Extreme Word Tricks, Explained

Can anyone honestly claim state ownership would be worse for these lands?

By Dave Skinner

Are you wondering when the screaming about the Bundy Bunch fiasco in Oregon will taper off and the adults can start talking again about the real problems? Don’t get your hopes up. Since my last column on the topic, the Beacon’s letter and opinion section has featured tons of “discussion” of the Bundy mess.

With some nice exceptions, I couldn’t help notice about half the letters and columns followed a certain formula, and to explain that, I’d like to take you back a few years to a human rights conference I attended.

Wow, did I learn things!

First lesson: Yep, “human rights” is actually code speech for something else.

But I learned the most from a keynote talk by Montana native Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who became nationally prominent during the Clinton era.

Lake’s topic covered winning political debates. Her bottom line: Emotion wins over facts every time. Negative emotions win bigger. The easiest way to win big is to go aggressively negative on your rivals at every chance.

Her company had conducted focus groups, specifically to learn which magic words generated the largest negative (and positive) reactions from a generic audience. The magic-est word? “Extremist.” Lake suggested other words, like “radical, crazy, wacky,” but she must have said “extremist” a zillion times.

In other words, don’t bother to make a rational argument. Character assassination through word trickery is far more effective.

So, I thought immediately of Celinda’s methods when one writer first ripped on the “wacky, extremist” Bundys and then turned his attention to his real target, the “crazed zealots in state legislatures demanding federal lands be transferred to the states.” Gee, did this guy attend the same lecture I did?

Another column from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers used “extremists” and did the same topic switch, to attacking state senator Jennifer Fielder for her involvement with the American Lands Council, which advocates state control of what are now federally managed lands.

We were also treated to commentary from the Montana Wilderness Association about “armed extremists and radical politicians.” Which are the same of course, the SAME!

It’s no coincidence that these commentaries (and many others I’m reading elsewhere) attempt the same bait and switch. They were written by professionals who understand how rhetorically tarring and feathering uppity politicians with the “extremist” brush can work wonders. Hey, I’ve done it.

So what’s the real issue these pros are trying to deflect attention away from? Rotten federal lands laws and the rotten policy outcomes enabled by these laws. Some examples:

As the Beacon reported last week, the Rock Creek mine proposal has been “in process” for over 25 years, going through at least four owners. Right next door is Montanore. Same deal, other side of a world-class ore body, $100 million spent so far on a three-mile tunnel.

Just imagine if you built a business, or bought one, and had to make payments on it but couldn’t open your doors for 25 years? Absolutely bonkers, right? No, in the case of mining, it’s the law, utterly insane law in dire need of reform.

Or how about reports that our pet handful of local Greens successfully sued to halt all timber harvest on the federal portion of the grossly misnamed Legacy Project? What used to be commercial forestlands are now untouchable federal forest, to be locked up forever in litigation.

If these lands had instead gone to the state, could these same tiny, single-minded “organizations” be able to shut off the very last of what was a microscopic amount of timber harvesting? While I can’t say “No” as long as Judge Donald Molloy is still around, I can say, maybe not.

Can anyone honestly claim state ownership would be worse for these lands? Heck no, which is precisely why an increasing number of good people are talking about lands transfer, or major Congressional reforms at the least.

It’s also precisely why Greens, unable to defend these miswritten laws or make any rational case against reform, have stooped to use extreme word tricks – not to protect the environment, mind you, but to defend their power and funding.

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