Wednesday, October 15, 2008

McCain and Palin Use Words that Evoke Violence

The presidential campaign shows the power of words not only to define other people but to incit some people to violent words and possiblity to violent deeds. "Palling around with terrorists" is a favorite phrase of Sarah Palin. "Who is Barack Obama?" has become a catch phrase in the McCain presidential campaign.

These words trigger racist thoughts and emotions. Some people have shouted "kill him" at McCain and Palin rallies in response to these words.

McCain and Palin may not intend these extreme responses, but they are using
words that evoke them.

These candidates are indeed playing with fire as Representative John Lewis (D-GA) wrote in a letter to John McCain. These words are evoking a lynch mob mentality that puts many people in danger, most of all Barack Obama.

The events in the presidential campaign show how important discourse analysis is to public life. Discourse analysis involves an examination of the power of words to evoke images, thoughts, and feelings. Call someone a pervert, and this immediately reduces them to something non-human.

Call someone a terrorist and this evokes fear and for some people a desire to throw the first punch or set off the first bomb.

Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon assured southern voters that they would respect "states rights." This is code for stating that they would not enforce civil rights legislation if elected. These two politicians won the votes of Southerners who feared civil rights for blacks.

"Uppity" is term for blacks who are rising about their "station," meaning they are well-dressed, arrticulate, and educated. They may have nicer houses and cars than many whites. Calling them "uppity" is a way of evoking hostilty to African-Americans of accomplishment. It is no coincidence that many who politic for McCain and Palin are calling Barach Obama uppity, in addition to linking him to terrorists.

Words can be weapons of destruction when they are linked to shared meanings that lead to resentment, race-based mistrust, and violence.

Fiona Speaks is a pseudonym of Jane Gilgun who likes to laugh and talk. This blog is a way for me to connect with witty people who like to talk about ideas and how to connect with what's important. To do this, I want to examine and demystify the blocks I see to building connections and community with other people. Join me.

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The blog is for witty people who want to build community. In this world that seems to be so full of witless efforts to self-aggrandize, I want to promote the simple idea of human connection.