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Slips of the Tongue from Politicians:

Mark Liberman at Language Log has an excellent analysis of politicians' slips of the tongue, focusing on this item from ABC News:

When introducing his running mate, Obama said, "So let me introduce to you the next president - the next vice president of the US of America, Joe Biden."

And then when it was Biden's turn to speak, the Delaware senator called the presumptive Democratic nominee "Barack America" instead of Barack Obama.

"My friends, I don't have to tell you, this election year the choice is clear. One man stands ready to deliver change we desperately need. A man I'm proud to call my friend. A man who will be the next president of the United States, Barack America," Biden said, per ABC News' Sunlen Miller.

Liberman points to particular linguistic reasons why these particular kinds of slips are commonplace, and concludes — rather more categorically and forcefully than I would, but on balance basically soundly — with this:

With respect to speech-production blunders all across the political [spectrum], our perspective has been consistent[]. Everyone commits speech errors, even professional talking heads, and anyone who makes a big deal about particular examples is either a fool or a hypocrite. Since fatigue, stress, and complex ideas all promote speech errors, you can depend on political rhetoric to provide plenty of occasions for foolishness and hypocrisy.

Viceroy:
Biden's inability to properly pronounce Obama's name is helpful for Obama. It says: hey look, here's someone like you (millions of other Americans who can't pronounce Obama's name or who find it uncommon) who is allied with me.
8.25.2008 7:56pm
Anonymous #343:
He can pronounce the name, he was just trying to say "black American."
8.25.2008 8:07pm
Jimmy S:
Preferable to "Barack Osama", no?
8.25.2008 8:09pm
Malvolio:
And of course, everyone remembers "Barney Fag".
8.25.2008 8:12pm
fortyninerdweet (mail):
Viceroy may be correct, but it could also say, "Look, here's another old white guy who can't pronounce my name" and in that way remind voters of differences they may have with him. Sometimes differences = negatives.
8.25.2008 8:13pm
Not Ace:
Another theory:
In their joint campaign appearance, Biden referred to Obama as either " Barack Emir" or " Barack Amer--" Some people, including me, thought maybe he attempted to say "Barack America," but stopped himself.

I think I have the explanation.

First, note that what he said wasn't "Barack America." For one thing, he stopped himself after the second syllable. For another, the accent and vowel-pronunciation was wrong. He said something closer to "Emir."

So, what did he almost call Obama? The Poet Laureate of New Jersey is in the news periodically, most recently for writing a "poem" asking "Who told all the Jews to stay home that day?" (On 9/11.) He also wittily asked "What kind of Skeeza is Condoleeza?"

The poet's name, of course, is Ameri Baracka.
8.25.2008 8:44pm
loki13 (mail):
Not Ace-

No, not really. That's real, uh, interesting. Maybe Biden was saying "Amar Baraka" referring to Akil Amar Reed, referring to a possible Supreme Court Nominee. Or maybe he was saying "Amen Baraka" because he's the chosen one. Or maybe the aliens had briefly taken control of his brain.

Why, oh why, do I read these comments? The difference between some of these posts and LFG/DK is nigh indistinguishable.
8.25.2008 8:49pm
Ted the Guest (mail):
@loki13: The way to distinguish these comments is turn on your satire detector. If the needle moves, you're on TVC not LFG/DK
8.25.2008 9:14pm
Convenient:
These studies seem to come out at convenient times. When its a republican who exhibits slips of the tongue, we get "Bushisms" as evidence of lack of intelligence. When a Democrat comes along with the same problem, its "Oh, well, it doesn't mean anything, everyone does it."

When it looked like the Democrats were a lock on the Presidency, all of the sudden academics were proposing a "cease fire" in the judicial confirmation wars.

These all remind me of the "homeless rediscovery" watch from Opinion Journal.
8.25.2008 10:04pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Convenient: You may have noticed that the Language Log post asserted that "With respect to speech-production blunders all across the political [spectrum], our perspective has been consistent." Did you by any chance check the post, which linked to some earlier posts on the subject? Or if you didn't do that, did you Google "language log" bushism to see what was said by Prof. Liberman on Language Log about this?

