Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Power of Words

A few days ago i was having tea, and then a glass of wine, in my house with a friend who was visiting. i was telling her about my sense that Barack Obama manifests (to me) some of the hidden powers of a taoist master--something like those martial-arts guys who can just look at you, and suddenly you are flying across the room. Many Obama supporters are worried about him being shredded by the Republican slime machine, but I'm not.

I remember some rare film footage I once saw of Zen monks practicing the art of archery, dodging the rapid fire of huge arrows aimed straight at their hearts. They simply shifted their bodies slightly to the left or to the right so the arrows whizzed right past them, consistently missing their target. Obama, I tell my friend, is a bit like that. I was trying to illustrate the subtle deftness I was talking about, and without realizing it, sat up straight in my chair, shifting my head a few millimeters to the left, when suddenly at that precise moment, there was a loud CRACK. What on earth was that? I said to my friend, slightly freaked. It turned out to be my glass of wine, which was sitting nearby on a table. The glass had split in two, for no explicable reason.

My friend was dumbfounded. She reported that just before it happened, my face had changed, and it was as if I was suddenly a conduit for the power I was trying to describe.

So much for the magic power of words! Arianna Huffington did her own bit of juijitsu on her blog this week, in the astute way she threw Hillary over her shoulder for ragging on about how Obama is little more than a "shallow speechifier." First Huffington quoted Hillary's comments on Obama in some of her recent stump speeches:

"I could stand up here and say 'Let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified. The sky will open! The light will come down! Celestial choirs will be singing! And everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect!' Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear!"
Last week it was: "Speeches don't put food on the table. Speeches don't fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills."

And then Arianna came in for the kill:

"Now, I agree with Clinton that it's important to look at how each of the Democratic candidates uses words and how rhetoric fits into how they've run their respective campaigns. And if you do, you'll see that one candidate does believe that words are like a magic wand: you utter them and reality changes. But it's not Barack Obama -- it's Hillary Clinton.

"Clinton's use of words is disturbingly reminiscent of the way the Bush administration has used words: just saying something is true is magically supposed to make it true. Call it Presto-change-o Politics.

"The examples are so notorious they hardly bear repeating: "mission accomplished," "heckuva job," "last throes," the endless "turning the corner" in Iraq. They were all said with the arrogant belief that merely saying these words was all that was needed: reality would literally change to fit the rhetoric...Meanwhile, as the Clinton campaign was busy trying to use words to push the idea that losing is actually winning (you know, just like in Iraq), the Obama campaign was actually winning votes. To the extent that anything in a campaign is real, it doesn't get any more real than actual votes."

Obama, she continued, "uses words to persuade, to mobilize and to get people to imagine that reality can be changed. And based on how his campaign has been run, on the ground, in state after state, it's clear that he knows changing reality is not done through magic -- it's done through hard work. It is Clinton who uses words to deny reality, and expects them to magically change it. Haven't we had enough of that over the last seven years?"

John McCain was also seen waving his magic wand of words this week, when he called a press conference for 7 a.m. on the morning after the New York Times broke a story about his questionable relationship with a female lobbyist some years ago. To every question a reporter put to him, McCain made the same, simple, wooden denial: "No. I did not." You might even have believed him as long as you weren't paying attention to his petulant, crafty eyes and his ghostly pallor. But lying wasn't even the crime in point. The real offense for me was when McCain (and later on, his campaign manager) declared, in any subsequent mention of the allegations by other members of the media, that the matter had already been dealt with. It is over (because I say it is over). There is nothing more to discuss. This, to me, was vintage waving of the magic wand of words. And, as Arianna said: haven't we had enough of that over the last seven years?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good one, Suzi. AS a former elementary school principal, I have recognized all too well the schoolyard bully language that puts experience into the ziplock bag of "because I say so". Will the Republican well of such characters ever run dry?