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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A High-Tech Linguistic Sliming

posted by on November 29 at 10:57 AM

You’re a Republican. You’re trying to figure out how to bash the uber-popular Barack Obama. What to do?

Here’s the strategy one GOP operative has settled upon:

Pronounce Obama’s first name as Bar-eck (which echoes the way most Americans prounounce the last name of the current Egyptian President), and then emphasize Obama’s middle name, Hussein.

Presto! A black American Christian who was born in Hawaii and raised in Kenya becomes…. a scary Muslim.

Via Wonkette.

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It really sucks that Saddam Hussein decided to drop at-Tikriti for Hussein in order to get religious cred. Hussein as a surname generally indicates a descendant of Muhammad, which is the foundation of the Hashemite family's claim to the throne of Jordan, and provides a great deal of respect to so many clerics throughout the Islamic world. Now, one asshole who tried to curry favor with some fanatics has ruined it for everyone.

However, I'm plenty confident that Barack Obama is a competent and charming enough speaker to overcome this bullshit. Hell, I have a feeling that if Barack sits down with this asshole for an hour or two, he'll have him on his campaign staff.

Posted by Gitai | November 29, 2006 11:18 AM

Why does Barak Obama hate America?

Posted by angry middle-aged white guy | November 29, 2006 11:23 AM

I F-ing hate the news. Who the hell was that rasist/bigot asshat that got to speak on national TV? He's one of those people I wouldn't mind getting an assault charge for punching him in the face.

Posted by Monique | November 29, 2006 11:27 AM

Between these proto-bigots and Bush, I have come to really loathe the Southern/Texas accent. The lazy drawl of carefully tended rebarred ignorance.

Posted by golob | November 29, 2006 11:35 AM

there have been a few interesting books recently talking about rhetoric and the use of language to solidify a political movement's position and perception.

i can't recall of the top of my head what the titles of these books are, but it's really fascinating because if you look at the past six years you can completely write off karl rove's strategic ability as the root of his success.

rove is not a strategic genius. he is a master linguist who was able to coordinate a very skillful use of words throughout all the various outlets (speeches, newspapers, print, etc) to such a degree that he has literally defined the terms with which the media is allowed to frame any number of issues.

what you're seeing now are the limits of language when faced with the inertial mass of reality run a muck.

recent articles and news stories about how some of the bigger media outlets have decided to call iraq a "civil war" have touched on the fact that it is only after the mid-term elections that these media groups have felt comfortable defining the language that we use to discuss current events. it's like they have finally realized that, in fact, they can call things for what they are. for the past six years this has been the sole province of karl rove. the reason the media DIDN'T define their own terms before was because of they feared being labeled "liberally biased". Another term from the rove glossary.

the kind of semantic trickery that this post highlights via the talking head clip has worked for many years but only because it has been weakly countered, if at all. it's easy to frame the debate when you're the only one defining terms. look at clinton on chris wallace. that was heralded as a coup that "liberated" democrats when all clinton did was frame and define his own terms. wallace was literally shocked that clinton didn't accept, out of hand, the underlying narrative of the words that have been commonly accepted and used in the media.

what is great about obama is that he is like bill clinton in that he's very well spoken and should be able to craft a message that makes this kind of tripe look ridiculous by comparison. the original post didn't mention the gaffe ted kennedy made, referring him senator obama as senator osama. that one is even worse than hussein or "bar-eck". but these are cheap parlor tricks that shouldn't gain traction. so why have they?

the problem has been that democrats have been completely ineffectual at crafting a meaningful message of their own. For the past six years they have completely surrendered the battle for words and their meaning to the republicans. i'm looking forward to candidates that don't suffer from this problem. And i have to say that so far hillary has been the least impressive in this area.

Posted by charles | November 29, 2006 11:48 AM


Posted by Joshua | November 29, 2006 11:49 AM

Taking bets now.

How many different Obama/Osama slips of the tongue will the neocons force?

Posted by Matthew Fisher Wilder | November 29, 2006 12:30 PM

Taking bets now.

How many different Obama/Osama slips of the tongue will the neocons force?

Posted by Matthew Fisher Wilder | November 29, 2006 12:31 PM

Taking bets now.

How many different Obama/Osama slips of the tongue will the neocons force?

Posted by Matthew Fisher Wilder | November 29, 2006 12:31 PM

Taking bets now.

How many different Obama/Osama slips of the tongue will the neocons force?

Posted by Matthew Fisher Wilder | November 29, 2006 12:31 PM

Taking bets now.

How many different Obama/Osama slips of the tongue will the neocons force?

Posted by Matthew Fisher Wilder | November 29, 2006 12:31 PM

holy multipost, batman!

