September 6th, 2008

ozarque figure

Linguistics; political language; the Obama/Biden/Palin dilemma; part two...

markw commented:
"For years now, since Rush Limbaugh came into the light at least, the language of the Right has been one of ridicule. Not reasoned arguments, but open mocking. The RNC was nothing less; Giuliani and Palin both mocked Obama's community organization, knowing that no one on the left will mock Palin's PTA experience. ... I think Obama is doing a decent job deflecting this sort of attack, but is there no way to counteract it? Is there not a way to negate this sort of speech?"

This is a very good question, and a very hard one to answer. The problem is that the most reliable way to counteract and negate open mocking is to rise above it by refusing to acknowledge its existence -- but doing that will only strengthen the Republican's image of Obama as an intellectual elitist who thinks he's superior to ordinary people. The McCain/Palin campaign has already anticipated that tactic and made it useless. [And maggieno has alerted me to the fact that Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Republican of Georgia -- asked by reporters to compare Sarah Palin with Michelle Obama -- has now introduced the word "uppity" into this part of the conversation. (See http://www.mcclatchydc.com/251/story/51762.html for details.)]

If American voters understood this -- if they had the time and energy to pay enough attention to what's going on to be able to understand it -- the "rise above it" strategy would work, and the longer and more rigorously Obama maintained it the more people would admire him for it. But it's not like that. People who are working two or three jobs and desperately trying to put gas in their cars and food on their tables and keep from losing their homes -- not to mention having learned to live in constant dread of the next catastrophe -- don't have that kind of time and energy. It has nothing to do with intelligence or morality; it has everything to do with desperation and exhaustion and fear.

And Michael Farris commented:
"What Palin's done so far that's brilliant (whether planned or not I don't know) is to position herself, as ozarque mentions as the 'girl/mom next door'. She can hit as hard as she can verbally (everyone expects moms to criticize others for our own good) and as long as she uses her mom voice and body language her opponents can't hit back without alienating a lot of the public."

Exactly -- and I'm certain that it was planned down to the last and most minute detail. The Republicans have the Democrats trapped in a Metaphor Cage. If Obama or Biden try to hit back at the "girl next door" persona they're big strong mean sexist men picking on a woman. If Obama or Biden try to hit back at the "mom next door" persona they're in even deeper water; they're radical liberals with no morals attacking motherhood and apple pie and football and the flag.

This isn't crude strategy on the part of the Republicans. It's extraordinarily clever. And it's working.

The only thing that can defeat a powerful metaphor is an even more powerful metaphor.