Saturday, August 13, 2011

In Praise of Name-Calling

A guest post by Jay -- Ottawa.

I was a Democrat for decades and had relatives who were Democrats for all the right reasons, justice being at the core of what they believed in.  Some of the fine works from the New Deal where I come from are crumbling from neglect.  Others are being sold off into private hands, like the architectural gem of a post office in the center of the city that was sold to a developer for a song,  It’s what we see passing away from the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society that moves us to utter epithets.
In the middle of the Clinton years I asked my local elections bureau to change my affiliation to Independent.  My values didn’t change, but the Democratic Party’s surely did.  It’s what a party stands for and what it does that are important, not its label or its history.  The Democratic Party of today is not the Democratic Party of the New Deal. The New Deal has been replaced by the Raw Deal, with Obama’s cooperation.
I voted for Obama in 2008.  He had promised to bring the Democratic Party back to its roots in the New Deal.  He was lying, we now know.  He didn’t struggle, slip and slide trying.  He just went with the flow of Wall Street money.  He betrayed his own promises to the voters.  The only serious conclusion is that he intended to deceive.  His actions since his inauguration are proof enough to millions of people who have been betrayed, thrown into want, made homeless, lost their jobs, and cut off from all those safety nets from the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society.  But don’t be too cross with Obama.  And for god’s sake don’t get labeled “Left,” which must be on the other side of the fence surrounding all loyal, card-carrying Democrats.  Actually, lots of us appreciate being lumped with the "Left," which term we don't consider an aspersion.
I am not yet the worst off among the betrayed.  It is they who have every right to call names to the people who injured them gravely.  Millions have had their life savings wiped out, with Obama’s cooperation.  Millions have been evicted from their homes, with Obama’s cooperation.  Millions have lost their jobs, and therefore their means of support, with Obama’s cooperation.  Some have lost their lives.  Is it getting serious yet?
Just look at the cast of advisors and administrators with whom he has stuffed his administration.  May we call them names for all the harm they've done?  Obama knows what he’s doing.  His ‘handlers’ don’t handle him – unless you think him an idiot, which I don’t.  It is he who runs the handlers, obviously.  Betrayals, penury, homelessness and more; but mind your tongue.  No name calling against people who kick you down the stairs.  In my opinion, making nice to him now is the most  childish thing to do.
The wars that were ongoing under Bush have been expanded, with Obama’s cooperation.  Drones and small team raids drop into a number of countries repeatedly.  If you are not aware of that, you’re not keeping up with events.  Do you suppose the people labelled "Collateral Damage" have a right to look up and call names?  Are the problems getting serious enough yet to let slip an epithet once in a while?
At home the Bill of Rights is being shredded, with Obama’s cooperation.  The three branches of government have let millions of us down repeatedly.  There’s no end in sight.  The wolves will eventually reach every door outside the gated communities of America.  But, hey, Obama’s only the leader of the Democratic Party with more corporate money in his pocket than all his likely opponents combined.
FDR called people terribly naughty names.  Tut, tut.  So did Truman and Johnson.  There was precedent for that.  Moses called people names, as did Christ.  Look it up.  Some of my favorite atheists are good at it too.  And, oh lordy, the words Mark Twain used while chewing on a cigar.
Name-calling is not childish.  Serious adults do it all the time, for good reason.  The issue is whether the crime in question deserves such rebuke.  You have my long list of particulars above.
There comes a point in human affairs when the lectures and proscriptions of Miss Manners become dilettantish and absurd -- not to mention complicit with the status quo.  And so, at times, I am obliged to conclude with a disparaging name or association.  The following is an example of the practice, with apologies to Venezuelans who invented the trope.
The Republicans and the Democrats, the Kochs and Cote, McConnell and Obama: “They’re caiman crocodiles from the same pond.”

Jay -- Ottawa

** Note to Readers: Thanks for your many astute, wonderful and thoughtful comments.  I welcome guest posts too.  These should be submitted directly to me at


Anne Lavoie said...

