Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Word by Any Other Name, Should Smell as Sweet.

Then I said it. I insulted a guest in my own home. I didn't mean to, but I felt, as a writer and lover of language, I had no choice. When my guest, a fine man and great friend, called President Obama a dictator and a worse president than former Ugandan President Idi Amin, I spoke up. I made the case that using “dictator” and comparing the President Obama to Idi Amin went beyond the pale. I did so out of my love of words, not out of siding with President Obama. Words have to mean something.

I found myself in a similar position a few years prior, defending President Bush from charges of his setting up a theocracy and a military dictatorship in the United States. Equally ridiculous charge, and it reveals a disturbing trend in our political discourse. We debate by accusation. We have let our political discourse fall sway to the tricks of Madison Ave.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about bring back civility to the political discourse. I know too much of US history, the duel between Burr and Hamilton, the accusations of Grover Cleveland having an illegitimate child, the yellow journalism of the early twentieth century, to be fooled into thinking civility was ever part of our political game. The change, as I see it, reduction to the absurdity of accusation. Why argue about a difference of policy when you can call the other side, Nazi. Yet, Nazism was a political philosophy based on a particular racial historical myth that no major main stream American politician holds currently. America does have real Neo-Nazis politicians, though they are a small fringe group. To call any major politician a Nazi is to abuse the word, Nazi. Abusing language like this is like pointing to dog and calling it a prickly pear.

I believe this further cheapening of our language comes from the world of marketing. In the marketing world, words with a strong emotional attachment are drained of their meaning and then tied to the product being sold. Freedom becomes toothpaste, choice becomes beer, love becomes driving a car. Words become muddled in meaning and powerful in raising emotions. Love, freedom and choice have nothing to do with the product they are attached to, and to pull off the trick, the words are purposely made vague. For a poet wishing to express the love of God, and isleft with words that conjure up less awe and more toothpaste, this is a tragedy. Quick, give a meaning to freedom.

This process now happens within our politics. The accusation of President Bush being a Fascist, the accusation of President Obama of being a Marxist, or the accusation that US is a dictatorship can only work if Fascism, Marxism, and Dictatorship are emptied of any real meaning, while retaining their emotional repulsion. Suddenly, the language is cheapen to the point of a fastfood plastic toy we can only choke on. How poor will become when we can no longer talk to each other because words can only bring up emotions. In the beginning was the Word. Words have to retain their meanings for us to give us any semblance of truth. To find love, we have to have at least a workable understanding of what love means.

The problem of our political discourse is not civility but a lack of reality, because to hear the political pundits talking and blogging in the media, our choice in November is between Marxists and Fascists and not between Republicans and Democrats. Let us mourn for our bleeding language.

No comments: