Birth of a New Conservative Code Word?

Politico can’t stop fawning over a new Sarah Palin web ad.

It was a remarkable display of force—and one that almost no one else in American political life can replicate. [. . .]

But in recent months, by lending her support to a group of successful female Republican candidates, the former Alaska governor has established herself as a GOP political queenmaker. And with Thursday’s video, she moved to cement her image as the country’s leader of conservative women, leading a stampede of “pink elephants.”

It’s almost unseemly. We do realize that a staffer just compiled parts of a few speeches into a 2-minute YouTube video, right? That the ad is a jumble of animal metaphors, and a rehash of culture war tropes, with no actual policy ideas? That, a day later, it’s still under 300,000 page views? And that her meager accomplishments are otherwise unchanged?

The ad actually might be remarkable for its use of one phrase. Note these two quotes, early in the script:

…this fundamental transformation of America… [. . .]

Women, who are very concerned about their kids’ future, saying, ‘We don’t like this fundamental transformation and we’re gonna do something about it.’

Even given Palin’s hitherto underwhelming campaign staff, the centrality of this phrasing, and its repetition, can’t be a mistake. A lot of the conservative movement’s rhetoric rests on “code words,” most often references to broad concepts that in fact imply narrow policy positions, but seek to frame them in valence issue-terms. “Pro-family” means “anti-gay”; “pro-life” means “anti-abortion rights”; valorization of the “traditional family” imports a disapproval of feminism, in all its forms; and attacks on “activist judges” imply disapproval of a set of Supreme Court decisions based on process, when it’s really, still, all about on politics.

What’s a “fundamental change,” then? Well, it’s meant to recall a simpler time, make you think that, now, the world’s spinning out of control, and imply that the change came with Obama’s election. More specifically, from the corresponding images, it’s about healthcare reform — or, Palin’s comic demonization of healthcare reform, as the moment when Obama socialized your fascism, or what have you.

Most basically, it’s a way of turning Obama’s “change” rhetoric against itself, and making you think that standing still is the way to solve our country’s problems — problems that, she hopes, you’ll forget originated with her Party, and its stunning mismanagement of everything it touched.

Will it work? Well, maybe. Mama Grizzlies may know when something’s wrong, but Palin’s counting on them not being able to figure out what’s wrong.


  1. “…valorization of the “traditional family” imports a disapproval of feminism, in all its forms…”

    Really? Does that mean that feminism doesn’t actually jive with a ‘traditional family’ model? I would disagree. To the contrary, most educated feminists seemed to have realized in the last 20 years that marriage is a good thing and their home lives are amazingly ‘traditional’ in nature, regardless of what they preach in the classroom or in publications.

    1. I’m not saying that feminism IS in tension with the traditional family. I don’t think it is. I’m saying Palin thinks it is.

      We also agree that feminism is about choice, and many women will choose happily to have a family life. I don’t think THAT’S in tension with “what they preach,” but I guess you do.

  2. This was the “code word” I spotted first. Think there’s anything to it? ;)

    1. Hahahaa YES. I think she’s also forgetting some other pink elephants.

    2. By which I mean The Homosexuals.

      1. We need something that says Republican and gay.

        1. MarshallDog · ·

          Not quite the one I was looking for, but still quite on the nose…

          1. This was also the first thing that came to mind upon hearing “pink elephants.” I love that clip art.

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