Republicans attack ObamaContent as “socialized meaning”
In a rare break from party infighting, Monday’s Republican primary debate saw the candidates unite in their derision of “ObamaContent,” the president’s newly unveiled theory of linguistic meaning. The theory, which relies upon the practice of a speaker’s linguistic community to fix the semantic content of many words, was attacked as “socialized meaning” by the debate participants.
“If you want content, you fix it yourself,” said Romney, kicking off a long series of comments on individual responsibility. “I didn’t always use to be this erudite,” added Gingrich. “You can either put in the work to learn new words, or you can leech off the knowledge of others.”
It’s not clear how the focus on Obama’s social externalism will be received by the Republican base, however, and some commentators fear it will backfire. “Most people know that ObamaContent is modeled on a theory of semantic content that Romney developed while governor of Massachusetts,” explains CNN’s Paul Begala. “And Gingrich’s comments just bring up his own sordid past,” Begala adds, referring to the fact that Gingrich was himself married to externalism for many years before abandoning the theory at the first sign that it might be dying. “Now he’s widely seen as an unprincipled semanticist, jumping on whatever hot young theory comes his way.”
Socialism wasn’t the only allegation leveled against Obama, however, as his theory’s reliance on a “division of linguistic labor” or “semantic deference” was attacked as well. “You don’t need some Ivy League-educated doctor to tell you what you mean when you say that your arthritis is acting up,” said Romney. “In fact, I’ve got a bit of arthritis myself right now,” he continued, pointing to his thigh. “Today it’s just ‘arthritis,’ but tomorrow they’ll say that you don’t even know what your own name means,” added a visibly upset Santorum.
For his part, Ron Paul focused on what he called “ObamaContent’s crash course with semantic liberty.” While the president claims that his theory leaves scope for individual agency, “all you have to do is look at his past to see that’s not true,” said Paul, referring to Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago. “He used to organize speech communities in an effort to bring about linguistic ‘progress,’ for Pete’s sake!” Paul said with podium-pounding exuberance. “This is a man who has no qualms about the will of the community trumping the intentions of the individual!”
For perhaps the first time in this year’s primary debates, Romney found himself allied with Paul, arguing that the semantic deference component of Obama’s theory was unnecessary. “How experts use words such as ‘arthritis’ or ‘elm’ will naturally influence how the rest of us use those terms,” he claimed. “Meaning will trickle down from experts to the rest of the population, without any need to directly place a disproportionate semantic burden upon the most well-read among us.”
Romney’s own semantic internalism was on display throughout the debate, as he repeatedly used the word “jobs” to mean corporate profit, as in, “Obama is a job killer,” “Millionaires are job creators,” and “We need to lower the corporate tax rate in order to create more jobs.”