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Posts Tagged ‘presidential campaign’

Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of such quirky films as Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation has written and directed a new one, called Synecdoche New York. The critics have helpfully provided a definition of “synecdoche”, which means “a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special.” The reviews have been almost as baffling as I suspect the movie must be. I think I’ll rent it; that way I can watch in small doses so as not to overly tax my mind, which is plenty baffled these days.

But the movie and its brainiac title got me thinking about vocabulary during this election season. Words – their meanings new, old and just plain baffling – are certainly getting their due. I decided to visit dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/) to look up a few of those that keep popping up in political speeches of late to see what the reference books think we mean:

  • liberal: favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs. Also open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc; also and marked by generosity
  • elite: the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons
  • taxes: fees charged (“levied”) by a government on a product, income, or activity. The purpose of taxation is to finance government expenditure. One of the most important uses of taxes is to finance public goods and services.
  • debate: a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints; a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers; to deliberate upon or consider; Obsolete: to fight; quarrel.
  • socialism: any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

I admit I’ve used only a portion of the multiple definitions I found for each of these words in order to make them as “neutral” as possible. The more definitions we find, the more choices we have as to how we might feel about a particular word. As language evolves, words are sometimes given new meanings which may come to dominate or eliminate older definitions.  Yet sometimes all it takes to give a neutral word a negative spin is to, say, substitute a partial meaning for a whole meaning or swap a general definition for a narrower one. Call it “Campaign Synecdoche 2008.”

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In the news, the campaign dominates, of course. Is anyone not looking towards the finish line with the usual mix of anxiety and relief? Those stories dominated but there were some unusual twists and other tales worth reviewing.

  • Colin Powell endorses Obama. My favorite part of the interview centered on a subject most public figures have been too afraid to mention until now, which is that while Obama isn’t Muslim, who cares?  If a young Muslim-American wants to grow up to be President, why not? I’ve had some issues with Powell’s “good soldier” routine in the past but for highlighting the stupidity of continuing to equate all Muslims with terrorists, kudos.
  • Sarah Palin appears on “Saturday Night Live.”  I watched the show, which on balance was far inferior and less funny than previous shows had been (there was an entire skit about calling a colleague “fart-face”). Can’t these actors read cue cards and look at the person they’re playing off?  Even an amateur speech maker can look up from notes occasionally. As to Palin’s appearance, it confirmed my earliest impressions; she’s definitely an entertainer, destined to make tons of money with her own talk show someday.
  • “Joe the Plumber” isn’t actually a licensed plumber.  Joe is, however, apparently sick of the attention, or rather, the scrutiny. Hey Joe, that’s what fifteen minutes of fame is all about. Seriously, who cares?
  • High school cheating is on the rise. Okay my young friends, here it is, plain and simple: as to whether cheating is wrong, yes. As to whether “everyone’s doing it” is an acceptable excuse, no. As to whether bringing in cheat notes, “borrowing” an exam from a friend, copying from the Internet or using the exact wording from a book or article (it’s called “plagiarizing”) is actually cheating, also yes. As for whether oral sex is actually sex, also yes.
  • Mr. Blackwell, publisher of the “Worst-Dressed” list, dies. OMG, are we going to have to rely on Joan Rivers to tell us who’s tastefully clothed and who’s not? Say it ain’t so, Joe!

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I’ve been so engrossed in what you might call “man-activities”(watching superhero flicks, worrying over the Mets and the Yankees, reading international thrillers, working out sporadically with weights) that I’ve been missing the cat fights taking place in the news and around the Internet. This is what I get for missing the “Sex and the City” bandwagon. Anyway, I’ve noticed that “cougars” are lately on the prowl; not the real cats, except possibly out West, but rather the slang version, the sexy older woman interested in younger guys (aren’t we all?). Madonna, a major-league cougar (her body alone qualifies her but she also has a husband ten years younger), fought rumors that she was canoodling with even an younger major-league sex symbol Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod). This week’s news has also featured the nasty public divorce trial of lovely (and angry, the reason for going public) Christie Brinkley and her less than lovely and only somewhat younger ex Peter Cook, which has now apparently been resolved. We might have been spared the details about his $3,000/month Internet porn habit and an eighteen-year-old mistress but then we’d have to go back to superhero movies and working out.

