Guest Column

Weaponization of Words

The attempt by the chairman of the Montana Republican Party to weaponize the word “woke” is regrettable

By Jerry Elwood

In his recent guest opinion, Don Kaltschmidt says, as chair of Montana’s Republican Party, that he will do everything he can to expose Sen. Jon Tester’s “… woke, socialist agenda, hypocrisy, and corruption.” What Kaltschmidt is telling everyone is that he and his political party will do everything they can to smear Tester with innuendos and falsehoods to scare voters away from voting for him next year. 

An example is his attempt to weaponize the word “socialist” and associate it with Tester. This weaponization of a word is a long-standing trope often used by Republican politicians who have a loose connection to the truth and an obsession for negative campaigning.

Any objective person familiar with Tester’s legislative history and record knows that he’s no socialist and has no socialist agenda. But Republicans, including Kaltschmidt, have redefined socialism to mean anything and everything they don’t like about Democrats and their policy positions. Labeling Democrats as socialists has become their fail-safe — but vacuous — reason for opposing all Democratic candidates and everything they propose and endorse.

And contrary to Kaltschmidt’s claim, Sen. Tester is also neither corrupt nor has ever demonstrated any hypocrisy. His legislative record in Congress is both qualitatively and quantitatively far superior to that of all three of the Republicans now representing Montana in Congress.

Kaltschmidt’s assertion that Tester has a “woke, socialist agenda” reveals his willful ignorance of both the meaning of “woke” and that it is a positive attribute. It means having a social conscience and demonstrating it with words and actions. It’s being informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices. And Sen. Tester is a testament to all of these things. He advocates for people subjected to social injustices, including poor and marginalized people. He opposes redlining, environmental racism, discriminatory policing, and other injustices that might be described as “systemic racism”. He actively supports farmers, veterans, small businesses and all working people.

The attempt by Kaltschmidt and many other Republicans to weaponize the word “woke” is regrettable. But it’s also not surprising given that fairness, kindness, and empathy are all lower on the list of moral priorities for many Republicans who call themselves conservative. They are more accepting of inequality and injustice and are less empathetic towards those outside their immediate family. They also have greater anxiety about social changes and are more gullible to lurid – but baseless – tales of danger posed by social groups whose lifestyles they don’t approve of.

Kaltschmidt’s job, as Chair of the Montana Republican Party, obviously involves helping his party’s candidates win elections. But it should require decent, honest, and respectful treatment of all candidates from the opposing parties, including Sen. Tester. While he touts his leadership of Montana’s GOP, Kaltschmidt should remind himself to retain a healthy appreciation of his own fallibility before he judges his political opposition and the ends they seek and endorse. His attempt to smear Sen. Tester with falsehoods and baseless innuendos, especially when it’s done to achieve a tactical advantage, only diminishes the already sorry state of election campaigns and the electoral process in this country. It serves no useful purpose in our democracy.

Jerry Elwood lives in Kalispell.

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