There’s nothing more important in retailing than labeling. A catchy name or logo or slogan can move products off the shelves and create an identity that can imbed a product into the public’s consciousness. The same is true in the world of politics, and that’s why candidates and causes and organizations spend so much time and effort trying to label themselves and, perhaps even more importantly, others. If these efforts work well, the new label spreads into the society as a whole, often abetted by the media echo chamber.
When Ronald Reagan proposed funding for research on a space-based laser shield against nuclear weapons, he called it the Strategic Defense Initiative. Opponents who were already furious with Reagan’s defense buildup, and who feared an escalating arms race, began referring to SDI as Star Wars, an obvious attempt to ridicule the idea as nothing more than something a delusional president might see in a science fiction film. The ploy worked. Soon, the term Star Wars became the common reference to the initiative.
More recently, environmentalists found they were having a tough time scaring people when using the term global warming, in part because the earth wasn’t cooperating by adhering to their computer models. As a result, they simply relabeled the issue as climate change, and the press went along. And it’s a much more effective label, because how can you argue that the climate isn't changing? They also created a label for those who looked skeptically on their theories: deniers. You were not an opponent or a skeptic; you were a denier. A denier, you see, refuses to believe what's right before his eyes. As a bonus, it managed to equate climate change deniers with Holocaust deniers. A labeling twofer!
The Left has also had some success with a similar kind of labeling for those who question President Obama’s citizenship. They have become birthers. The effort to change Tea Party members to teabaggers has been somewhat less successful in the mass media because of the vulgarity of the reference. It may get a smirk out of Anderson Cooper, but a lot of editors seem uncomfortable with the term.
Both sides on the abortion issue have been fighting labeling wars for years. Anti-abortionists prefer pro-lifers, while the pro-abortion faction prefers pro-choice. In both cases, the goal is to cast the most positive light on yourselves and the most negative on others. The press is all over the place on this one, but most news outlets appear to have settled on pro-life and pro-choice.
On the Right, the effort to replace Democratic Party with Democrat Party has had only limited success, but there have been some labeling triumphs, most notably with the term Obamacare, which has made its way into the modern lexicon. It was obviously designed to paint the whole health care reform package as the creation of one megalomaniac. Like all of these naming wars, one side would call it dirty pool, I suppose, while the other would simply call it “truth in labeling.”