Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Words matter, names matter

Words matter - look at why will.i.am, a master wordsmith in his own right, decided to make the whole Obama video. He says that Obama's New Hampshire speech cinched it for him, that before that he was "torn."
and then there was New Hampshire

it was that speech...
like many great speeches...
that one moved me...
because words and ideas are powerful...

It made me think...
and realize that today we have "very few" leaders...
maybe none...
Republicans are well aware that words matter - they've had Frank Luntz, master messenger, on their side for a long time, making phrases that that short but memorable - tax relief, death tax instead of "reducing taxes" or "estate tax." They coined the term "compassionate conservative" to give us a president who was neither.

Words reverberate and they sit inside of us, touching us with meanings and feelings. All words hit different nerves that recall memories, thoughts, gut instinctual responses. If I say "home" it resounds differently for you than it does me, but for the vast majority of people, it brings up pleasant memories. If I say "security" at a time of war, it plays on fears for your home and family.

This is all covered by George Lakoff, progressive linguist.

So why do the Republicans and their echo machine of rightwing talk radio continue to insist on using Obama's middle name of Hussein? Because they want to hit Americans on fear, fears associated with what is really a very common middle name. They want to paint Obama as being anti-Semitic and un-American. When in reality, Obama is the melting pot. He represents America better than any other candidate - all of America.

In the Bible, when God grants Adam the ability to name objects, animals and other items in the Garden of Eden, that is when they first come to life. Words are meaning, words breathe life.

So I really admire Juan Cole's take down of radio host Mike Cunningham and of the Tennessee GOP with his thoroughly researched and cited post on the many many Semitically-named American heroes (hat tip as usual to prolific blogger Ben Smith, my first read every day.)

You should really read the whole thing but here's a teaser from Informed Comment:
I want to say something about Barack Hussein Obama's name. It is a name to be proud of. It is an American name. It is a blessed name. It is a heroic name, as heroic and American in its own way as the name of General Omar Nelson Bradley or the name of Benjamin Franklin. And denigrating that name is a form of racial and religious bigotry of the most vile and debased sort. It is a prejudice against names deriving from Semitic languages!

. . . Barack and Hussein are Semitic words. Americans have been named with Semitic names since the founding of the Republic. Fourteen of our 43 presidents have had Semitic names (see below). And, American English contains many Arabic-derived words that we use every day and without which we would be much impoverished. America is a world civilization with a world heritage, something Cunninghamism will never understand.

Barack is a Semitic word meaning "to bless" as a verb or "blessing" as a noun. In its Hebrew form, barak, it is found all through the Bible. It first occurs in Genesis 1:22: "And God blessed (ḇāreḵə ) them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth."

Here is a list of how many times barak appears in each book of the Bible.

Now let us take the name "Hussein." It is from the Semitic word, hasan, meaning "good" or "handsome." Husayn is the diminutive, affectionate form.

Barack Obama's middle name is in honor of his grandfather, Hussein, a secular resident of Nairobi. Americans may think of Saddam Hussein when they hear the name, but that is like thinking of Stalin when you hear the name Joseph. There have been lots of Husseins in history, from the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, a hero who touched the historian Gibbon, to King Hussein of Jordan, one of America's most steadfast allies in the 20th century. The author of the beloved American novel, The Kite Runner, is Khaled Hosseini.
Juan Cole also notes that John Mccain's adopted daughter, Bridget, is from Bangladesh, and that it's entirely possible that she also has relatives named with some variation of Hussein. He makes the good point that because the Bush campaign race-baited him with having a black daughter in 2000 in South Carolina, that it's understandable that McCain wouldn't abet this behavior, but wonders how far he will go.

Also, is there a particular reason why Bridget doesn't get included in official campaign mailings featuring the family? Or do they relate to her like George P Bush, whom Barbara has referred to as "the brown one?" Lastly, in an ABC interview, Cindy McCain says that her daughter feels hurt that the President of the United States doesn't like her because she's black.

The McCains adopted Bridget from Bangladesh in 1991, but opponents — the senator believes the Bush campaign, but it has denied it — used push-polling to make voters believe that he had fathered a black child out of wedlock.

Bridget, who is now 15, found out about the incident only a year ago when she Googled herself. Mrs. McCain McCain said Bridget was confused and hurt by the discovery.

"[She] was hurt by the fact that she thinks people don't like her because she's black," she said. "She asked me why the president of the United States doesn't like her and I said honey that's not what happened, you know this was about people that were mean spirited and wrong, they did wrong things you know, it's hard, it's been hard I'll say."

But she's really brown, and Asian American. Poor girl.

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