Since I mentioned Geoff Nunberg’s book Talking Right the other day, I noticed a weird amount of bloggy buzzing about a recent post in which Nunberg makes the slightly weird claim that the object-participle string of epithets trope (as in his subtitle, “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”) is the special province of the right wing, and somehow traceable to “nigger-loving, the ur-denunciation of white liberal sentimentality.” I have no idea whether the construction really is more common among conservatives, or whether it’s somehow etymologically tainted if it is, but I somehow doubt Nunberg does either. Here’s his research methodology:
On the Web, Volvo-driving liberal outnumbers pickup- or truck-driving conservative by around 50 to 1, and when you do encounter a phrase like beer-guzzling redneck it’s almost always offered either as a conservative caricature of liberal speech or in the spirit of a reclaimed epithet (as in, “…and proud of it, son!”
OK, true enough: I get 143 Google hits for “Volvo-driving liberal” and only about three each for the other constructions. But how about “bible-thumping” (261 modifying “conservative”; 244 modifying “Republican”)? Or “gay-bashing” (56 and 80)? Or “war-mongering” (108 and 238)? “Self-serving” (106 and 122)?
Again, I doubt there’s a huge significance to this either way, but it does suggest that there’s not some uniquely effective rhetorical tactics that Republicans have cleverly discovered. The verbal styles seem pretty parallel. If the conservative version has proved more effective, it’s because lots of people hold silly views that make them more averse to latte-sipping than to gay-bashing and bible-thumping, not because GOP consultants are masters of neuro-linguistic programming. Liberals should stop kidding themselves that some kind of brilliant silver-bullet new jingle is going to turn everything around and stay focused on doing the harder job of changing the underlying attitudes.