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September 06, 2008

Comments

It's called identity politics.

The computer science people are starting to develop some pretty good techniques for content analysis. I wonder what other results could be obtained with some of the sophisticated analysis techniques available these days.

Sounds like your analysis method is better than Ron Fournier's, though I doubt he'll be applying his to McCain's speech.

Yet somehow it's Obama who's supposedly the self-absorbed leader of a personality cult.

The Washington Post's post-convention editorial includes a passage that should, but won't, prove to those who think of the Post as liberal that they're at least a couple of decades out of date:

The Republican convention featured former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who trimmed and retrimmed his positions in tactical calculations that ultimately failed to derail the steadfast Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Mr. McCain is that rare politician who has held to positions of principle at great risk to his career, including this year on the subject of Iraq, and his nomination offered a measure of vindication for that courage.

Umm... Flame away, but I don't get how the (ME) tag is funny. I hate to ask, but could someone explain the joke? ^.^;

KC: Yet somehow it's Obama who's supposedly the self-absorbed leader of a personality cult.

That just reminds me of Limbaugh going non-stop about how Obama is the Messiah and how he's such a celebrity diva. Then Rush spends 10 minutes talking about the ever so humble Rush Limbaugh, whose talent is on loan from G-d and who is the most important commentator in the country. I freakin' hate that man.

MeDrew: just that it put in graphic form what I was trying to say last night: that McCain was telling us how selfless he was, and disproving it in the process. Not deeply humorous, but something about "I fight for Americans. (ME) I fight for you. (ME)" amused me.

Ohhhhhhh! /slap forehead

I feel really dumb now, but I'll use the "It is pretty late..." excuse. ^.^;

(Everyone can just call me Drew, no need to waste the extra couple of keystrokes. Laziness isn't always bad. Think of the energy you save in the long run!)

More mutating stories. McCain's version, which is false:

"You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on eBay -- and made a profit!" McCain declared in Wisconsin at a campaign stop on Friday.

Palin's version, which seems to be true but misleading (since people will naturally assume the jet was sold on eBay):

"That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay," Palin said.

The jet was bought for $2.7 million and sold for $2.1 million, so no profit, which is not surprising. I wouldn't expect a plane to appreciate.

I wouldn't expect a plane to appreciate.

Are you serious?!!? There goes my retirement plan.

But seriously though, making a profit by auctioning off a used jet? Does McCain believe that's possible? Or does he think that people are dumb enough to just marvel at Palin's business acumen?

Palin put it on ebay, but it didn't sell there. Subsequently sold by a broker, reports CNN. Also seems the legislature refused to fund, so sale may have been Palin's only option when she reached office.

I think this analysis of the McCain narrative is seriously missing the point.

"I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's." This is the emotional heart of McCain's story. His redemption after the ultimate submission of his ego. This speech was McCain's confession of his weakness (self-regard) and the release as he accepts the sacrifice to the greater power - his country.

The maverick narrative plays at another level, easily left aside the rest of the time. The warm up acts all pounded on the POW / hero / country-first framework and elevation, but it was all a build up to McCain's confession of the moment when his spirit broke, when he was weak.

It might seem a stretch to read a parable of Jesus into the McCain narrative as it is being deployed, but based on the evidence I don't think so.

Hilzoy, I think those excerpts also show how deft Obama is as a speechwriter, weaving his own narrative into that of the rest of the country. He compares himself to people he's met, telling their story at the same time as his.

I understand he wrote his own speech. True?

Driving around today, the thought struck me: they are going to try to make the claim for McCain based on the idea that he is more deserving of the presidency than Obama, because of his life's story.

And I think a lot of voters may not pause to question why they should think of their choice any differently than this framing.

"And I think a lot of voters may not pause to question why they should think of their choice any differently than this framing."

And that's how President Bob Dole beat Bill Clinton.

I understand he wrote his own speech. True?

Obama has speechwriters, but, according to them, the writing process is collaborative; Obama usually writes the first draft himself, then the speechwriters go over it, then Obama revises.

Of course, they'd have an incentive to say this to talk up their boss, so take it as you would any statement emanating from a political campaign. I do think it's plausible.

“Your responsibility is to put your family first,” [said Gutman].