After all, if you're going to accuse someone of partisanship — especially an academic who claims to be nonpartisan in his observations on this particular subject — you ought to make sure you've got the goods on him, right?
8.25.2008 10:18pm
loki13 (mail):
Ted-

From another thread on TVC . . .


I'm sure you intend this as satire, but given the evidence that his Hawaii birth certificate is forged, it's an open question where precisely Barack Hussein Obama was born.


you see why my satire detector isn't always effective, unless this is self-parody.
8.25.2008 10:31pm
David Warner:
Hate to break it to you, Loki, but you've got your own blind spots. I have no doubt you could drive a truck through mine. Some forbearance wouldn't be ill-applied.
8.25.2008 11:17pm
loki13 (mail):
I have many blindspots, I just don't have forbearance for those who use Obama's middle name as a signifier (if they are in the habit of always posting middle names, I can excuse them, as I excuse certian publications for referring to the lead singer of U2 as Mr. Vox). Nor do I truck much in conspiracy theories, whether it be the caliphate/birth certifacters or 9/11 truthers.

Sometimes, the truth isn't out there. It's right here, staring you in the face, 'cuz we all know it.
8.25.2008 11:41pm
ak47pundit (www):
Loki13

You like this guy's use of his middle name as a signifier?
It's conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, 'This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he's not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush,'

-Barack Obama The Atlantic Interview
8.26.2008 11:13am
loki13 (mail):
ak47pundit-

Yeah,

I have my sunsription to the Atlantic. Not too sure about Mad Swine. Breathlessly awaiting their coverage of the birth certficate "controversy".

I love out of context quotes that aren;t germane to the conversation, don't you?
8.26.2008 11:24am
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
All slips deserve to be looked at to see if they actually reveal mental associations that the speaker wishes to conceal. However, 90% of the time such slips are unimportant. Putting too much emphasis on them is a mark of a person who doesn't have a better argument.
8.26.2008 12:28pm
Sub Specie AEternitatis (mail):
Loki,

of course everybody who uses Sen. Obama's middle-name does it in order to suggest his foreignness or association with certain enemies of the United States.

Is this a powerful or intellectually sound argument? Of course not. It's probative value is, at best, quite weak. The ignorant however may overestimate its value.

My question to you is: why is this particular weak argument so outrageous to you and many progressives that it needs to stomped upon and requires anybody who makes it to be cast into the Outer Darkness?

It can't be that this sort of school-yard-level middle-name-based logic is just beyond the pale of political discourse.

Several of Sen. Obama's Democratic colleagues, friends, and supporters have used the same silly trope against Republicans with almost no peep from the Right and none at all from the Left.

For example, Sen. Webb in his recent successful campaign and universally hailed campaign constantly used the incumbents otherwise rarely-used middle name "Felix" and added a completely fictitious "III" at the end of his name. Obviously, he did so in order to ascribe a certain level perhaps prissiness or upperclassness or even Jewish heritage.

For another, Sen. Harkin in his presidential campaign, at the time against the incumbent first president Bush, consistently referred to him as "George Herbert Walker Bush" with a long, taunting emphasis on the rarely-used (particularly in the days before the second president Bush) middle names. Clearly he did so for the same reason (minus the Jewish part).

So, should these two Senators be held in the same contempt as anybody who dares taunt Sen. Obama with his middle name? Or is this only a capital offense when directed at the Democratic Messiah Whose Name Shall Not Be Taken In Vain?
8.26.2008 12:33pm
loki13 (mail):
Sub Specie,

I don't know what Hillary Clinton's middle name is. I don't know what John McCain's midle name is. It so happens that Obama shares a middle name that is both a) moslem and b) shared with the last name of the dictator we recently overthrew in Iraq.

It's interesting that the substantive posts I see criticizing him call him simply "Obama" or "BO" (which, in and of itself, is fully if you think about it) but whenever the truly unhinged posts start (restoring the calipahte, secret training at the madrassa, closet molsem, forget birth certificate in Hawaii) we see his full name. Not Mr. Obama. Not Obama. Not Barack.

