The View From the Couch: Dialect and Dialectics 

Though the shoe bomber Richard Reid parallel has been often cited, in regards to the Christmas Day attempted Delta bombing, the Ronald Reagan 1983 Beirut barracks bombing hasn't come up as much when the recent CIA base suicide bombing is discussed., nor the more pertinent attack, the bombing of the US Embassy there a few months earlier in 1983, which killed eight CIA officers. What was President Reagan's response? Almost nothing. And then the military pulled out of Lebanon all together. The lesson for jihadists back then was that this sort of terror works. Unless one believes that, as was the case with 9/11, what they were hoping for was for us to bring the fight to them, to their backyards, helping to raise their war with us to global prominence, and thereby galvanize support among their sympathizers.

Nothing that complex, though, is happening in the United States Congress, among the Republicans who continue to attack Barack Obama, even though he has done their bidding in Afghanistan and on Wall Street. As I have suggested before, it is either stupidity on their part, or the clever ploy of attacking him in an attempt to disguise how much they approve, lest Obama's "base", progressives and independents, catch on to how accommodating the prez has been.

News reports on a just published campaign book (Game Change) have provided fodder for the partisan battle, fought in the crude fashion all such fights these past 12 months have displayed. Harry Reid has rushed to apologize for quoted remarks calling Obama a light-skinned fellow who has no "Negro dialect", unless he wants to have one, back when Obama was a candidate. Though what Republicans have been calling Obama since Obama has become president is more heated and occasionally offensive (to whom, actually?), what was said privately about Obama before he became president can be judged, in contrast, far less objectionable. Endless discussions about Obama's chances during the campaign year were of the sort Reid indulged in. Even among African-Americans, there was discussion of the same issue, whether Obama was black enough, and laments abounded that Obama did not come out of civil rights movement. Of course, Obama was a new figure, transnational, globalized, the new kind of post-Civil Rights black American. People were finally catching on to our mixed race hybridization that was evident throughout the country, seen everywhere, though not talked about that much in the national media.

There is a willful ignorance afoot, the continual dumbing-down of what is allowable speech, especially on the tube. A further example of the hybridization is now showing up on the PBS NewsHour show. The NewsHour is now going backwards, instituting, as they have, a typical news segment, with a background that looks like any number of network/cable newsrooms. And the news reader there is Hari Sreenivasan, a guy who looks as transnational as can be. He was born in Bombay, but went to high school in Seattle. He's an Obama kind of guy, one of the poster boys for our new national makeup. And he speaks in no discernible dialect, but uses a sort of Americanized BBC English.

Public life and one's speech have always been linked. Lyndon Baines Johnson used to complain that his Southern accent kept him from having support and respect of the Eastern establishment. Harry Reid has a lot of problems, but having to apologize for saying the obvious is taking politeness a bit too far. And it's always odd to watch the media play the role of language police.

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William O'Rourke

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