“So you’re saying she’s not putting family first,” Ingraham said.

“Absolutely not,” Gutman said. “If you take a daughter who’s got this emotional strife and subject her to the most intense scrutiny of the world at this time in her life, I think you’ve put your career above your family.”

Obama spokesman Bill Burton, asked to respond to Gutman’s remarks, said “Obviously these comments do not reflect our frequently stated views that families of the candidates should be off limits.”

Great strategy by Obama. Send your people out to bad-mouth Palin. But then claim they are not speaking for you. Most people would call that two-faced, but none of those people would be posting here.

If he can't control his own people I can't wait to see him negotiating foreign policy.

Which is worse? Playing the patriotism card or the race card? That comparison could be instructive, also.

Which is worse? Playing the patriotism card or the race card?

I'd vote for "being a trouble-stirring troll," myself.

Need to make a comparison, dr ngo. Something like "Which is worse, being clueless or being a jerk?" would probably work.

It may or may not matter, but one statement up there made me wonder if you tallied how many sentences per speech were negative statements directed at the opponent.

I realize that pointing out the weaknesses of your opponent is a strategically important part of the campaign (so much easier when you can lower the bar for what's expected of you by making your opponent look like a terrible choice), but I'm tending to think of a campaign as more of an extended job interview, and the point of an interview is to point out what you bring to the table. Most employers would view a potential employee who focuses on disparaging remarks about the others being interviewed, rather than the skills and abilities they themselves possess, as someone who's not a team player and will cause internal problems later.

I would love to see that type of thought reflected in a campaign situation, but I realize that I'm hopelessly idealistic.

Another comparison.

There are plenty of comparisons, but the one mentioned by the troll is kind of funny, since the McCain campaign has played both and the Obama campaign neither.

I don't think that patriotism is a card.

"Playing a card" means using something that you are given and the other party has not been given like an ace of spades in a game of Hearts.

Sometimes it means claiming the other party is using a card: McCain can claim that Obama is playing the "I'm Black card" (falsely) as a backdoor way of playing his "I'm white" card.

But I don't believe that patriotism is a card some people have and some people don't.

Jingoism, on the other hand...

Of course anything Obama does is good and anything McCain does is bad.

That was the point. I was trying to point out that there is no bias and everyone is just stating the obvious or being rational.

Need to make a comparison, dr ngo. Something like "Which is worse, being clueless or being a jerk?" would probably work.

I would go with being lj

Tom criticizes Mr. Obama for not firing Mr. Gutman. Tom, I think you're jumping the gun here. Mr. Obama has had less than 24 hours to respond to this situation; if he does take action against Mr. Gutman, you'll be eating crow. I suggest that you give him a bit more time before drawing conclusions.

Tom also writes: Of course anything Obama does is good and anything McCain does is bad.

I think you're overstating the case. There has been a lot of criticism of Mr. Obama's vote on immunity for telecomms.

But what I'm most surprised by is this statement: I was trying to point out that there is no bias and everyone is just stating the obvious or being rational.

And what, I ask, is bad about being rational?

Re: OCSteve's link

80% of the American people think the country is on the wrong track and he is shocked! shocked I tell you! that Obama has a lot of negative statements in his speech.

I would go with being lj

Well, being the concern troll didn't work out, so I guess you gotta go with something.

"If he can't control his own people I can't wait to see him negotiating foreign policy."

Can McCain control you?

"I would go with being lj"

I'd go with this violating the posting rules by not being reasonably civil, and by disrupting or destroying meaningful conversation for its own sake, and by your consistently abusing and vilifying other posters for its own sake, and I believe you lose.

Hopefully The Kitty is going to re-ban toml bril soon.

bye, toml.

rick:It might seem a stretch to read a parable of Jesus into the McCain narrative

rick, if you mean a parable told by Jesus, I suppose it would be the Prodigal Son. On the other hand you may be referring to s larger narrative arc describing the process of personal redemption or even, parabolically, the narrative of national redemption exemplified in Isaiah’s ‘wounding and healing’.

But this is not at all obscure. I personally have no doubt it was carefully incorporated into the speech’s framework as a means of identifying himself as one of the Evangelical base.

