Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. Earth Science News .

Outside View: What's in a name?
by Harlan Ullman
Washington (UPI) May 30, 2012

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Language is a quite remarkable reflection of society and its attitudes. After the Vietnam War and a succession of operational and procurement failures, "the Pentagon" became a term of derision and a public symbol of incompetence. Today, the opposite is true. The Pentagon is seen as representing the most highly regarded sector of American society -- the military -- though perhaps the perception has swung too far in that direction in lavishing praise especially when the department must contend with huge and painful budget cuts likely to damage its image.

"Gay" is no longer an adjective. In earlier generations, a "gay, old time" was part of the popular lexicon, meaning happy or fun. The "gay" '90's of more than a century ago certainly wouldn't qualify for the "gay" 90's of today. It is unclear why or how this change transpired. Yet, it is reflective of the changing attitudes toward sexuality in America.

But more diabolical is the effect of negative political ads on the public and its lexicon. Negative advertising is about turning an opponent's strengths into political weaknesses and disadvantages. During the Vietnam War, the U. S. Navy operated "Swift" boats in and around the rivers and coasts. In the many dangerous interiors of South Vietnam, heroism and courage were rules and not exceptions. And for those of us who served in those 50-foot, aluminum-hulled boats, being a "Swiftie" was a term of pride and honorable service.

In 2004, U.S. Sen. John Kerry's run for the presidency was blackened by a vile series of false attack ads impugning his courage and integrity. Despite non-combat service in the Air National Guard, George W. Bush and his team successfully attacked what should have been one of Kerry's strengths -- his war record and multiple Purple Hearts for combat wounds. This obscenity was called "Swift-boating."

In 1960, even the hint of Swift-boating was off limits. Sen. John Kennedy campaigned in part on his heroic skippering PT-109 during World War II even though his boat was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer in the middle of night -- either an accident or commentary on the vigilance of his crew.

Four years later, Lyndon Johnson ran touting his Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for valor in combat. Everyone in town knew that the citation grossly exaggerated the facts.

Yet, neither Richard Nixon, himself a Navy veteran of the war or Barry Goldwater, a retired Air Force brigadier general in the reserve, would have thought of attacking Kennedy or Johnson on those grounds even if there were truth and merit.

The name Wall Street has fallen casualty and become toxic due both to spectacular failure and political opportunism. For decades and despite the Great Depression, Wall Street was once a term of awe, the engine for powering much of America's businesses and more often than not with admiration. Many of the nation's best and brightest flocked to Wall Street and the banking sector. They still might flock but at a cost and amid public opprobrium.

Today, scandals over once highly respected institutions beginning with the Enron mess in 2000 and the financial crisis of 2008 with the fall of the great houses of Lehman Brother, Bear Stearns and many others, the name Wall Street has become an epithet, amplified by charges and public perceptions of the excesses of greed and illegality as well as precipitating a near economic collapse.

Wall Street, of course, is front and center in the presidential campaign manifested in Bain Capital, the successful private equity fund that made Mitt Romney a very wealthy man. Bain was about earning money for its investors and itself. Romney claimed that Bain created jobs and based on that experience he was fitter to be president than Barack Obama.

The Obama team fell on Bain and has tried to turn Romney's success into electoral weakness. That this is politics is fair game. But the debate will likely distort the role of private equity and turn that phrase into another symbol of corruption and greed.

Last, Facebook is an interesting case. That it could turn a perfectly good noun, "friend," into a verb, "to friend," is modestly amusing. What is less humorous is if Facebook's badly botched initial public offering and the $100 billion valuation turn out to be precursors of a bubble that bursts. Will this cause a change in our vocabulary of "friending" just as Watergate will never be known as an apartment and hotel complex in Washington?

Changes in the meaning of names are neither good nor bad. But one observation is clear. The more politics turns an opponent's strengths into weaknesses, this creeping contagion will infect broader chunks of society. If what's in a word is shorthand for where our society is headed, America is on a troubling course. One hopes Messers Obama and Romney are listening.

(Harlan Ullman is Chairman of the Killowen Group, which advises leaders of government and business, and senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)


Related Links
Democracy in the 21st century at

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

What, no spellcheck? Romney app misspells 'America'
Washington (AFP) May 30, 2012
White House hopeful Mitt Romney has meticulously spelled out his vision for a better America while on the campaign trail this year. But in his new mobile app? Not so much. The "With Mitt" application for the iPhone allows users to express support for the recently anointed Republican flagbearer by personalizing a photo with an overlaid Romney slogan. Trouble is, one of the slogans had a howle ... read more

Quake survivors' misery as Italy counts the cost

Pakistan declares buried troops dead after 52 days

At the factory ruins, Italy workers mourn the quake dead

Rescuers find first bodies at Pakistan avalanche site

Zooming in on bacterial weapons in 3D

BlackBerry maker facing critical test this year

Samsung releases Chrome desktop computer

Japan firm unveils radiation-gauging smartphone

DNA evidence shows that marine reserves help to sustain fisheries

BGU Researchers Test Solar Desalination System for Arid Land Agriculture

Not a 1-way street: Evolution shapes environment of Connecticut lakes

Tuna in US found with Japan quake radiation: study

New Study by WHOI Scientists Provides Baseline Measurements of Carbon in Arctic Ocean

Illuminating the Ancient History of Circumarctic Peoples

Toxic mercury, accumulating in the Arctic, springs from a hidden source

Russia's Antarctic probes to be tested in Ladoga Lake

One in seven suffer malnourishment: UN food agency

Women warming to white wines in China: experts

Groundwater depletion in semiarid regions of Texas and California threatens US food security

Research pinpoints how plants know when to flower

Autopsy of a eruption: Linking crystal growth to volcano seismicity

Shocks hit Italy quake zone as rescuers search for missing

Death toll rises to 16 in quake-struck Italy

Tropical Storm Beryl lashes southeast US coast

Sierra Leone's gruesome civil war

Mali deserters in Niger face uncertain future

Gambia detains G.Bissau ex-army chief, ousted minister

DR Congo senior officer defects to join eastern mutiny

Family values

Suspicion resides in two regions of the brain

Personality genes may help account for longevity

Chimpanzees have human-like personalities

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement