Yes, you can understand what conservatives are saying.
Liberals and moderates often find statements by conservatives to be nonsensical or even incomprehensible. Sarah Palin, just to name one example, is frequently accused of speaking in “word salad“, a style in which terms are thrown together without apparent attention to syntax or meaning.
I have come to believe that this view does conservatives an injustice. What has actually happened is that conservatives, like tribes marooned on inaccessible islands, have developed what is essentially a new language. While language-drift in the wild may take generations or even longer, conservative word use has diverged from English far more quickly due to (1) the speed of modern communication, (2) the very tight circles of conservative discourse (sometimes described as an “echo chamber”) in which outside input is discounted or viewed as sinister, and (3) the neologisms of conservative candidates facing election, who often need to seem to be saying something different than they actually are.
Consequently, the new Conservative language outwardly resembles English, but its terms have been redefined and repurposed in ways that create the seeming unintelligibility. For example, statements like “Voter ID laws are necessary to reduce voter fraud” may seem delusional to someone who interprets voter fraud in the standard English sense of “votes cast by people legally ineligible to vote”, since this very rarely happens, and (when it does) happens in ways voter-ID laws would not affect (i.e., absentee ballot fraud or hacking vote-counting machines). But once you understand the true conservative meaning of voter fraud (“votes cast by people whose demographic profile makes them likely to vote Democratic”), the statement makes perfect sense.
In a similar way, seemingly bizarre utterances like “Obama is a Marxist” or “Fox News is fair and balanced” are perfectly coherent, understandable, and even true once you have access to the proper definitions.
Previous lexicons have been attempted (here, for example), but I don’t think they have captured the systemic nature of Conservative, i.e., the way its terms interact to describe a complete worldview.
And so, in hope that Americans of all political persuasions will better understand what conservatives are really saying (rather than write off their statements as harmless nonsense), I present this incomplete Conservative-to-English lexicon.
American exceptionalism. The belief that the United States is exempt from all legal and moral standards. Example: Waterboarding is a capital crime when done to Americans, but legally and morally acceptable when practiced by Americans.
Appeasement. Hesitating before attacking or overthrowing the unfriendly government of an oil-rich nation.
Balance. 1. Providing Democrats as well as Republicans the opportunity to criticize President Obama. 2. Providing blacks as well as whites the opportunity to indict black culture. Usage: “Fox News is fair and balanced.”
Color-blindness. Fighting racial injustice by refusing to see it, much as an ostrich avoids danger by sticking its head into the sand.
Confederacy. An early attempt to restore the freedom envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Still an object of nostalgia in the GOP’s southern base.
Constitution. A holy scripture written by the Founding Fathers. Like the Bible, it means whatever conservatives want it to mean, regardless of its actual text. The Constitution, for example, protects corporate personhood, and the near-infinite powers it assigns to Republican presidents vanish when a Democrat takes office. Unlike the real-life Constitution, the Constitution includes the Declaration of Independence, and so really does mention God.
Controversial. An adjective applying to any fact or set of facts that conservatives don’t want to believe. Examples: evolution and climate change. Once facts have been labeled controversial, stating them as facts is evidence of liberal bias.
Dependent on government. Anyone receiving welfare, encompassing retirees, students, and the disabled. Usage: “there are 47 percent … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
Europe. A hellish dystopia governed by liberals, where people belong to unions, have guaranteed health care, and earn high wages with long vacations. Soon to be overrun by Muslims. Usage: “I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become.”
Fair. Favoring the wealthy. Usage: “A true free market is always fair.”
Fascism. An insult with no meaningful content, similar to “bastard” or “asshole”. The previously well established Mussolini/Hitler sense of the term — a militarist, nativist, corporatist style of totalitarianism claiming to restore a nation to the greatness of its mythic past — is now archaic, having been successfully jammed by tangential usages like Islamo-fascism and oxymorons like liberal fascism.
Founding Fathers. Loosely based on the American generational cohort that fought the Revolution and wrote the Constitution, the conservative Founding Fathers are heroes of a great mythic past constructed by pseudo-historians like David Barton. Divinely inspired, the Founding Fathers intended to create a non-denominational Christian theocracy, but inexplicably failed to mention God in the Constitution. They were implacably opposed to Big Government, even as they were writing a constitution that vastly extended the powers of the national government beyond those laid out in the previous Articles of Confederation. They “worked tirelessly” to end slavery, while owning hundreds of slaves themselves, and without actually ending slavery until long after they were all dead.
Free market. A system of decision-making based on the only fair principle: one dollar, one vote.
Freedom. 1. The ineffable quality that exempts the United States from all moral standards. (See American exceptionalism). Usage: “They hate our freedom.” 2. The right of the powerful to use their power as they see fit. Usage: “The minimum wage is a freedom killer.” 3. The right of job creators to use public infrastructure without paying taxes, or to exploit common resources (like air, water, or public land) without regulation. Example: Cliven Bundy.
Freedom of religion. The right of conservative Christians to shape society and define social acceptability. Intended by the Founding Fathers only to protect expressions of religion, not atheism or Islam.
Freedom of speech. 1. The right of a conservative to speak and write publicly without criticism. (See persecution.) Example: Sarah Palin’s objection in 2008 to the characterization of her charge that Barack Obama was “paling around with terrorists” as “negative campaigning”. “If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.” While no one had disputed Palin’s right to say what she said, the fact that she faced criticism for it violated her freedom of speech. 2. In election campaigns, the right of the rich to drown out all competing voices.
God. Jehovah, the father of Jesus, as revealed by a literal reading of the Bible. Non-Christians do not believe in God, but in other supernatural beings like Allah. Some liberals claim to believe in God, but they use the word incorrectly.
Hate. Criticism of conservative ideas or disputation of facts alleged by conservatives. See persecution.
Innocent human life. The unborn, who possess souls of infinite worth. At birth, a child inherits the soul-value of his parents, which — if they are black or poor — does not amount to much. Consequently, abortion in the United States is a moral crisis equivalent to the Holocaust, while our third-worldish infant mortality rate (34th in the world, just behind Cuba) is no big deal.
Job creator. A wealthy person, who may or may not be an employer, and who may even have become wealthy by firing people or shipping jobs overseas. Usage: “Let’s cut taxes for job creators.” Does not apply to public works, public schools, or any other government program, no matter how many Americans such a program might productively employ.
Judicial activism. When judges rule against corporate interests or white supremacy, or in favor of separating Church from State.
Liberal media bias. The fading tendency of certain portions of the journalistic establishment to require supporting facts before promoting a conspiracy theory. For an example of the frustration this causes conservatives, consider the following quote from Jonah Goldberg shortly before the 2012 election: “If you want to understand why conservatives have lost faith in the so-called mainstream media, you need to ponder the question: Where is the Benghazi feeding frenzy?”
Marxist. One who regrets the increasing concentration of wealth. Unrelated to any theories contained in the writings of Karl Marx. Usage: “Elizabeth Warrren, who has almost confessed to her Marxist views”. (Synonyms: communist, socialist, liberal.)
Persecution. (1) Denying conservatives the special rights they believe they are entitled to. Example: The War on Christmas, in which conservative Christians are persecuted if they are not allowed to dominate all public space for the month of December. (2) Criticism directed at conservatives. Example: If a conservative says something racist and you point that out, you are persecuting him. (See freedom of speech.) (3) Enforcing laws broken by conservatives. Example: Dinesh D’Souza.
Political correctness. The bizarre liberal belief that whites, men, straights, Christians, the rich, and other Americans in positions of privilege should treat less privileged people with respect, even though such people have no power to force them to.
Poor. Lacking in gumption or virtue, undeserving, black.
Racism. Calling attention to racial injustice with an intention to rectify it. Also called “playing the race card”. (See color-blindness.) Example: the Fox News commentator who said, “You know who talks about race? Racists.”
Second Amendment rights. The right of whites, Christians, the wealthy, and other traditionally privileged groups to commit violence when their privileges are threatened by democratic processes. (People not from privileged groups may be gunned down by police — with full conservative support — if they are even suspected of being armed.) Best expressed by Sharron Angle in her 2010 Senate campaign: “if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” Also by Virginia Republican Catherine Crabill: “We have a chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box. But that’s the beauty of our Second Amendment right. I am glad for all of us who enjoy the use of firearms for hunting. But make no mistake. That was not the intent of the Founding Fathers. Our Second Amendment right was to guard against tyranny.”
Taxes. A method of stealing money from job creators and giving it to poor people. Unrelated to Social Security, Medicare, roads, schools, lowering the deficit, or any other useful goal.
Terrorist. 1. A Muslim. 2. Any violent person conservatives don’t like. Cannot be applied to violent anti-abortionists, white supremacists, or tax resisters. (See Second Amendment rights.)
Tyranny. When a Marxist gets elected and then tries to carry out the platform the people voted for. Example: ObamaCare.
Values. Beliefs that condemn gays or promiscuous women. Usage: the Values Voters Summit.
Voter fraud. Any votes cast by people whose demographic profile makes them likely to vote Democratic, i.e., blacks, Hispanics, or students. Alternate form: election fraud. Usage: “Obama likely won re-election through election fraud.”
Welfare. Any payment from the government, including (when convenient) Social Security, unemployment compensation, or student loans. Usage: “Unemployment compensation is just another welfare program.”
While far from complete — please suggest additional entries in the comments — I hope this lexicon will make conservative speech more comprehensible to the general public, and persuade voters that the apparent gibberish spoken by conservative candidates actually expresses a unified worldview that should be taken more seriously.