 

Cougars, not to be mistaken for cuddly kittens, are predators and are also known as pumas, not to be mistaken for the athletic apparel company. PUMA is also the name of a new political action group I encountered online recently via multiple sites and citations. The name is an acronym meaning (depending on what you’re reading) either “People United Means Action” or “Party Unity My Ass.” Get it? PUMA members are made up of incensed Hillary Clinton supporters, mostly women as far as I can tell, who believe their candidate was forced out of the race prematurely in the name of (Democratic) party unity. Their initial goal appears to have been to help Hillary claw her way back into contention after the last of the primaries. I’m not convinced Hillary necessarily wants that but I’m basing that on a recent speech she gave that involved, yes, party unity (more on that later). At any rate, her public declarations on the matter aren’t stopping PUMA plans which include creating some sort of a commotion at the convention in Denver – but then what is a Democratic Party convention without some sort of commotion? Many PUMA members claim to be ready to vote for or raise money for McCain, never mind that his views on many issues appear diametrically opposed to Hillary’s. Some even call themselves Democrats for McCain, which makes as much sense to me as Jews for Jesus. One enraged blogger repeatedly referred to herself as a “Woman-American” which I guess is how she signals her feelings that her “group” has been disenfranchised.

 

I am woman; hear me roar.

 

Listen, there are plenty of topics about which women and right-minded people can get angry, among them healthcare, childcare, environmental disintegration, energy dependency, the safety of our food and our medicine and our schools, reproductive choice and pay equity. Hillary has consistently offered proposals to deal with these issues which are virtually identical with Obama’s. Can her supporters seriously believe she secretly hopes they’ll vote for John McCain, whose views are so different? Or don’t they really care anymore? F-ck our shared beliefs and full steam ahead?

 

Call me naive but when I heard Hillary Clinton speak at a breakfast yesterday, she seemed to have turned the proverbial corner. Yes, she addressed the disappointment and the adjustment she and her supporters had to make. She also insisted that the greater good trumped all; she indicated that, in her view, Obama represented just that. Maybe her remarks were calculated; her campaign’s in debt and her political future necessitates her playing nice – but isn’t that how politics in general are played? What struck me is that Hillary always manages to rise above repeated attempts to attach stereotypes to her. Succumbing to the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” cliché is not her style; how strange that some of her supporters find it such a comfortable fit.

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For some people, the world after 9/11 became black and white but I suspect that for those people the world was always black and white – good versus evil, right or wrong, you’re with us or you’re against us. You define your enemies, maybe expand that definition a little and turn your back. There is no room for discussion and no room for compromise and certainly no room for new information. It’s a frighteningly simplistic worldview and this week it was depressingly on display.

As has been reported (over and over) in the news, President Bush warned against “appeasing terrorists” in a speech in front of Israel’s parliament, which surely doesn’t need such reminders. The comments seemed directed at Candidate Barak Obama and his pledge to meet with a variety of leaders, a charge the White House denies (though the people who write and vet the President’s speeches give some thought to how their words will be heard, even if the President himself doesn’t). Obama has been accused by members of the Republican party (and by his rival Hillary Clinton) of being “naive” for imagining that he could actually have discussion with leaders who have made verbal threats against the U.S. and its allies. 

Obama was ready to return fire, reminding anyone who would listen that he has been talking all along of practicing diplomacy, an approach that was a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, at least until recently. He might have added that we talked with the leaders of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, though they created some of the most creatively inflammatory language in calling for our destruction. Then again, the U.S. came up with “The Red Menace” to describe the threat of the spread of Communism, complete with our own marketing materials.

The hypocrisy of the President’s outburst and the other candidates’ insistence that we can’t talk with Iran and Syria is especially galling when we are treated to the sight of the President of the United States begging Saudi Arabian leaders to please produce more oil so the United States can get some relief. Saudi Arabia, we seem to be required to repeat endlessly, was home to fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers – “terrorists” if you will  – who flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Some terrorists are more equal than others apparently.

A few years ago, I attended a conference in Spain sponsored by Club de Madrid, an international organization of retired world leaders and others to discuss democracy, terrorism and security. There were any number of specific issues addressed, including those related to international cooperation but the one thing on which all participants agreed was that there is no justification for terrorism, which was defined as the targeting of civilians and non-combatants through intimidation and deadly acts of violence. The behavior as defined could include a host of countries the U.S. already considers allies, but we won’t get into that now. It should be obvious that this country can, in theory, make that message the cornerstone of our foreign policy – that we can reject terrorism without rejecting diplomacy.

On another note, Mike Huckabee, the apparently affable preacher, one-time Presidential aspirant and rumored Vice-Presidental candidate, showed his true colors with an off-center remark about a sharp noise that disrupted his speech to the National Rifle Association. He commented that it was Barak Obama tipping over and diving under a chair after someone pointed a gun at him. I hope I don’t sound too PC here but that was so not funny.

 

 

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