Well said, Jay. I couldn't agree more or state it as well. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post as usual, Jay. When we name-callers were politely admonished by Janet, I really wanted to say something but you and Anne were absolutely perfect in your respective defenses of the practice. We're all on the same team here, and I truly appreciate the civil discourse and respectful exchange of ideas among us. As for Obama and the rest of the other team, however, venomous denunciation will be the least of their worries if they continue rushing us headlong down the path of societal destruction.

-- William

Denis Neville said...

I share the same Democratic roots as Jay and also his dismay at the betrayal of its legacy. It was my mother who told me what it was like was growing up during the dust bowl and depression era. She emphasized the impact that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Deal had on making their lives better and more hopeful.

Today the social and political ideals of the New Deal have been replaced by the selective abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of our citizens under the cover of improving efficiency and cost-cutting; dismantling the safety net of social democracy - Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unions, welfare, public health services, public housing, etc..

How did this happen?

Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism is a devastating critique of our government. Wolin’s thesis was that it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a supposedly strong democracy instead of a failed one. “Inverted totalitarianism has emerged imperceptibly, unpremeditatedly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation's political traditions.”

“The genius of our inverted totalitarian system lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual. A demotion in the status and stature of the 'sovereign people' to patient subjects is symptomatic of systemic change, from democracy as a method of 'popularizing' power to democracy as a brand name for a product marketable at home and marketable abroad. The new system, inverted totalitarianism, is one that professes the opposite of what, in fact, it is. The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”

The hour is very late. The American people have not been paying attention to what has been happening. The chances that they will take the necessary and difficult actions to avoid catastrophe are quite remote. And so shall we pass into history along with the other classic totalitarian regimes – Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Bolshevik Russia.

This is what Chris Hedges means when he writes, “We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilization will blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity.”

It is all very sad and depressing, made even more so by the complicitous betrayal of FDR’s legacy by the Democratic Party.

Marie Burns said...

It depends upon what name is called. It depends on whether or not the name called is accurate. And it depends on whether or not you want to win your argument.

Yesterday, one of the usual suspects, writing on the mainly-for-lunatics* Wall Street Journal editorial pages, called President Obama an "anti-American leftist" in his lede. Obama is neither. I read no further. If that guy had anything useful or persuasive to tell me, I'll never know because he lost me at the lede. Had he labelled Obama a DINO, on the other hand, I would have read on. DINO is accurate.

So go ahead: call Boehner a fascist or McConnell a traitor or Bachmann an oinker. Whatever. Boehner isn't a fascist, McConnell isn't a traitor & Bachmann isn't porcine. Flamethrowing is childish. It demonstrates that the writer is too exasperated, too inarticulate or too lazy to make a cogent case for her/his opinions. We all -- myself included (see "lunatics" above) -- resort to name-calling, and we usually do it with plenty of provocation. But unless the flame is pretty funny, it won't win your argument and it does you no honor.

This comment may inspire some commenters here to call me names. Choose carefully.

The Constant Weader

* See "President Clinton ran a drug cartel out of backwoods Arkansas," nearly every other editorial opinion, & the vast majority of the op-eds.

Valerie said...

I agree. We are in bad shape as a country - and Obama is the reason. He is our elected leader and it is reasonable for those of us who voted for him to expect him to lead. The reason so many people responded to Dylan Rantigan's rant was because we all are angry and Rantigan eloquently expressed our frustration.

What we are looking for is someone to call it like it is - and to take a moral stand . We want someone who has the courage to name names and to welcome the hatred of the forces who are destroying our country. Instead, Obama talks out of both sides of his mouth and invites the people who are exploiting and corrupting our system of government into his cabinet and asks them to be his advisors.

This is why those of us who understand what is going on are SO ANGRY.

Denis Neville said...

Labels have faults quite apart from avoidable ugliness…

“The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”

“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”

“I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.” - George Orwell,
Politics and the English Language

Anne Lavoie said...