The issue is one of honesty and plain speaking, ‘Straight Talk’ in McCain-speak. He is claiming the inner truth of personal redemption; a confession of faith.

Warnings against false claims occur repeatedly throughout the New Testament, indeed the entire Bible. The most succinct standard of judgment is “by their fruits shall ye know them”.

By that standard McCain’s claims are false.

LJ: …he is shocked! shocked I tell you! that Obama has a lot of negative statements in his speech.

As I posted the link w/o comment you’re putting words into my mouth here. FWIW, I still found Palin’s to be much more vicious in tone.

OCSteve, determining what's an attack can be tricky, and of course not all attacks are equal. The reaction to Palin isn't about the number of negative statements but about their nastiness. Lindgren is counting Obama "attacks" like "I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine."

KCinDC: The reaction to Palin isn't about the number of negative statements but about their nastiness.

Me: I still found Palin’s to be much more vicious in tone.

Are we in disagreement somehow?

The "he" is Volokh, not you OC. Apologies for not making that clear.

And the notion of the incumbent campaign having to be negative about their record at all brings to mind the Daily Show's line about the Republican convention/McCain campaign: "Restoring Honor and Dignity to the White House"

Whoops, Lindgren, not Volokh

LJ: Thanks for the clarification. I was thinking you must be in a bad mood today or something. ;)

Are we in disagreement somehow?

We're cool. I was replying to your 10:26, not your 12:05, which I hadn't seen yet. And my point was really about Lindgren, not you.

Has there EVER been a time when McCain hasn't benefited from a double standard about his POW days? He reaps much praise for supposed "reluctance" to talk about his POW suffering, but manages to mention it with great regularity, often dragging it in out of left field when answering questions on totally unrelated topics. McCain hasn't yet gone quite so far as Giuliani -- whose platform was aptly dismissed by Biden as "a noun, a verb, and 911" -- but he's getting pretty close.

What's more appalling is the way McCain tells flat-out LIES about the record of his opponent or his running mate. Examples:

-- LYING ABOUT OPPONENT: McCain said that Obama has NEVER reached across the aisle to accomplish any substantive legislation. Of Obama's many bi-partisan accomplishments, perhaps the most significant is the Lugar-Obama non-proliferation initiative, passed in January 2007 and followed by funding in June 2007. This initiative probably does more in a practical way to keep WMD out of the hands of terrorists than 1,000 threats to "chase Osama Bin Laden to the gates of Hell".

-- LYING ABOUT RUNNING MATE: McCain lauded Palin as a reformer who fought wasteful Washington earmarks. In fact, she's been dubbed the "Queen of Earmarks in the Earmark State."

In 2008 (based on data from the Citizens Against Goverment Waste, while the AVERAGE state received about $34/person in earmarks, Alaska hauled in $556/person. And in 2000-2003, under the Palin administration, Wasilla (pop. 5,500) received an eye-popping $1,000/person.

Did some liberal bureacrat FORCE that largesse on Palin against her will? Nope. She went out and hired a lobbying firm to beg for goodies for Wasilla, and even traveled to Washington herself to do the begging in person.

Hilariously, some of the individual earmarks that McCain once singled out as particularly egregious went to Wasilla while Palin was mayor. And of course, while Governor Palin made a big public show of rejecting the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" PROJECT once it became politically expedient to do so, she didn't actually reject the MONEY (keeping it for "other purposes").

Wonder how it will play in some battleground states when voters discover that Little Miss Congeniality kept taxes low in Alaska by scooping up more than her fair share of taxes from other states? Thus Alaska (#16 in per-capita INCOME, and awash in cash from oil royalties) receives 20 times more earmarks than Pennsylvania (#20 in income; $21/person in earmarks) and 30 times more earmarks than Ohio (#29 in income; $18/person in earmarks).

No wonder the GOP wants to shift the attention onto Palin's pregnant daughter, so nobody will pay attention to the realities of her record.

What's particularly galling is that McCain's LIES are not one-time statements made in ad-lib responses to questions on the campaign trail. They are part of SCRIPTED speeches and talking points, and he REPEATS them even after critics point out his errors.

McCain clearly wants to be President very badly. Perhaps he has a Messianic belief that only he can protect us from all the dangers lurking in the world today, and therefore believes that noble end justifies any means.

MandyW: "Has there EVER been a time when McCain hasn't benefited from a double standard about his POW days? He reaps much praise for supposed "reluctance" to talk about his POW suffering, but manages to mention it with great regularity, often dragging it in out of left field when answering questions on totally unrelated topics."

From John McCain Revealed (transcript):

KING:...In early 1982, the house minority leader and veteran Republican Congressman John Rose announced he was retiring. Within hours, John McCain bought a house in Tempe in Arizona's first congressional district.

McCain was an underdog, but one with the benefit of the Hensley family's money and political connections. Not to mention his trademark tenacity.

MCCAIN: Every day, first thing in the morning, I'd be out there knocking on doors, and do it literally all day long.

J. SMITH: The temperature is over 100 degrees every day, sometimes up to 150. And he knocked on 20,000 Republican doors in that heat.

KING: Critics called him a carpetbagger, that he had no ties to the community. Attacks would come at every candidate forum. Then one night, McCain veered from his usual answer about Arizona being full of newcomers and talked about his life as a Navy brat and officer.

J. SMITH: He walked to the edge of the stage and said, pal, we tend to move around a lot. I would love to have, you know, grown up in a nice place like Arizona, but I was doing other things and they were important things.

And he said, now that I think of it, the longest place I've ever lived in was Hanoi. And there was silence for about 15 seconds. And then a thunderous applause and a standing ovation. And nobody ever asked that question of him again.

No, there really hasn't.

The temperature is over 100 degrees every day, sometimes up to 150.

More innumeracy from a McCain supporter. The highest recorded temperature in Arizona was 128 °F, and that was after McCain was in the Senate. The highest temperature ever recorded on earth seems to be 136 °F, in Libya.

In line with Rick's comment, McCain's speech wasn't just about himself. He was working within the framework of a captivity narrative, where the protagonist is trapped in a decadent culture and tempted by its corruption, but his faith and moral strength are refined by resisting temptation. First he's held captive by the Vietnamese, tempted, and redeemed by a power greater than himself. Then it repeats with American political corruption taking the place of the Vietnamese in the story.

It's a familiar story form for the conservative base and the genre has close ties to spiritual autobiography. Anyone with an evangelical background will at least recognize the core themes, even if he never declares faith in God, but only in a country "under God."

To clarify -- "Wasn't just about himself" = there's more going on here than simple autobiography/memoir.

felix, nous - my only exposure to biblical narratives is through art history, so thank you for helping in identifying the specific testament parallels to the McCain hagiography.

I wholeheartedly agree that McCain (and the GOP message team) contradicts himself deliberately and defiantly, which has to be judged with cynicism. My main concern: why is that tactic successful?

My suspicion, based purely on what I see online, is that most people who vote have aligned themselves with a party and almost reflexively accept and rebroadcast arguments that support the party line. My team forever, 'red meat', etc. Sometimes it takes skill to completely reverse an argument, hence the rise of the pundits and the frenzy around Palin's introduction, when some pretty major themes got reversed within a matter of hours. Exciting!

But the religious framework is on another level, where belief is paramount and unassailable (unless your choice for VP is Lieberman - whoops, wrong temple). Arguments about earthly 'noise and static' can be safely disregarded if you can tap into the feelings of belief.

Belief is also reinforced by tribalism, where the identity (aka 'values') of one group is portrayed as an attack by outsiders, but tribalism is employed by all parties.

No, for me, the pitch to the Christian base is clear:
- the rejection of Lieberman
- the 'elevation' of Palin
- Rick Davis' acknowledgment of identity ("composite view") over issues
- the hagiography of McCain brought to a narrative climax in his fall and redemption

(I've been looking for non-partisan discussions of the political and media science behind the campaigns, if anyone has recommendations.)

"I was replying to your 10:26, not your 12:05, which I hadn't seen yet."

There's a reason ARPANet rapidly evolved the standard, thirty-plus years ago, which was passed on to Usenet, but mostly apparently lost when newbies came to AOL and the Web cold, of quoting at least a line of that which one is replying to.

"More innumeracy from a McCain supporter."