Posted by dzienkowski | November 29, 2006 12:42 PM

be kind...maybe mr wilder has bells palsy or parkinsons or something that makes his fingers twitch uncontrollably...

Posted by michael strangeways | November 29, 2006 12:48 PM

Hey Wilder, don't fall asleep on the "post" button, eh?

Obama has an unfortunate name, as mainstream America often has trouble neutrally accepting a person's name. Thus, so many actors have changed their names.

You make a good point Charles. How the debate is framed is crucial. And I too am unimpressed with Hillary. She's just the type of Dem who eagerly follows the GOP framework that has hindered the Dem's these past several years. Just witness how she lambasted Kerry for his slip about education.

Posted by him | November 29, 2006 12:54 PM

"You're a neocon and ..."

Now stop right there!

No way any patriot would EVER be a neocon!

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 29, 2006 1:01 PM

I don't buy the "Bar-eck" thing, because frankly I don't think most Americans even KNOW who the Egyptian president is. But the Hussein part ... that I definitely see them using.

Posted by soultaco | November 29, 2006 1:19 PM

@14 - which is funny because i put kerry and hillary in the same boat when it comes to their ability to use language effectively and convincingly.

Posted by charles | November 29, 2006 1:35 PM

This reminds me of the way Shrub mispronounces Saddam Hussein all the time, which I'm convinced is intentional.

Properly, it is Sa'dom. Or at least that is how pretty much everyone else on the planet pronounces it. Shrub always pronounces it 'Sadom, as in Sodom and Gomorrah, or sodomy. I think there is very little chance this is accidental. The inference is intentional. It is one of the reasons I can't stand to listen to him on the radio, much less watch him on TV.

Posted by SDA in SEA | November 29, 2006 1:54 PM

During the first Gulf War, it seemed like the favorite mispronunciation was "Sad-damn".

I'm also wonder when, and why, everyone suddenly started pronouncing "Qatar" like "cutter."

Posted by Orv | November 29, 2006 2:13 PM

One of those books is by linguist George Lakoff.

The main Republican language consultant is Frank Luntz. He came up with Contract with America, death tax, and climate change and who knows what else. PBS did a Frontline called the Persuaders and he's featured. He's a bad man.

In their defense, Democrats won the pro-choice war by not calling it pro-abortion. Everyone can get behind choice. (Plus, people really don't care about life the same way they care about choice.) Voila!

Posted by books | November 29, 2006 2:23 PM

I agree, it's sad you the Republicommie party always slimes everyone else, especially by misspelling the name of the opposition (majority) party.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 29, 2006 2:24 PM

Lakoff - that's it! I was having trouble remembering so I just went with a generalization because i'm too lazy to google like that. that frontline sounds pretty interesting -- i'd love see it.

while we're on the topic of linguistic tricks, i DID dig on borat's "war of terror" twist.

Posted by charles | November 29, 2006 2:29 PM

"Don't Think of an Elephant" - relevant book

Posted by Jude Fawley | November 29, 2006 2:45 PM

Re #22: That Frontline episode is one of many available for online viewing on their website,

Posted by Orv | November 29, 2006 4:07 PM

Actually, Gitai, Hussein just means "good" in Arabic, and is an extremely common name throughout the Middle East. The most famous Hussein is Hussein Ibn Ali, who is your Hashemite family progenitor, leader of the Arab Revolt and father of the first kings of Iraq (overthrown by the army in the coup that led to Saddam), Jordan (still ruling), and Hijaz (the Mecca-Medina-Jeddah area of the Arabian Peninsula, since taken over by Hussein's arch-rival Ibn Saud's Saudi Arabia). He was in fact a descendant of Mohammad. But there are lots of folks named "Hussein" who have no connection at all with Hussein Ibn Ali, Saddam, or the Prophet himself.

Posted by Fnarf | November 29, 2006 5:44 PM

#5 & #14:
talk aout the power of's either "John and Hillary" or "Kerry and Clinton". Pull your effing heads out and stop trying to demote Senator Clinton. She has earned the right to her full title.

Posted by i love ipa | November 30, 2006 12:28 AM

um, what? i have no problem with calling Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton by her full 27 letter title. It's just a pain in the ass to type twenty seven characters (30 if you count spaces). My only beef with her is that she talks like a robot just like john kerry did. Former President William Jefferson Clinton is a better public speaker, and if I were to compare FPWJC to SHRC in that particular area I would say that FPWJC is stronger. However. I do think that SHRC is better than our senator "maria" in the rhetoric skillz area. ;)

Posted by Charles | November 30, 2006 12:43 AM

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