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Words

11/03/08 7:55AM By Olin Robison
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(HOST) With Election Day nearly upon us, commentator Olin Robsion is thinking about the power and symbolism of words.

(ROBISON) This presidential election campaign season does seem as though it has gone on forever.  It really will be good to have it over with - which mercifully will now be soon.

It has, among other things, underscored for me just how powerful words can be.  All too frequently, it isn't so much what a word means in the dictionary sense that matters nearly so much as what it conveys or connotes to a part of the audience.

In the power of words department, consider, for instance, the current charge that Obama is a Socialist.  This grew out of his statement along the way that he wants to spread the wealth.

Obama/Biden, on the other hand, have tried, rather successfully in my opinion, to paint McCain as "erratic" (by which they mean "unpredictable") and "irresponsible" (by which they mean like George W. Bush).

Palin says that Obama "pals around with terrorists" - which Democrats generally see as nutty - even as Joe Biden sometimes says too much.

It is doubtful, of course, that either Nieman-Macus or Saks Fifth Avenue has ever before had so much free publicity.

John McCain wants voters to see him as a latter-day Ronald Reagan, while Obama is determined to have voters see McCain as a carbon copy of - or extension of - George W. Bush.

This is all done, of course, with words; sometimes symbolically; sometimes bluntly.

The point of all this, of course, is not only do words matter, but sometimes they are means with which to turn voters either toward or away from a particular candidate.

Remember George Wallace, who said, over and over, "Let's send them a message" - which at that time was code for keeping a certain racial minority down and subservient.

Remember Eisenhower's much-repeated phrase, "I have a plan" - which was widely interpreted to mean that he had a plan for ending the Korean war.

Remember Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign - the one that got him reelected for a second term - in which he repeatedly said that "It is morning in America."  There is no evidence that he had any substance to back it up.  But the fact that he said it over and over seemed to make it true.

Jimmy Carter had a number of phrases which called to mind Watergate without ever actually saying the word.

Bill Clinton talked endlessly about people who work hard and play by the rules - a clear cross-party appeal.

In most cases these words or phrases are made up by campaign managers or people who work for them.  Sometimes they are throw-away lines lacking in substance but nonetheless take on a life of their on.  A good example was after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Bush the elder spoke of there now being a New World Order - which of course didn't exist.

At the moment, the symbolism is mostly to be found in numerous references to Joe the Plumber.

There is also an attempt to tie the word "Muslim" with "Terrorist" without ever saying so.

Presidential campaigns seem ready made for this stuff.  But happily it will soon be over -- at least until next time.
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