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The Power to Name

“Fortunately for Bush, who was later elected a United States senator, his name never surfaced in the news when his Union Banking shares were seized by the U.S. government. The only media reference related to the seizure was a brief 1944 item in the New York Times announcing that ‘The Union Banking Corporation, 39 Broadway, New York, has received authority to change its principal place of business to 120 Broadway.’  The article neglected to point out that the company’s assets had been seized under the Trading With the Enemy act or that 120 Broadway was the address of the U.S. Alien Property Custodian. If the news had been publicized, it might well have derailed Bush’s political career as well as the future presidential aspirations of both his son and grandson.”

–Max Wallace, The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich

We are living in a time where political leaders are issuing political descriptors with blunt force; the linguistic field has become the premier battlefield of a few in the 21st century.  The 24-hour news cycle is a sleek and reliable message delivery system.  Rapid fire sound bytes function as a new artillery.

When presidential candidate Barack Obama struck out to deflect one such example of this linguistic instrument of war–that is, the power to name and conceal,  White House Press Secretary Dana Perino issued the following response to Israeli reporters:   “I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you. That is not always true. And it is not true in this case.”

Most people are not confused in their identification of people in leadership roles who are suffering from Ptolemaic delusions.  For the most part, people pay attention to such incidents as the “Nazi appeaser” comment delivered by President Bush to the Knesset on May 15, 2008, because they are honestly interested in the semantics and the political settings in which such statements are made.  People are interested in knowing if President Bush or a member of his administration will continue to use political descriptors to shoot down one and all who seek alternative means to the dire problems facing the world.

The bullying potential of verbal ballistics is great;  its facilitation, easily mastered. It only requires one high-profile speaker to collapse nuanced meaning into an inflammatory, historically murky and obtuse political descriptor, and deliver it preferably on an anniversary and location that has some sort of political importance to the audience assembled.

An eager press will act as propulsion.  Along with the original incident of the political descriptor, they will include comments by others on the superficial semantics. Such coverage will never get close to the crux of the problem in a meaningful way.  Those commenting, favorably or against, will use the media time to get at their own agenda while avoiding discussion of the deeper and profoundly disturbing structures of such incidents.

The people in power who make use of this linguistic battlefield are not held accountable for any aspect of rationality; in fact, brutal political descriptors will illicit a trajectory precisely because they are irrational.

There is good reason for not directly naming Obama or former President Carter in the recent speech.  It would have allowed a direct response:  “I am not a Nazi appeaser, I have no association with the Nazi party nor have I even been a member of its organization. And in kind, I would like to raise similar questions as it relates to the Bush family.”

By making remote inferences with a highly charged historical reference on a significant day in a significant location,  one gets the most out of implied meaning.  In this way, one is free from rational entanglements that might play out in the public arena.  While some may view President Bush’s politically motivated references to a violent historic past as appropriate for the times,  others view such staged manipulation of circumstance and name-calling as disrespectful to all people anywhere who have suffered the tyranny and torment of the Nazi regime.

LARAY POLK can be contacted at laraypolk@earthlink.net