

Frank Luntz, who poll-tested and approved Gingrich’s “word list” back in the ’90s, showed America the power of words, changing “estate tax” to death tax” in the media and thus successfully altering US tax policy.

I was compared to Luntz back in 2008 when I published my book Cracking the Code about how to do effective political messaging. Had I known then what I know now about how the GOP would end up, the entire first chapter would boil down to one word: corruption.

Democrats and progressive media must start using the word corrupt to describe Republicans. 

Donald Trump was a corrupt real estate developer who ran a corrupt campaign (with help from corrupt Russian oligarchs) and created the most corrupt presidency in the history of the United States.

Bill Barr investigating Democrats in the House of Representatives and even White House Counsel Don McGahn with subpoenas for their phone and email information, was corruption. Barr corrupted the Justice Department in multiple ways and should be referred to as the “corrupt former Attorney General.“

Similarly, stories about Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao’s self-dealing as Secretary of Transportation should be headlined with phrases like, “Corrupt former Transportation Secretary Chao…“ Or DeVos or Perry or Ross or Mnuchin…each of their corrupt actions are well documented.

We use lots of words to describe what Republicans have been up to since the beginning of the Reagan Revolution, but at heart it is all corruption

Reagan cutting an “arms for hostages” deal with Iran to defeat President Jimmy Carter was corrupt; his illegally overturning central American governments (creating today’s border crisis) was corrupt; his taking money from billionaires for cutting their taxes and deregulating their industries was corrupt.

President George HW Bush corruptly pardoned everybody involved in the Iran-Contra treason and corruptly ended the special prosecutor’s investigation to avoid his own prosecution.

George W Bush and Dick Cheney lying us into two unnecessary wars so they could seize Iraq’s oil for their donors and fellow oil industry executives was corrupt and cost our nation a fortune in money and American lives.

What Republicans are trying to do now with our elections, making it harder for Democrats to vote, is corruption. Their new laws that give Republican officials the power to throw out or ignore votes from mostly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods is massively corrupt.

The phony “audit” Republicans are doing now in Arizona is both corrupt and an open violation of federal law. Corrupt Republicans in other states are trying to replicate it.

Trump’s perpetual self-dealing, from Air Force planes stopping in obscure Scottish airports so the US government could pour money into his hotel there, to the Secret Service paying millions to Trump properties, to his refusal to release his income taxes is all corruption. His attempt to end American democracy on January 6th was the ultimate corrupt act, as are his ongoing lies about the 2020 election.

Corruption is the single most powerful word that can be used in politics, when it’s used to describe a corrupt reality. And the Republican Party, from its billionaire-owned leadership to its Brownshirt fascist base to its upside-down-star Satanic logo is corrupt.

We all need to start using the word corruption to describe Republicans at every turn. Democrats need to put it in every single one of their advertisements. 

The DNC should start using the word every day in their press releases and descriptions of Republican actions and policies. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki needs to say the word corruption whenever she refers to Republicans or the corrupt billionaire-owned rightwing TV and radio networks.

Democrats must play hardball; the future of our republic is at stake. When your opponents are deeply corrupt, using the word corruption isn’t just a strategy, it’s an imperative.