Is Palin Inciting Violence?

Anil Dash on the dangers of deliberately obscured semantics on the campaign trail:

Put simply, if Palin says “Barack Obama consorts with terrorists”, she is making the assertion that he supports acts of violence against American citizens and the media will refute this obviously false assertion. If, instead, Palin says he “pals around with terrorists”, she’s used code-switching to mask the seriousness of the charge, obfuscating her meaning enough to get away with making an assertion that inevitably calls for the imprisonment or even assassination of a political opponent.

This clever use of language only hides Palin’s meaning from members of the press. Because writers for traditional media are usually highly educated and pride themselves on their mastery of Standard American English, they can often look down on dialects like AAVE and North Central English. Instead these forms of language being seen as legitimate and interpreted in the social context where they’ve formed, they’re dismissed as being the words of “people who don’t even speak proper English!” In the cases where the ideas aren’t outright dismissed, there is still rampant misinterpretation of meaning: Reporters wrongly see a term like “palling” as imprecise, when compared to a word like “consorting”.

But these words are not imprecise to their intended audience. They are, in fact, clearer than using legalistic terms like “consorting”. They amplify the urgency of the statements, and increase the sense for Palin’s audience that they’re on the same page with her, speaking a language too “plain”, too full of “straight talk”, for the press to understand. And they’re right. Palin has consistently pitted herself against the media, depicting them as hostile and foreign to her campaign, and thus making it even less likely they’d take her less formal-sounding charges seriously.

I’m pretty concerned about the possibility of an assassination attempt on Obama’s life, even if the recent neo-nazi “conspirators” seemed more like overly-ambitious idiots. I’m not the type to believe that people are malleable enough that they could be so easily incited to violence based solely on speeches, but the crackpot part of the right-wing could easily have its flames of hatred fanned. McCain and Palin should know better. If they are so despicable (as seems likely) that they require a selfish reason to stop, then they should understand that their legacies would be completely ruined should anything happen to Obama. The country would place the blame directly on their doorsteps.

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