When negatively descriptive adjectives or nouns are used about Obama, they are claimed to be 'name-calling', but when any manner of vile words are used regarding a Republican, there is no objection or criticism of being uncivil. (Think Michele Bachmann)

I have no doubt at all that offensive words about a Republican would not stop someone, especially a Democrat, from reading a comment. It would probably get a recommend, and would be savored. You know that is the TRUTH. So I can reasonably conclude that it is not the name-calling but the person being criticized in the comment that touches the nerve.

Some of us have gone beyond the black and white, Republican vs. Democrat dichotomy of old school politics. Most of us are not writing as representatives nor defenders of the Democratic Party, especially in its current form. I myself have been Independent for years, usually but not always voting Democrat. I voted for and contributed financially to Obama.

Most importantly, those of us criticizing Obama are not trying to win an argument - we are not in a debate club, although I have noticed certain commentators desperately trying to convert us from time to time on this website.

Some of us are just trying to give courage and support to others who feel like us, so we can feel unafraid and unashamed to voice our opinions. That's how sparks turn into flames - through the TRUTH, lighting up minds and passing from person to person. Maybe that's what some of you are really afraid of.

And SO WHAT if we don't frame or state our opinion in the politically correct way? We are simply trying to speak the Truth because the corporate media will not, and most Democrats will not.

So spare us your preaching, Obama disciples. Close your eyes and skip to the next comment if the name-calling of ONLY Obama offends you, but NOT the name-calling of the Republicans, the Libertarians, the rich, or the corporations. I didn't call anyone a HYPOCRITE now, did I? Jesus would be proud.

Anonymous said...

4Runner's "Folks wagon" comment in the "Weekend at Bernie's" thread was pure comedy gold. When I finally stopped laughing, I thought "In Praise of Name-Calling" should have a little fun too. Here's a classic name-calling commercial from Orbit gum for your Sunday viewing pleasure.

-- William

Anonymous said...

@ Marie
Here's what you are: sane, brilliant, thoughtful, funny, articulate, honorable, courageous.

Everybocy else...

Here are reasons why I think some have gone so far left that they are fast approaching the right:

1. A long time reader advocated for a balanced budget amendment. No others pushed back.
2. A long time reader posited that there might be the possibly of an alliance of sorts with the Tea Party and Sardonicky readers. No readers pushed back.
3. Level of disdain (hate?) for Obama matches that of the Tea Party.
4. Bitching about a vacation is straight out of Michelle Bachmann's book.

And I agree with Janet Camp and am sorry I didn't speak up sooner in her defense.


Napoleon said...

Janet Camp has taken a lot of heat for pointing out that the statement that Obama was 'lazy' was empty of factual support, that it was merely 'name-calling of a kind heard in school yards, that she would not indulge in it, and that it could not be justified on the basis of criticisms, anger, and protests against Obama's policies and actions.

Yet, she was attacked as if she were against expressing anger, criticisms, satire, or depictions that are truthful and descriptive. Fortunately, others provided helpful insights on when certain kinds of name calling can be counter productive.

Karen Garcia said...

"Level of disdain (hate) for Obama matches that of the Tea Party?"
"So far left they are fast approaching the right"?

You obviously have not been reading this blog, except to go over it with a magnifying glass to latch onto a characterization the writer failed to back up with specific examples.

Centrism is the cult du jour, and it is a dangerous one. Centrism makes false equivalencies between the right and the left. I only wish the so-called "left" were as extreme and as vocal as the right.

New York Times writer Joe Nocera recently took heat for calling the Tea Party "terrorists" for their debt ceiling brinksmanship -- even though Mitch McConnell admitted he was holding Obama and the Democrats as hostages. Nocera felt obliged to apologize for his name-calling in his next column, unfortunately. The rule that liberal-leaning, even moderate, people must always be politically correct and never, ever spew venom in the heat of the moment, even if lives literally depend on it, is to put it bluntly, stupid. This equation of the Left with the Tea Party is just another instance of the name-calling you profess to so despise.

Valerie said...