In fairness, it's quite possibly just a transcription error of "115," which it easily does get up to in Arizona summer, and which I assure you, having spent an un-airconditioned July and August in Phoenix in 1978, isn't fun.

On the bright side, just think of how many future presidents of their countries we might be inculcating at Guantanamo! I haven't heard the McCain campaign raise this argument, and I'm surprised they haven't thought of it. Always look on the bright side of life, sez me! Make lemonade out of lemons!

Being a P.O.W. and tortured makes you presidential material! We're just doing our part to help many countries that need future leadership!

"My suspicion, based purely on what I see online, is that most people who vote have aligned themselves with a party and almost reflexively accept and rebroadcast arguments that support the party line."

Sure. And most people who tend to support a party tend to find its arguments and perspectives persuasive, and tend to give it and its candidates and supporters the benefit of the doubt. And the stronger a supporter you are, the more you do so. It's almost tautological.

Similarly, the more "independent" your pride yourself on being, the more you may tend to make false equivalencies, just to demonstrate to yourself and others How Independent you are. People use shortcuts in thinking: it's inevitable. The key is to try to watch out to not do it to excess, and to remain skeptical of one's own assumptions.

Gary, why do you think the administration is so reluctant about releasing tortured inmates from Gitmo?* Too many potential presidents that are unbroken in soul despite broken in body and not overly friendly towards US goals and gaols. I don't know the Son of Cain's current position on Gooknam** but I guess that not many from there are on his Christmas card list.

*Yes, I know, a lot were released in reality and some of those were not intimidated enough to keep silent about it but why spoil such a nice rhetorical question? ;-)
**sarcasm not racism on my part

KCinDC: More innumeracy from a McCain supporter. The highest recorded temperature in Arizona was 128 °F, and that was after McCain was in the Senate. The highest temperature ever recorded on earth seems to be 136 °F, in Libya.

That might be a transcription error, KC. He might have said 115, not 150.

Oh, Gary got there first, I see. It pays to skim the rest of the thread a little more slowly, I guess.

Re McCain's self-centeredness, I noticed that during his speech too. It's not just some kind of statistical artifact, I wasn't counting sentences or minutes, but I sure noticed that he basically spent the first quarter talking about his family tradition, and the last talking about his imprisonment, torture, and redemption through love of America. None of which told me anything at all about his judgment, ability, practical experience, or plans.

The remainder didn't help much with that -- bromides and generalities, unspecified promises to change things and shake them up, which seemed inherently unlikely from such an insider. He does sound more serious about deficits than he has acted lately, and that would be good, but that's pretty thin gruel.

I'm sure people ate it up -- we are living in a time of self-absorption. Revival-tent confessions, twelve-step testimony, memoirs, etc. But the funny thing is, it's mostly people of McCain's generation who decry that Boomer/GenX narcissism.

80% of the American people think the country is on the wrong track and he is shocked! shocked I tell you! that Obama has a lot of negative statements in his speech.

Hilzoy's and Lindgren's findings are consistent, and together suggest that McCain is having a tough time making himself the change candidate - rhetoric aside. It also suggests why Palin's speech, while not unusually sarcastic or negative, is being received as very sarcastic and negative -- including by those who have some sympathy for McCain's position (here, unfortunately, n= only 2: OCSteve and me.)

Two premises:

1. You expect the "experience" candidate to focus on himself. Contra Hilzoy, that's not me-centric. That's what it means to be the experience candidate. You're selling your experience.

2. You expect the "change" candidate to focus on his opponent via negative attack. That doesn't mean that the "change" candidate is necessarily a negative campaigner. But the change candidate is selling the fact that he or she is not the other guy.

Hence, McCain's speech has a lot of "me" in it, and Obama's speech is quite negative. Unless you focus on the numbers, however, it doesn't feel that way because you expect McCain to sell himself and you expect Obama to attack.

Enter Palin. By Lindgren's count, Obama's speech was both more sarcastic and significantly more negative than Palin's speech. But it's Palin who is perceived as negative and sarcastic. I submit that's because Palin is playing against type: negative attacks from the "experience" candidate have a disproportionate impact.

