The Name Game

Copyright © by Len Holman, 11/20/13


  When God created Adam, He decided that it would be much better to have the guy do something rather than nothing, so He gave Adam a job: naming.  Adam would spend his days naming the animals and spend his nights wishing he could do something else.  When Eve came along, Adam was a happy man, having no more naming to do, and having other, less brow-knotting things to take up his time.  So names were God’s first assignment and since then, humans have learned that naming is as important as Adam’s second task, and—while not as much fun—certainly as significant. 

  God probably knew all along about Obamacare, but still, even He must have been surprised when the map became the territory, when the movers and shakers of the GOP decided to name the Affordable Care Act as a failure and “a train wreck” because the government website got off to a shakier start than a one-legged unicyclist; in other words, the website IS Obamacare.  So say opponents and they say it over and over, while the President apologizes for one remark, and mentions, only mentions, that most of those canceled cheap insurance policies Republicans are outraged about only cover a drive-by of the doctor’s office and just about nothing else.  Democrats are scared they will lose an election in their districts and states if they don’t at least SEEM to want to whittle away at the very financial base of the ACA. 

  The Right has the name game down pretty well, and the voters are hearing it and believing everything.  Names are important, and becoming more so.  Dan Snyder, the current owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins football team knows this.  The Redskins’ original owner, George Preston Marshall was an arch segregationist, and whose team was the last in the NFL to sign black players.  Snyder, who bought the team in 1999 and the inheritor of such a fine legacy, is under pressure to change the name of his team, as it is considered a slur.  He is defiant, saying, “We’ll never change the name.  It’s that simple.  NEVER—you can put that in caps.”  OK, it’s in caps, Dan.  There IS a groundswell of support for a name change, a change in national opinion about this name.  Will the Redskins become the “Bronze-Skinned Warriors” or the “Native American Fierce folk?”  Not anytime soon.  

  The race is on for the approval of the public one way or another, and naming is the key.   And then there is a local contretemps concerning a high school mascot in the Coachella Valley in Southern California.  The sports teams of Coachella Valley High School are known as the Arabs, and it’s not the name so much, but the visual depiction of the Arab on banners and logos and walls, which offends.  The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee sent a letter to the school district protesting “orientalist stereotyping.”  The mascot’s depiction has changed from a noble warrior on a steed to an evil-looking, bearded, hook-nosed caricature of what an Arab looks like.  This name business is called “messaging” in politics and the Right messages well.  It’s as if the Democrats and other liberal and progressive groups are relying on their self-image as “Good” and “noble” and “well-meaning” to transmit what they want to say.  One problem with this is that a lot of voters only hear the sound bites, the bumper-sticker slogans, and the edged rhetoric, and put their own relevance to it all.  Remember that old conjugation?  “I am firm, he is stubborn, and she is a pig-headed fool.” 

  In the ancient world, rhetoric was a well-established and accepted process (well, Socrates didn’t like it too well, but still…) and for us, this means that the general public must be reached with good, pointed messaging.  “Good” in the sense of ethical.  The president has pretty much been called a liar because he said everyone could keep their health insurance if they liked it, and his humble almost-apology wouldn’t even have made Mother Teresa forgive him.  Obama was elected as Hope and Change, a rock star of Tomorrow-ness, but even that old, wild rocker Rod Stewart put out a couple of CDs of singing the old standards.  So Obama must shift gears to get his point across (if he has one).  One example of this is the on-going talks with Iran about its nuclear program.  Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is against any rapprochement with Iran (surprise, surprise!), has been everywhere in the media using the phrase “existential threat,” while our Secretary of State has said, weakly, it makes Israel safer and more secure.  Who is right?  Who knows? 

  But “existential threat” has a sexier sound and calls up the horrors of WWII and our own 9/11, even though I would like to have SOME talking head of the punditocracy directly ask Netanyahu if he really believes Iran is planning to send a couple of bomb-laden planes into Israeli airspace and drop a couple of nukes on Jerusalem.  I mean, really?  Is the very existence of Israel threatened by Iran’s enrichment program?  If we all hear it enough, it must be so.  Maybe the U.S. government needs a Department of Catchy Slogans to get its points across.  If the Creator had been as wishy-washy in His instructions to Adam (“Hey, man, maybe, after you wake up, you could wander the Garden and see what needs to be done…maybe some names would be nice.”), Genesis would read a lot differently.  Naming and repetition matter and the President needs to stop thinking his good intentions will be enough to persuade anyone.


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