The October 13 New Yorker—the politics issue—just arrived, and it's full of articles I can't wait to read. (Plus: two cartoons by the magnificent Roz Chast. I could find only one online, though.)
I'm saving the longer articles for later. But a two-page essay by James Wood, who teaches at Harvard and is the author of How Fiction Works, wouldn't let me go. Its title is "Verbage"; the subtitle is "The Republican war on words." I urge you to read it, because it goes a long way toward explaining many of the bizarre campaign tactics we've been witnessing.
Wood suggests that the McCain campaign's attacks on Barack Obama as "just a person of words" reflect "a deep suspicion of language itself ... as if Republican practitioners saw words the way Captain Ahab saw 'all visible objects'—as 'pasteboard masks,' concealing acts and deeds and things—and, like Ahab, were bent on striking through those masks."
To those of us who "just work with words" in the service of commerce, this paragraph has special resonance:
Or take McCain’s slogan “The Original Maverick,” now attached to many of the campaign’s ads. It cynically stipulates that politics is just merchandise, by sounding as close to a logo or a brand name as possible. But it also understands that consumers trust brands that sound like “quality.” Thus “Original,” which has the reassuring solidity of something like “Serving Americans of discernment since 1851,” or, indeed, “Levi’s 501: Original Jeans.” In such formulations, “Original” means eccentric, strange, unusual, and also first, best, belatedly copied by others. Better still, the phrase sounds like the tagline from a movie poster; not for nothing has McCain taken to announcing that “change is coming soon, to a district near you.”
Read the entire essay, which takes its title from Sarah Palin's (deliberate?) mispronunciation of verbiage. Wood writes: "It would be hard to find a better example of the Republican disdain for words than that remarkable term, so close to garbage, so far from language."
While you're on the site, check out the magazine's endorsement of Barack Obama. It hardly comes as a surprise, but that doesn't make it any less eloquent and compelling.