Job-Killing: Republicans' Blank-Blanking Pejorative Du Jour

A look at the history of budget-busting, job-killing, and other variants of mud-slinging malarkey.

A look at the history of budget-busting, job-killing, and other variants of mud-slinging malarkey.

For the past month, “job-killing” has been the insult du jour in Washington. Everything about President Obama and his administration was described with this catchy adjective: job-killing legislation, job-killing federal regulations, job-killing tax hikes, etc. I’m amazed no one denounced Bo the First Dog as a job-killing pooch.

In the wake of the Arizona killings, there’s been a slight toning down of rhetoric: “Job-killing” will apparently give way to “job-crushing” and “job-destroying.” Perhaps these word changes will lead to meaningless revisions of the bill "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” and the triple-buzzword-titled report “Obamacare: A Budget-busting, Job-killing Health Care Law” (PDF) If you threw in a “razzin-frazzin” and a “varmint,” those words would sound at home in the mouth of Yosemite Sam. But such talk should sound familiar for other reasons that are equally cartoon-y yet frighteningly real. Words like “job-crushing” and “tree-hugging” have long been lexical clubs used to bludgeon liberals and Democratic politicians. When it comes to word games—especially the blank-blanking kind—the right always seems to play meaner and smarter than the left.

In terms of rhythm and meaning, “job-killing” would fit right into one of the best book titles ever: 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. In this 2006 book, the linguist Geoffrey Nunberg looked at how:

...the left has lost the battle for the language itself. When we talk about politics nowadays—and by ‘we’ I mean progressives and liberals as well as conservatives and people in the center—we can’t help using language that embodies the worldview of the right.


Nunberg talks about the demonization of “liberal,” the power of framing (a la George Lakoff), and terms such as “big government” and “compassionate conservatism,” as well as how language structures themselves come to embody political ideas and stereotypes. A very successful strategy has been the linking of the word “elite” to liberals: You rarely ever hear about the conservative elite, even though such creatures obviously exist. Terms like “latte-sipping liberal” are a type of “product placement” (as Nunberg puts it) reinforcing “liberal” and “elite” as synonyms.

These slurs serve the broader agenda of driving the masses and liberals apart by associating the latter with fancy-pants food and products like sushi and Volvos—or brie, as in “brie-eating liberal,” a close relation of the cheese-eating surrender monkey. Nunberg notes that brie “...stands in perfectly for the right’s stereotypes of liberals—soft, pale, runny, and French.” The disciplined repetition of liberals as brie-eating or tree-hugging or job-destroying paints a picture of the left as a bunch of Pepe le Pew-like varmints in Birkenstocks who hate America and your bank account. It’s immature, inaccurate, and effective.

But this trope goes deeper than silly mud-slinging. On Language Log, Nunberg explains that: could trace the whole history of the right's campaigns against liberals via those compounds—from tree-hugging and NPR-listening back through the Nixon era's pot-smoking, bra-burning, draft-dodging, and America-hating, until you finally excavate the crude origins of the trope in nigger-loving, the ur-denunciation of white liberal sentimentality.


So if we measured all these terms with an evil-ometer, “job-killing” (or “job-whatever-ing”) would actually be one of the least awful.

Besides playing on fear and hate, most of these terms are built on a foundation of BS and lies. What we know about the health-care bill doesn’t seem job-killing at all. These word games are indifferent to facts and tell you a lot about the people using them. As Steven Pearlstein put it in the Washington Post:

...the next time you hear some politician or radio blowhard or corporate hack tossing around the ‘job-killing’ accusation, you can be pretty sure he's not somebody to be taken seriously. It's a sign that he disrespects your intelligence, disrespects the truth and disrespects the democratic process.


Sadly for us all, a politician disrespecting the democratic process is about as newsy and shocking as a dog disrespecting the bathtime process. Many hoped the Arizona shootings would create a moratorium on inflated political invective, but Sarah Palin and her “blood libel” squelched that idea fast. Other absurd rhetoric should follow soon. The right loves to use deadly language—as Leslie Savan writes, “job-killing” is of a piece with “death tax,” and “death panels”—and “job-crushing” and “job-destroying” show that the blank-blanking form is too tempting and effective to abandon.

Someday soon, I’m sure President Obama will be slammed as a “baby-eating, Thor-worshipping grandma-stabber” or a “Satan-licking, immigrant-spooning secret werewolf.” Those on the right have worked hard and dirty to make the blank-blanking form their own. They aren’t going to give it up without a fight.


This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

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John Perez was acquitted on Friday, February 21, for charges stemming from an altercation with Allentown, Pennsylvania police that was caught on video.

Footage from September 2018 shows an officer pushing Perez to the ground. After Perez got to his feet, multiple officers kicked and punched him in an attempt to get him back on the ground.

Perez claims he was responding to insults hurled at him by the officers. The police say that Perez was picking a fight. The altercation left Perez with a broken nose, scrapes, swelling, and bruises from his hips to his shoulder.

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