Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday 18 September 2008

Palin on McCain's skills as a wordsmith

I'm sure the poor lady doesn't mean what she seems to be saying in this interview with FoxNEWS:

HANNITY: Let's talk about, Governor, obviously, the economy is on the minds of many Americans. We've got Lehman, we've got Merrill, we've got AIG. Senator Barack Obama yesterday was attacking Senator McCain for saying that the "fundamentals of the economy are strong."

Do you believe that the fundamentals of our economy are strong?

PALIN: Well, it was an unfair attack on the verbiage that Senator McCain chose to use because the fundamentals, as he was having to explain afterwards, he means our workforce, he means the ingenuity of the American. And of course, that is strong and that is the foundation of our economy.

So that was an unfair attack there, again, based on verbiage that John McCain used. Certainly it is a mess though, the economy is a mess. And there have been abuses on Wall Street and that adversely affects Main Street.

And it's that commitment that John McCain is articulating today, getting in there, reforming the way that Wall Street has been allowed to work, stopping the abuses and that violation of the public trust that too many CEOs and top management of some of these companies, that abuse there has got to stop.

It is, somebody was saying this morning, a toxic waste there on Wall Street, affecting Main Street. And we've got to cure this.

The word I'm focussing on from the interview above is 'verbiage'. I know what I think this word means, but surely Palin couldn't really be saying this about what her running-mate for President was saying, could she? Then I thought that perhaps there is some other usage of this word, particularly in the US, that I was not familiar with; maybe she meant simply to refer to the 'words' he had used, not express a comment on these words, so I thought I should consult a dictionary and particualry an American dictionary to see what it had to day. According to Merriam-Webster, a well-known and respected American dictionary, this is what it means:

Main Entry:
\ˈvər-bē-ij also -bij\
French, from Middle French verbier to chatter, alteration of Old French verboier, verbloier, from Old French (Picard dialect) werbler to trill — more at warble
circa 1721

1 : a profusion of words usually of little or obscure content 2 : manner of expressing oneself in words : diction

- so the main meaning in the US is just the same as it is here - words or speech with little substance.

It's possible that she was using it in the less common 2nd sense given above, but my view, having listened to her speak over the past few weeks, is that it is simply a further instance of her ignorance and her mangled verbal gymnastics. She could simply have used the word 'words' instead of 'verbiage' and her meaning would have been clear and unambiguous, but I suspect she was using a less-familiar word because she thought it would sound more 'learned', when all it has done is make her look, once more, quite silly. Whatever one may think of her boss McCain, he at least knows how to use the language. She, on the other hand, seems to be wallowing way out of her depth. Not of course that her 'ignorance' is necessarily any worse than Jo Biden's gaffe-prone public appearances (even if his ability to think quickly on his feet usually manages to defuse the situation, or at least give people a laugh); he is Obama's Vice-Presidential running mate.

No, this is not Bill taking sides in US politics; I've come to realise that US Presidential politics, in particular, is a complete mystery to me - both McCain and Obama seem, from the carefully-groomed public images they display to the public, to have some virtues, but some glaring defects (to this outsider, at any rate). The level of partisanship among their supporters and the wild statements made by both sides about the other seem to me to reduce the whole thing to a circus show - glitteringly wonderful on the outside, but with uncertain depth and substance. In recent years it seems one doesn't come fully to understand what a particular President is made of until after they are elected and some unexpected situation has to be dealt with. It seems to me to have been, for recent Presidents, well-nigh impossible to have any objective idea about their capabilities until after the deed (i.e. the election) has been done, when it is far too late to change things at least for the following four years. To some extent this is the same in the UK too, or in France and some other western democracies, where media presentation is probably more important than the substance of the candidates, but I think it is fair to say that the cult of 'image' and 'media' has been taken a lot further in the US than elsewhere. I might not have liked the idea of having a president Hilary Clinton (and I wouldn't have liked it one little bit), but no one could possibly doubt her intellectual capabilities or her fundamental grasp of issues and despite the mockery in some quarters of Ronald Reagan before he became President he had at least been Governor of probably the most important State in the US and a pretty successful one in most people's eyes as well as having been years earlier President of the Screen Actors Guild, a shark-infested pond if ever there was one, so he obviously had something going for him, even if he was not, to most non-Americans, an obvious choice, but he is certainly one of the more successful Presidents of recent US history from either political party. Maybe a President Palin might confound us all, if something were to happen to McCain (if he were to become President), but I think it is an amazing gamble on a complete unknown and , as we now realise, a rather 'controversial' figure in her own backyard.
(A completely different point about this interview was made by Andrew Sullivan in his post here, the source of my link to the FoxNEWS article, as I am obviously not an habitual reader of that particular media outlet. Andrew has been running a series of posts in recent days with the theme "The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin" - he's reached number eleven in the series so far, plus various other stories of which this is one.)

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