The bottom line: To me, McCain remains in a very tough spot. As the "experience" candidate, I suspect that he is going to be punished if he goes negative. But Obama may have an opportunity to go negative without seeming to do so.

McCain is justified in talking about his career of public service, and it was fair enough until 10 days ago to contrast this with Obama's relative inexperience. This was one of the main Republican points of attack before the Palin selection. And people have demanded more information about Palin, so she would probably have been castigated if she had remained silent about herself.

Of course putting the Palin selection together with the "I have more experience" line adds up to massive hypocrisy, and there is no doubt that Republicans want to focus on anything but real issues.


Hilzoy's and Lindgren's findings are consistent, and together suggest that McCain is having a tough time making himself the change candidate

That's a fair point, but I don't think that Lindgren made the claim that Obama was more sarcastic than Palin, the count he had of sarcasm was Palin 1 Obama 3, which would be pretty weak for argumentation. I'd also suggest that Lindgren is narrowing the definition of sarcastic in a way that reduces Palin's count. I mean, Lindgren argues that sarcasm can only be a statement that one knows is not true, uttered for ironic effect. But the more general definition of sarcasm is any kind of wit that bitter, caustic and cutting. To take Lindgren's first three examples, Lindgren says

1. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities.

(Here I think Palin is being playful, but she means what she says.)

Looking into Palin's soul, she is actually saying what she thinks, but Obama can't be telling the truth?

2. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening. We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.

(Palin is using understatement here.)

Understatment therefore makes it unsarcastic?

3. Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems — as if we all didn't know that already. But the fact that drilling won't solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all.

It's a remarkably narrow definition of sarcastic to say that the line 'as if we all didn't know that already' is unsarcastic. Especially when you couple it with the pause and smirk she delivered that line and the others with (though it might have been the Fargo-like accent that I am responding to).

Also, (and I am not trying to restart a fight, but if Palin has 60 days to show the American people who she is, I hope we get to discuss that fact rather than be like Alec strapped to a chair in Clockwork Orange), but how can Palin not play against type? How could she legitimately argue that she is an 'experience' candidate? A lot of her experience depends on redefining the whole concept of experience. It is inherently subjective (I know tons of people who have a lot of Japan experience, if you accept living on Japanese soil is experience, but for all practical purposes, have virtually no experience). Interestingly, Zywicki has this post that argues we vastly underestimate governors and they have to make the tough decisions. Given that there is a perpetual surplus in Alaska, I'm wondering how tough decisions are manifest up there.

I hadn't looked at Volokh for a long time, but it's interesting to see the various bloggers go at things (while others studiously ignore them) the various strands getting pulled and the things that are being ignored, often at cross purposes. I predict that the place will be a Gordian knot by the election. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it will be virtually impossible to disentangle the various ideas.

" if he goes negative" -- ?

80% of the American people think the country is on the wrong track and he is shocked! shocked I tell you! that Obama has a lot of negative statements in his speech.

That's fair, LJ. Focusing on sarcasm also ignores the more salient point that one can be negative without being sarcastic. The more important finding is that Palin was perceived as more negative than Obama when, in fact, she was less negative.

but how can Palin not play against type? How could she legitimately argue that she is an 'experience' candidate? A lot of her experience depends on redefining the whole concept of experience.

It's going to be tough for McCain, but he's counting on the 1 v. 2 distinction: People vote for the top of the ticket, not the bottom. Moreover, every time Obama compares his experience to Palin, directly or implicitly, it diminishes Obama -- which is why Obama has smartly stopped doing it.

OTOH, no one said that this would be easy for McCain.

Hilzoy:

" if he goes negative" -- ?

There's a difference between negative attacks and "going negative". Both sides have engaged in negative attacks; Obama moreso than McCain. But I don't think it's fair to say that either side has "gone negative" yet. (Compare Bush v. Kerry in '04, or Bush v. McCain in '00.)

(I realize that it can feel like one side has gone negative when it's your candidate being attacked.)

von: Both sides have engaged in negative attacks; Obama moreso than McCain

Oh-kay.

You've asserted in recent threads that when Obama criticizes McCain's policies or his past speeches (like the one about "muddling through" in Afghanistan) that constitutes a "negative attack".