I think we are talking about three completely different things here:

Name calling - Which is nasty, unprovoked and untrue for the purpose of hurting someone.

Calling it like we see it - Which is meant to reveal something we believe is hidden and bring it out into the light. Or to discuss an opinion that is underrepresented or unpopular.

Satire - Which is meant to speak truth to power in a humorous way. Karen does this beautifully. Some of us – and I put myself in this category – make a stab at it, but maybe not as successfully as we would like.

One of the reasons I come to this blog site is because there isn't name calling. No one here is calling Obama a “fascist pig” or something with racial overtones. To me, THAT is name calling.

We DO, however, call it the way we see it - And in the case of Obama, we see him somewhat differently. I say “somewhat” because no one who writes in to this blog site actually likes Obama or thinks that he is doing a decent job as a Democrat. There are those who see him as the Lesser of Two Evils, but those commenters all still criticising him. And might I add, are some of the most active in protesting his agenda – both with words and with feet on the ground.

It is OK that we disagree – on this issue and others – and it is good that we feel we can speak honestly to one another. We are, after all, Progressives so we think for ourselves. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are all on the same side and that, fundamentally, we agree that the injustice and exploitation that is taking place before our eyes in the name of government exists - and it angers us. Our army of informed dissenters is small. We cannot afford to lose even one soldier – or silence anyone in our own small community of progressive and compassionate thought.

Valerie said...

1. A long time reader advocated for a balanced budget amendment. No others pushed back.


2. A long time reader posited that there might be the possibly of an alliance of sorts with the Tea Party and Sardonicky readers. No readers pushed back.


3. Level of disdain (hate?) for Obama matches that of the Tea Party.


4. Bitching about a vacation is straight out of Michelle Bachmann's book.


The capital letters above are simply to delineate the Ned's comments from mine.

I don't know what happened to you, Ned. When you first came on the blog you were respectful and nice. You explained your differences with others by backing them up with logical thought. Now you are just proud of being snarky and slap down anyone who disagrees with you. And you are such an apologist for Obama that I am starting to wonder if you work for him.

Anne Lavoie said...

Ms. Camp says that referring to Obama as LAZY is name-calling, but a person who uses name-calling is LAZY, according to Ms. Burns. Does that mean that Ms. Burns is a name-caller for saying a writer is lazy by engaging in name-calling?

Making words the focus instead of addressing the real issue itself is so lazy! It must be the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

We are told that if we want to express an opinion, we have to show sufficient evidence to the jury of our peers to back it up. If we don't meet that standard, it's simply name-calling. You'd think we were in a court of law with a burden of proof. Give me a break.

Oh, and if we don't present our case with a sufficient measure of humor, as if we could all be so talented, we should probably shut up because we won't get our point across without it. Smugness and superiority are words that come to mind.

I appreciate Karen's barbs, name-calling, and wit. She is second to NONE in terms of political satire and commentary, even if she is not recognized/compensated professionally for it. Unfortunately, her kind of talent is rare. I certainly will never have it. But I do have an open mind and the courage to speak it.

To those of you who don't like political name-calling, I say "... and the Donkey you rode in on!"

Marie Burns said...

Okay, call me stupid. I've been called worse, and "stupid" might be accurate. It's kinda in the eyes of the beholder.

Mitch McConnell & his Tea Party buddies are not terrorists because terrorism imvolves acts of physical violence used to meet political ends. Except for some extremists like Sharron Angle, Michele Bachmann & Sarah Palin, who use violent language, the Republican Tea Party are not trying to bring down the government via acts of violence. They are doing so through legal means, from within. They're anarchists, subversives, saboteurs, but not terrorists. Nocera was right to apologize for his micharacterization.

As for the left not being extreme enough -- oh, it is. Chris Hedges thinks we need to take to the hills. As for the left not being vocal enough, that's true. Even when the left is vocal, as Garcia has pointed out numerous times, the MSM doesn't cover it. When you have to go to Al Jazeera to find out what's going on in New York City, you realize how remiss the MSM is. I think one way we can be more vocal is to write to our local papers and ask them to cover progressive events & demonstrations as religiously as they cover Tea Party gatherings of two or more.

