In the absence of clear evidence of racial motivation on the part of the dissenters, those making the charge are being forced into contriving loose and subjective interpretations of the signs, slogans, and words used by the protesters. A recent example of this came from MSNBC's Carlos Watson, who, in his "C-Note" segment made these remarks;
"Today I want to talk about a word that we're hearing more and more, and that's the word socialist. You hear it from a lot of conservatives these days, that's usually critiquing the President, or more broadly Democrats. And while that's certainly a legitimate critique, there certainly is an ideology that can and should be critiqued at certain times, it also some times is just a kind of a generic conservative bludgeoning tool. And that's alright, too, because you hear it on the Democratic side as well: rightwingnut, what have you."
"But what concerns me is when in some of those town hall meetings including the one that we saw in Missouri recently where there were jokes made about lynching, etc., you start to wonder whether in fact the word socialist is becoming a code word, whether or not socialist is becoming the new N-word for frankly for some angry upset birthers and others. I hope that's not the case, but it sure does say to you what David Brooks said the other day on T.V. which is that more credible conservatives have to stand up and say that there's a line that has to be drawn, that there's a line of responsibility that's important, and that extends to the words that we choose including how we choose even legitimate words like socialist." (NewsBusters.org)
'Socialist' is a code word? Socialist is becoming the new N-word? By what exercise in interpretive gymnastics or logic does Mr. Watson arrive at such a conclusion? From what he says, it is difficult to ascertain. He does, however make a valid point regarding the importance of being responsible in the words we chose to use in human discourse; perhaps we should begin with that. It might be helpful to examine some time tested rules governing the use and interpretation of the words which we use in human discourse. To that end, I offer the following from Johann August Ernesti, Elementary Principles of Interpretation
- "To every word there ought to be assigned...some idea or notion of a thing, which we call the meaning or signification of the word."
- "For there can be no certainty at all, in respect to the interpretation of any passage, unless a kind of necessity compels us to affix a particular sense to a word; which sense,...must be one; and unless there are special reasons for a tropical meaning, it must be a literal sense."
- "The literal sense of words is the sense which is so connected with them that it is the first order, and is spontaneously presented to the mind as soon as the sound of the word is heard."
Mr. Watson admits that the word 'socialist' is a "legitimate" word. Since it is a legitimate word, it has a literal meaning, which meaning is the primary meaning, unless there is some special reason to interpret it figuratively. There is every reason to believe that the critics of Obama are in fact using the word 'socialist' literally. See here, and here. There is also the fact that conservatives have used the word 'socialist' to refer other Presidents and Presidential candidates (George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Clinton, both Mr. and Mrs.) Mr. Watson must have a special reason in this case to interpret the word 'socialist' in a figurative way. He does have such a reason. Because he wishes to do so.
The fact of the matter is that there are individuals who have a problem with race. Mr. Watson is a perfect example.
Since making his incendiary comments on Monday, Mr. Watson has been receiving a good deal of backlash; so much so that he now feels that his comments are being misinterpreted or somehow taken out of context. On his The Stimulist site, Mr. Watson ineptly tried to defend his absurd assertion.
"I wondered—let me repeat that: wondered—whether “socialist” was being used as a code word for the N-word, an outlet for racist anxiety and anger."
"Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been accused both of trying to silence dissent and race bait. I am interested in neither. Various e-mailers have said they don’t think anyone has literally meant the N-word. Maybe they’re right. But maybe not; just take a look at the hundreds of comments on YouTube. Either way, responsible people need to not kid themselves: there is clearly some meaningful racial animus behind some of the opposition to President Obama. (Again, I said some—not all or a majority.) Pretending otherwise is hypocritical, negligent, and dangerous."
"Again, I am certainly not arguing that criticism is inappropriate, or that critiques using the word socialist are necessarily out of bounds. We’ve seen the word used before, against Hillary Clinton in 1994, LBJ three decades before and many others."
Why is it the these elitists, who like to think of themselves as the smartest people in the room, are unable (or unwilling) to make a well reasoned argument, even in their own defense. Mr. Watson freely admits that the word 'socialist' has been used in its literal sense many times of other politicians, yet still offers no real argument to support his even "wondering" if it is being used figuratively with respect to Obama.