The use of his middle name tells us a lot; it says- ignore this post, I like unsourced conspircy theories that support my worldview, and I'm a rigthwing version of a 9/11 truther.

Heard any good Foster/Clinton stoies recently?
8.26.2008 12:45pm
loki13 (mail):
Correction- just remembered Rodham.
8.26.2008 12:46pm
Sub Specie AEternitatis (mail):
Loki,

so do I understand you correctly to say that the use of Sen. Obama's middle name, even knowing how some unwise people will draw wrong inferences from it, is not particularly offensive or worthy of condemnation? That the usage's main implication is as a signal that the remainder of the comments are probably silly?

If so, I don't think we necessarily disagree. However, if you do think that this usage is particularly heinous and worthy of condemnation, you have not explained why Sens. Webb and Harkin should not be equally condemned.
8.26.2008 12:56pm
loki13 (mail):
Sub specie,

No. As I wrote, if the source always posts middle names (its their policy) I would have no problem with it. But when I see a post that reads, basically, "McCain does X while (BHO or barrack HUSSEIN obama) does y)" I learn more about the poster than about the post.

Actually, I learn something about the post. I learn that the post is filled with useless, frothing information.

As for your other question, I find the two issues distinguishable. As for how Webb chose to describe himself- that's his business. Branding in politics and all that. James/Jim, middle name or not (John Fitzgerald Kennedy, anyone?). Harkin's use is more deplorable, assuming that GHWB did not refer to himself as that (I am uncertain, as he did have a son, even if not famous, who shared his name, and my fledgling memory is so corrupted by the last 8 years that I cannot recall a time when the elder bush was simply "George Bush").
8.26.2008 1:14pm
loki13 (mail):
As another exmple, if an article about Obama began,

"Obama, born Barack Hussein Obama in gorgeous Hawaii, led an eventful life . . . Mr. Obama later graduated . . ." then no, I would have no problem.

After all, its the name on his birth certificate. *smile*
8.26.2008 1:17pm
ak47pundit (www):
loki13

Apparently BHO was one of the first people to put his middle name into play, by stating compare Barack Hussein Obama to George W. Bush (there is an earlier similar quote from him apart from the Atlantic that I can't find right now).

That he made it an issue and used it as a signifier of his "change' from Bush makes it fair game.

That goofballs bring it up as well with the "Barack is a muslim" thing (and don't get me started on the birth certificate rope-a-dope silliness) doesn't change the point that he introduced it into the arena. That its now somehow offlimits to mention is strange to say the least.
8.26.2008 1:22pm
Sub Specie AEternitatis (mail):
To clarify, Sen. Webb referred to then-Sen. Allen, his Republican opponent, as "George FELIX Allen III." The Felix was not commonly used and the numeral was completely fabricated. Obviously he did so for the same silly reasons that some refer to "Barack HUSSEIN Obama." However, I recall no outrage over that.

I also recall 1992, the time of Sen. Harkin's campaign, with some degree of accuracy and the senior Bush was at the time referred to by most, including himself, as just "George Bush" (the younger Bush being almost unknown to the general public at the time). Hence Sen. Harkin's usage was also gratuitous.
8.26.2008 1:23pm
loki13 (mail):
ak47pundit,

I don't know what you mean by putting something "into play". Giving an interview in the Atlantic (read by oh so many people, although I wish it was read by more) where you mention your middle name in passing hardly qualifies IMO. Regardless, if you choose to refer to him as BHO, you can expect to viewed as a nutter by many. I would expect the same if I started babbling on about McCain selling us out to the Vietnamese, or being a Manchurian candidate.

Or should I say John Sidney McCain III, the kept man whose prenuptial agreement keeps him from any ownership stake in the (7? 12?) houses his second wife (a former drug addict, who set up a charity to keep her drug addiction going) owns, a second wife he only found a period of catting around on his first wife that he ditched because she was in a car accident (and not rich) while waiting patiently for him while he was in captivity . . .