Whereas when McCain claims he has a monopoly on patriotism, that ...doesn't count as a negative attack by him, because it was his speechwriters who wrote that for his VP nominee to deliver at the RNC and McCain didn't actually say it out loud himself.

Trying to define negativity, especially after the recent thread, seems like a fool's errand. In Japanese (and in other languages that use elaborate politeness hierarchies), it is possible to be "negative" simply by switching from a causal to a polite form of address, which makes the social distance between the two people much greater. (a Japanese friend pointed out that being able to do this obviates the need for really harsh expletives, so that the most explosive word is either omae (in front of me) or kisama (which was a word that the nobility used for you, but is now seen in yakuza films indicating that there's going to be a rumble)

I'm sure some people think when Obama highlights his single mother upbringing that he is 'going negative', (reminds me of the 4 Yorkshireman's sketch), and some people think that he is going negative because his educational background makes it seem that he is snobbish (remember Rove's guy at the country club comment)

So too can be shrinking the distance, assuming that you are closer to someone then they feel you are. Biden's speeches where he refers to 'john' are probably taken as being 'negative' by many McCain supporters.

Given that, virtually anything can be claimed to be negative and it is very difficult, unless you assume a certain amount of goodwill and interpretive generosity, which is virtually impossible, it seems.

This is a better version of the sketch (with Dutch subtitles!)

Would von care to explain just what in tarnation a positive attack would be?

This question is brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

--TP

I prefer this version, LJ, and I prefer either to Von's notions of "going negative," or what constitutes a personal attack versus a policy dispute.

Interesting, Gary. Love Marty Feldman in that, but the change in cameras and cutting in off closeups was really disconcerting, especially being used to the concert versions of that sketch.

This is also a good slightly updated version.

I don't think it's hard at all to distinguish a negative statement from a positive one. Lindgren was able to do it quite easily. A negative statement is a statement about (and criticism of) your opponent. A postive statement is a statement about your own positions.

You can, of course, mix a negative statement and a positive statement.

"Going negative" is something different, as I indicated to Hilzoy. You can have a compaign that consists almost entirely of negative statements, but which doesn't "go negative. "Going negative" is also largely in the eye of the beholder.

Obama has been more negative than McCain. I don't think that's a controversial statement, and Lindgren's data bears it out.

The rest is pretty silly, and more revealing of the commentators than of me.

"The rest is pretty silly, and more revealing of the commentators than of me."

While the sketch is also pretty silly, when I say "the rest" I'm referring to the weird commentary on me.

Tony: This question is brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

Well, apparently when McCain talks about being a POW and how he has a monopoly on patriotism, Von thinks that's McCain being positive.

Whereas when Obama talks about how "a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work" - that's Obama being negative.

Isn't there also a Repetitive Department of Repetition? Did you know McCain was a POW? Only he doesn't talk about it much.

"The rest is pretty silly, and more revealing of the commentators than of me."

No, you're the doody-head.

(I figured I'd contribute an equally objective and productive observation. Mmm, this Kool-Aid is tasty.)

A positive statement is a statement about your own positions.

take
The Republicans are for winning this war on terrorism.

Is that positive or negative? When you hear it, do you naturally append 'just like the Democrats'?

"The Republicans are for winning this war on terrorism."

A positive statement.

"When you hear it, do you naturally append 'just like the Democrats'?"

Not relevant what the hearer naturally appends, which, by definition, depends on the hearer. (By the way, I would append "as do the Democrats" not "just like the Democrats" to that statement. Isn't it one of Obama's selling points that he won't do thinks just like the Republicans?)

By contrast:

"The Republicans are for winning this war on terrorism, while the Democrats won't even follow Osama to the front door of his cave" contains both a positive and a negative statement.


Well, apparently when McCain talks about being a POW and how he has a monopoly on patriotism, Von thinks that's McCain being positive.

You keep on losing this argument, Jes, because McCain never said that.

No, you're the doody-head.

I know you're trying to be light-hearted, Gary, but it is strange that I've become the topic of conversation. I imagine you probably feel the same way when you wander into a thread and find "Farberisms" being addressed.

von: You keep on losing this argument, Jes, because McCain never said that.

