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Talking Right: 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 Hardcover – July 3, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-1586483869 ISBN-10: 1586483862 Edition: First Edition
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nunberg, a professor of linguistics and columnist for the New York Times, believes that Democrats are at a loss for words when it comes to the use of political language. As the Democrats feebly argue that they must "reframe" their arguments to reach voters, Nunberg (Going Nucular) believes that "what we have here is more than just a failure to communicate." Though conservatives have gained political ground using loaded terms such as "death tax" for estate tax, "climate change" for global warming and "hate speech" for any criticism of the president or fellow Republicans, their true triumph is more subtle, hijacking the "core vocabulary of American political discourse"-like "values" and "elite"-and using them to Republicans' exclusive advantage. Nunberg insists that liberals cannot model their strategy after GOP successes, though he offers little in the way of practical strategy. Though the phrase "politics of perception" has been overused-and therefore, as Nunberg might argue, rendered empty of meaning-Nunberg proves in this thoughtful, funny and rousing effort that the use and misuse of language is still of vital concern to the body politic.
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"A sparkling book… a witty and authoritative guide to several decades of political linguistic history.... a fun and rollicking ride." -- Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, July 2006

"An astute observer of the rhetorical wars, Nunberg has written a fascinating book that reveals the strategy…on each side." -- Bill Adair, St. Petersburg Times, July 9, 2006

"Nunberg's book should be a popular read for anyone sick of being known as a "latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving... freak show." -- Jennifer Koons, National Journal, May 11, 2006

"Reads as a rallying call for the Democrats… [Nunberg’s] account of the linguistic clash is amply substantiated and compellingly written." -- Andrea Katz, Financial Times, July 15, 2006

"The most descriptive subtitle of the year…Nunberg writes about the political language with partisan gusto." -- William Safire, New York Times, June 18, 2006

"Though he's a partisan…, Nunberg is no frothing polemicist. My Republican relatives will enjoy ‘Talking Right,’ too" -- Jan Freeman, Boston Globe, July 9, 2006

"[A] spot-on dissection of the right's game plan. Those who love the language will be awed, amused, enlightened and alarmed." -- John Mangels, Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 16, 2006

"[Nunberg's book] is making some deserved waves in US politics." -- Observer (UK)

"[Nunberg’s] prescriptions for… a persuasive political language for the Left come from as much scholarly breadth as hard-headed realpolitik." -- Jeff Simon, Buffalo News, June 25, 2006

"‘Talking Right’ contains many a lesson on being a smarter consumer of language, political and otherwise." -- David Skinner, Washington Times, August 1, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (July 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586483862
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483869
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,057,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Bart King on July 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A scholarly expose of the linguistic nuances of political doublespeak could prove deadly boring. But in TALKING RIGHT, Geoffrey Nunberg proves himself an able and funny commentator and educator on the topic. He traces and annotates the evolution of political and media euphemisms, lingo, and nomenclature in the U.S. with a gimlet-eyed stare. Yet even with the brio that Nunberg brings to his theses, one wonders: Is the failure of liberals (or "progressives," if you prefer) really an inability to get a good motto on a bumper sticker? Or is it simply that since Clinton, there has not been a compelling leader to take charge of the Democratic Party?

Anyway, regardless of your party affiliation, if you're politically aware and/or enjoy thinking about the meaning of words and/or have an interest in American history and current events, you will get something from this book. (Did I leave anyone out?)

SIDELIGHT: With a book that deals with linguistics and meaning, one hopes that the author is an expert in his field. Impressive academic credentials aside, Geoffrey Nunberg chairs the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. That's good enough for me. (Imagine the rousing discussions they have in that group!)
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By calvinnme HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The author's title, which describes how most Republicans describe most Democrats may not BE correct, but it SOUNDS correct to most people. That is the point this book is trying to make. Nunberg, a linguist by trade, shows how Republicans use terse and memorable mottos and slogans to get their points across and label their opponents - and it works, and has been working since 1980.

In contrast, the author points out that Democratic candidates have largely used lengthy discussions to argue their positions so that, at the end of the day, the voter can't remember the point the candidate was trying to make in the first place. This is largely because liberals have great disdain for simplistic answers to complex problems, but forget that the average voter can't remember the complex solution when he/she steps into the voting booth, even if the complex solution is correct.

The author points out that even when the Democrats have tried to come up with slogans they often fall flat. He uses John Kerry's 2004 campaign slogan "America can do better" as an example. Nunberg points out that this slogan sounds like what you would say to a less than brilliant child whose grades were even worse than expected. Is this really the Democrats' message to the nation: that they don't need to be quite as pathetic as they now are? The author points out that over the last 26 years, Bill Clinton seems to be the only national candidate who has been able to use the power of language effectively to get his message across with "It's the economy" in 1992 and "the bridge to the 21st century" in 1996.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on August 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Geoffrey Nunberg's "Talking Right" is one of a number of books that have come out recently explaining why Democrats (and liberals, though not necessarily synonymous) have trouble getting their collective message across. Nunberg's approach is through language itself as he relates the success that the Republican right wing has had in wresting control of that message through slick phrases and twists on existing parlance. The author's book is straightforward and informative, to say the least.

It's clear from the beginning of "Talking Right" that this is not a book that will scream either at the right wingers or at us, the readers. Slowly, but with a broad brush, Nunberg hits the right (and with it the left, as well) with chapters on class, the "L" word, government and values. He's terrific, for instance, in delving into the word "freedom" and how the earliest Americans didn't use that word much...they preferred "liberty". It may be a bit of a shock to learn that the Declaration of Independence doesn't mention freedom at all but we are reminded " was liberty that Patrick Henry declared himself willing to die for....". In this wonderful chapter, Nunberg goes on to explain how freedom then became connected with other words along the way and how it became central to the Republican party's campaign for word domination.

While much of "Talking Right" is low-key, Nunberg revs up in a chapter called "Old Bottles, New Whines" and almost roars to the finish. The narrative here becomes eye-popping and this last third of the book is the best. Near the end of "Talking Right" Nunberg, speaking about "the right's capture of the basic vocabulary of politics...", concludes "...if the right can do this with an ersatz populism, surely the Democrats can do the same thing with a genuine one". It's a fitting statement to include in the final chapter of this terrific book.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Blue State Resident on September 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Geoffrey Nunberg has chosen to restrict the scope of this book to a detailed description of the ways in which Republican spinmeisters have manipulated public opinion by the deceptive use of language. Within those narrow boundaries, the book is both thorough and comprehensive. For that reason it provides a useful refresher course on what perceptive observers of political discourse already know. But I was disappointed by the fact that the book was long on documentation and short on theory and analysis. The author is, after all, a professor of linguistics at a major university. Perhaps he was concerned that greater depth would make the book inaccessible to the audience that he desired to reach. But who in this country is likely to read his book? Scarcely a third of Americans read any books at all, and not more than ten percent read anything other than gothic romances and other genre fiction. Surely he could not expect to attract the attention of more than one-tenth of one percent of the adult population, and that composed of the very readers who are likely to seek something more substantial than what he has presented here.

What this book lacks most is historical and cultural context. Professor Nunberg does make brief mention of Edmund Burke, George Orwell, John Dewey, and Richard Rorty. But he ignores most of the long history of concern about linguistic deception, from Plato's polemics against the Sophists, through Marx's theory of the cultural superstructure being being determined by the economic base and Wittgenstein's philosophical investigations into language games, to the postmodern assault on the concept of "truth" in the works of Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and others.
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