See, as soon as I busted out the name, you could ignore the rest!
8.26.2008 1:47pm
loki13 (mail):
Sub specie,

I appreciate your correction; in that case, I would place both Webb's and Harkin's use in the same category. I think there is a qualitative difference with the use of Obama's middle name, in that it goes to the whole conspiracy moslem/madrassa/caliphate worldview and reinforces it for some. I also note that McCain is not using it in his advertising. I think that is the nuclear option for McCain; he can send surrogates (not tied to closely to him) to remind voters of Obama's otherness, but if it's tied to closely to him, it could rebound and destroy him in the press.

Or maybe McCain is more honorable than the posters on these boards. I sure do hope so. He was a lot more honorable in 2000, before South Carolina destroyed him.
8.26.2008 1:55pm
Gil Milbauer (mail) (www):
What impressed me was that Obama didn't even flinch when Biden mispronounced his name.

Either he has amazing self-control, or he wasn't paying attention.
8.26.2008 3:15pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
not ace:

The Poet Laureate of New Jersey


Not that it matters much, but the person you're quoting should have been able to figure out that Amiri Baraka is not the Poet Laureate of New Jersey. He is the former Poet Laureate of New Jersey. And the person you're quoting might also make an effort to spell the person's name correctly. Especially since both of the spelling errors seem suspiciously designed to make the name fit the story. "Ameri" is closer to "America," and "Baracka" is closer to "Barack."
8.27.2008 3:12am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
ak47:

You like this guy's use of his middle name as a signifier?


Please make sure to edit the quote in such a way as to make it unlikely that readers will realize that the next sentence says this:

I think that's a perfectly legitimate perception as long as they're not confused about my unyielding support for Israel's security.
8.27.2008 3:12am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
sub:

used the incumbents otherwise rarely-used middle name "Felix" … he did so in order to ascribe a certain level perhaps prissiness or upperclassness … consistently referred to him as "George Herbert Walker Bush" with a long, taunting emphasis on the rarely-used … middle names. Clearly he did so for the same reason … should these two Senators be held in the same contempt as anybody who dares taunt Sen. Obama with his middle name?


No, they shouldn't. Because Webb and Harkin were communicating something that was true about Allen and Bush: they are children of privilege. (Allen was especially deserving of this treatment, because of his egregious phoniness. He was a rich kid from California who posed as a shitkicker from the South.) Those who use Obama's middle name are trying to communicate something false: that he's a Muslim. If so many people weren't currently trying to do exactly that, then maybe a different perspective would be warranted.

By the way, it's true that "Felix" was rarely used (before Webb did it), but it's not true that "Herbert Walker" was rarely used. Google it. It's been commonly used for a long time, even pre-1992 (at news.google.com you can search old newspapers). But this is secondary to the explanation I've already given.
8.27.2008 3:13am
Sub Specie AEternitatis (mail):
jukeboxgrad wrote:

No, they shouldn't. Because Webb and Harkin were communicating something that was true about Allen and Bush: they are children of privilege. (Allen was especially deserving of this treatment, because of his egregious phoniness. He was a rich kid from California who posed as a shitkicker from the South.) Those who use Obama's middle name are trying to communicate something false: that he's a Muslim. If so many people weren't currently trying to do exactly that, then maybe a different perspective would be warranted.


I see so use of an unflattering middle name is allowed as a shorthand the implication is true?

Well, in that case, let's Barrack HUSSEIN Obama away! It correctly implies that Sen. Obama's father was a Muslim. It correctly implies that Sen. Obama spent many of his formative years embedded in Muslim countries. It correctly implies that his personal background is very, very different from that of the average voter.

Now, whether any of these should be arguments against his candidacy is debatable. But then so is whether a wealthy upbringing constitutes an argument against a candidate.

Now, you might say that middle names can only be used if they admit of only one interpretation and that interpretation is true. If they could be misinterpreted by voters to imply an untruth, they are out of bounds!

But then, the use of Sen. Allen's and the first Pres. Bush's middle names, also--in addition to the correct interpretation that their families were well to do--were capable of a false interpretation--for example, that "Felix" was Jewish--or heavily contestable interpretations--that Sen. Allen's or Pres. Bush's policies were bad for the middle class.