You keep losing this argument, Von, because you keep pretending that when McCain has his speechwriters write a speech for McCain's VP nom to deliver which claims that McCain has a monopoly on patriotism, that's not the same as McCain saying that.

Well, actually, there are a lot of other reasons why you keep losing this argument, but others are covering them admirably... and I've got to say, if I'm impressed by nothing else, I'm impressed by your persistence. Especially as I know it can't be easy for you cramming your quart-sized brain into a pint-pot of McCainery.

von, I agree that "The Republicans are for winning this war on terrorism," is a positive statement. But is it an attack?

I'm just saying that the rote phrase 'negative attack' is on a linguistic par with old Mayor Dailey's famous attribution of rising crime to 'young juveniles'.

--TP

von; I imagine you probably feel the same way when you wander into a thread and find "Farberisms" being addressed.

Actually, "Farberism" is from Dave Farber. cite Gary's surname is verbed differently, when it is verbed at all.

Von,
I tend to disagree, because I don't believe you can neatly separate the context of the statement from the statement itself. I was going to do another riff off of "Brutus is an honorable man", but it would have carried the context of ridiculing your opinion so I avoided it, which is another example.

However, I would ask that you don't call me 'silly' simply because I illustrate my examples with some sketches from Monty Python and others in their tradition, not because Monty Python is serious, but because I thought it was the best illustrations of how communication principles work are ones that make the point with humor.

I'm just saying that the rote phrase 'negative attack' is on a linguistic par with old Mayor Dailey's famous attribution of rising crime to 'young juveniles'.

How about "negative statement" then?

Actually, "Farberism" is from Dave Farber. cite Gary's surname is verbed differently, when it is verbed at all.

Fair enough.

I tend to disagree, because I don't believe you can neatly separate the context of the statement from the statement itself. I was going to do another riff off of "Brutus is an honorable man", but it would have carried the context of ridiculing your opinion so I avoided it, which is another example.

Actually, LJ, we're now coming full circle to our original discussion. "Brutus is an honorable man" is an example of sarcasm, which(1) is a negative statement (because you mean the opposite of what you say) and (2) can be difficult to define. But it's not usually that difficult.
....

"but it would have carried the context of ridiculing your opinion so I avoided it, which is another example."

Of a clearly negative statement. The fact that you say there's another (or a) negative statement you could make, but don't say what it is, is still a negative statement. So, e.g.:

"I want to stay on the high road, so I won't get into my opponent's philandering ways"

is clearly negative.

Actually, "Farberism" is from Dave Farber... Gary's surname is verbed differently, when it is verbed at all.

It changes when its reverbed, however reverbing only works with those who have achieved renoun.

"Gary's surname is verbed differently, when it is verbed at all."

See here and here.

Actually, LJ, we're now coming full circle to our original discussion.

Von, I will pass on ownership of this discussion. My original point was addressing your statement that

By Lindgren's count, Obama's speech was both more sarcastic and significantly more negative than Palin's speech.

And I pointed out that Lindgren was using a rather narrow definition of sarcastic that might be appropriate for a linguistic dissertation, but not for the general use of sarcasm. If you acknowledge that I am being reasonable in holding that sarcasm has a more general meaning than Lindgren, (which doesn't mean that you have to agree with the opinion, just simply acknowledge that I am not wrong in holding that opinion), then you might see why I disagree with your formulation.

your argumentation
"Of a clearly negative statement. The fact that you say there's another (or a) negative statement you could make, but don't say what it is, is still a negative statement.

Not only misunderstands the point I was making, but undercuts your reasoning. My point is noting that the 'X is an honorable man' is not to deliver a negative statement against you but give a clear example of a positive statement in isolation that is a negative statement in fact. By pointing this out, I am not making a negative statement (persumably against you), I am simply trying to demonstrate how context works. I read this as you thinking that I am trying to smuggle in a negative statement, where I feel like I am trying to step back and discuss the ramifications of context. I don't believe there is anything 'clearly negative' about the phrase 'Brutus is an honorable man' in isolation, but if you adopt Lindgren's analysis, you get to treat sentences as atomic monads that have some clearly positive or clearly negative charge. Which is not how language works.

Shorter me: It is not only what you say, it is how, when, where and why you say it. And who you say it to.

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