It’s the height of campaign season in the USA, and not only the presidency but the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate seats are up for grabs. One of the most closely watched races is the competition for one of the two Senate seats from Massachusetts. Ted Kennedy had held it for almost half a century before he died; then, thanks to massive financial support from business interests, the Republican Scott Brown won it in an upset election in 2010. Now the Democrats are aiming to reclaim “their” seat and have nominated a popular, respected and highly qualified candidate: Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor, financial expert and the one of the harshest critics of Wall Street and its deceptive machinations. In the wake of the 2008 crash Warren campaigned for the creation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and served as a Special Advisor to the President to oversee its implementation (2010-2011).
It’s no surprise that almost no one is hated by Republicans as much as Warren; she ranks right behind Obama on their blacklist. And she is targeted not only by the massive Republican financing behind Scott Brown, but also by a campaign of slander and systematic defamation such as was devastatingly deployed by the “swift-boaters” in 2004 against John Kerry, costing him his bid to deny George W. Bush a second term. Especially interesting to me as a linguist is the form of the particular venom against Elizabeth Warren. The 63-year-old Warren is divorced and remarried; she has two children and three grandchildren. For months her conservative attackers have been referring to her as “Granny Warren.”
By way of comparison: Mitt Romney is 65 years old, has five sons and 18 grandchildren. But no one has thought to call him “Grampa Romney.” He regards himself as a man in the prime of life and not as a “senior” or old man – and is presented as such. Perhaps, since the other side insists on “Granny Warren,” the Democrats should finally respond in kind and speak exclusively of “Gramps Romney.”
Unfortunately, however, the Democrats have shown themselves slow to employ linguistic or rhetorical techniques to defend their interests. George Lakoff first demonstrated that lack – and strongly lamented it – in his fascinating book Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don’t (1997). By contrast, the Republicans are masters of linguistic denigration and deception:
In their cleverly catchy glossary, the complex achievement of health care reform is contemptuously dubbed “Obamacare.” The estate tax is called a “death tax.” The movement against abortion rights calls itself “pro-life,” and the idea of providing end-of-life counselling to patients and their families is condemned as “bureaucratic death panels.” Such terms are invoked repeatedly and ubiquitously, from the Senate floor to conservative talk shows; they become an almost unchallengeable part of the political discourse and shape the public perception of issues and persons.
The Tea Party, the right-wing segment of the Republican Party, opposes the federal government as such and condemns federal regulations on principle as paternalistic control by a “nanny-state.” In the eyes of these conservative politicians the responsible adult citizen has no need of a state at all (except perhaps for national defense). It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they’re arguing for the abolition of their own jobs.
“Granny” and “nanny” – it’s not surprising that two terms for women that have to do with our supposedly most “innate” tasks of bearing and raising children should be co-opted and redefined by the Republicans as abhorrent bogeys aimed at deterring the electorate from voting for Democrats. All respect to grannies and nannies, but politics is man’s business! This crude formula is what their linguistic virtuosity finally all boils down to.
In conclusion: Grampa Romney is fully seven months older than Hillary Clinton. Should he win, may the Goddess prevent it, the hale and hearty old man will certainly try at 69 for a second term. If so, then we hope young Hillary will run against him; we’ve been waiting 20 years now – in 1992 we were already chanting, “Hillary in 96!” If Obama wins, we hope Hillary will replace him in four years. After all, the US-Americans need a “Mutti” (Mommy) too! Since they can’t have Angela, Hillary would be a terrific substitute. And if Chelsea cooperates, Hillary could even be a granny by then and accomplish all sorts of useful things with Supergrannies Pelosi and Warren in a wonderful Granny-State!
(translated and adapted for a US audience by Joey Horsley)
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