Yes, we all use incendiary language, and it's a bad habit. Words matter. I stand by my original comment, even though others find it stupid.

And @ Annie Lavoie: I had to look up the expression, "... and the donkey you rode in on" to find out what was in the elliptical clause. Pretty appalling. It's safe to say I would never say such a thing to you. Your unprintable suggestion validates my original point.

Anonymous said...


My comments are pretty straightforward and much more likely to be characterized as dull and entirely lacking in wit or snark.

I understand you disagree with me. I do not understand your suspicion that I "must work for Obama". I do not, but I most certainly will vote for him. I will not be a party to turning my country over to those whose ideas are so repellant to me. You may be correct that Obama is center-right, but he is not far right. If that opinion makes me "dangerous" - so be it.

I am rather surprised that you seem most offended that I think most commenters here distain Obama to the same degree as does the Tea Party. Will this help my case? Michelle Bachmann's credo is: Obama. Will. Be. A One. Term. President. Nothing brings more cheers from the Tea Party. Isn't that exactly what most here are also hoping for? How about if I ask it the way Chris Wallace might: Raise your hand if you want Obama to have a second term. Was "hate" too strong? Let's ask...anybody here hate Obama?

It is not my intention to cause dissent. I am hopelessly outnumbered and don't relish a chewing out. I'm no match for Karen and the passion of others. Just another view.


Jay - Ottawa said...

All the visitors to Sardonicky may not be equals, but it’s best we pretend that we are. No one will know the difference. Here -- but certainly not at home – I shall not demand special position or bows of deference because of the undisputed wisdom that comes from my advanced years.

At a round table, like the one that Karen has built over the past several months for comments, we each get our turn. There may be rules but they are simple. I have found the hand of the final arbiter to be light indeed.

On the other hand, at one of those long tables you see in most boardrooms and a few blogs, there is a strict pecking order. Let’s stick to round tables and round table manners. That means you can state your view any damn way you please, passionately or coolly, with or without footnotes, but never like a Mother Superior General swooping in from the order’s headquarters over the hill to correct the nuns of a supposed daughter convent.

In return you can expect others to respond as they damn well please. As I say, don’t flash credentials and don’t lecture from the heights like a great authority or the final arbiter who sets rules and raps knuckles based on rules from “Alice in Wonderland” or some dated book of bourgeois etiquette. Savants who declare they can run circles around us should move down the hall to the Mensa meeting. Political and cultural opinions of all sorts, I think I can say, are freely shared on Sardonicky. The US holds the third largest population in the world, so it is unavoidable that we speak from different circumstances. You know, phenomenology and all that.

To hell with most rules and regulations and holier-than-thou scoldings – all of which work only to curb opinion and restrict styles of expression and diminish the spirit of democracy. As someone has already reminded us, this is not a court of law. Neither is it a convent in need of discipline from the motherhouse. Where is Mario Savio when you need him?

There once was a monk who lived on a remote island. He was said to be a holy man who loved God and his neighbor. He performed miracles. But word got back to the bishop that this monk did not know the Our Father by heart. The bishop hired a boat to ferry him to the island. The monk was indeed holy, and the bishop spent a week there, patiently helping him to memorize the Our Father. As the bishop was being rowed back to the mainland, the monk came running down to the shore, then walking upon the water towards the bishop. “How does it go again after ‘…thy kingdom come’…?” And the bishop replied: “Go back, go back. You’re OK.”

As far as I’m concerned, Karen Garcia walks on water, and I really appreciate the round table she provides in the marvelous salon called Sardonicky. She probably knows the Our Father by heart too. For my part, if I have offended anyone, I apologize. Like Chaucer’s student, gladly would I learn, and gladly teach. I hope to see everyone involved in recent discussions seated back at the round table in the following week. We have thoughts to air. As equals.