So what are we left with to explain the selective outrage over the use of Sen. Obama's middle name and lack thereof with respect to Sen. Allen's and Pres. Bush's? Nothing except the usual partisan squealing--permitting Democrats everything and Republicans nothing--posturing as concern for proper form of debate.
8.27.2008 11:48am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
sub:

so use of an unflattering middle name is allowed as a shorthand the implication is true?


As far as I'm concerned, yes.

Obama's father was a Muslim … Obama spent many of his formative years embedded in Muslim countries


If that's as far as it went, I don't see that much of a problem. The problem is that the people who are doing this have another message: Obama is a Muslim.

Now, you might say that middle names can only be used if they admit of only one interpretation and that interpretation is true. If they could be misinterpreted by voters to imply an untruth, they are out of bounds!


Nice try. It's not just that "Hussein" might "be misinterpreted by voters." It's that the people wielding "Hussein" are essentially the same people who are explicitly stating the "untruth" that Obama is a Muslim. You would have a little more ground to stand on if they weren't doing this.

It correctly implies that his personal background is very, very different from that of the average voter.


It's true that "the average voter" has not managed to fulfill the American dream the way he has: to come from nowhere and make something of himself. And then manage to somehow get by with just one house and just one spouse.

were capable of a false interpretation--for example, that "Felix" was Jewish


First of all, I don't buy the premise that Felix is a Jewish name, or is understood by many people to be a Jewish name. Second, it is not false to say that Allen has a Jewish background. His mother is Jewish, which means he is Jewish by Jewish law. It is not wrong to point out his Jewish background, any more than it is wrong to point out, say, Lieberman's Jewish background. It was Allan who decided to say that pointing out his Jewish background was "making aspersions." That tells us everything we need to know about how Allen really feels about Jews.

A key difference is that we don't live in a time when many Americans consider "Jew" to be a synonym for "enemy" and "terrorist." But many Americans do indeed see "Muslim" as very close to "enemy" and "terrorist." And that's exactly the motivation behind using the word "Hussein."
8.27.2008 1:48pm
Sub Specie AEternitatis (mail):

First of all, I don't buy the premise that Felix is a Jewish name, or is understood by many people to be a Jewish name. Second, it is not false to say that Allen has a Jewish background. His mother is Jewish, which means he is Jewish by Jewish law. It is not wrong to point out his Jewish background, any more than it is wrong to point out, say, Lieberman's Jewish background.


In other words, Sen. Allen (R-VA) is just as Jewish as Sen. Obama (D-IL) is Muslim, that is only by background and the law of their faiths, but not by the faith of their hearts.

Neither of these religions is a majority faith in the United States and both encounter some religious bigotry. But slyly hinting at Sen. Allen's religious background is just good rollicking campaigning, but doing the same to Sen. Obama is a racist, bigoted speech crime. We may debate the finer theological and psephological distinctions between these faiths here at length in order to contrive a basis for the distinction.

It just seems exceedingly unlikely to me that those defending your position would instantly switch their arguments, were one to exchange the "R" and "D" labels between the good senators--which makes the display of outrage over "Barack HUSSEIN Obama" risible to all who are not already in his flock.
8.27.2008 3:32pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
sub:

Neither of these religions is a majority faith in the United States and both encounter some religious bigotry.


If the US had lost 4000 troops in the last five years fighting a war against Jews, then your comparison might be something other than deeply asinine. It would also help your comparison if you could show that Webb's supporters routinely referred to Judaism as a 'religion of evil.'

Power Line forum is a major right-wing site. It is supposedly mainstream and respectable. All the major GOP candidates set up an online presence there (in an area that's no longer online). This is a place where it's considered completely normal for a very frequent commenter to put a message like this in his sig:

Islam: Religion of Evil!


If you can show that major Dem sites are routinely hosting similar messages directed against Judaism (and without even a hint of rebuke from the administrators), then you might have some basis to claim that Webb calling Allen "Felix" is remotely similar to you calling Obama "Hussein."
8.27.2008 7:19pm