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Republicans attack ObamaContent as “socialized meaning”

with 37 comments

One of these things is not like the others

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.

“Reasonable minds can disagree about the meaning of ‘water.’  I just think our schools should teach the controversy.”

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.”


Written by fauxphilnews

March 9, 2012 at 10:40 am

37 Responses

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  1. LOL!!


    March 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm

  2. […] this … this… to awesome for words. March 9, 2012 // 0 Republicans attack ObamaContent as “socialized meaning” « fauxphilnews In a rare break from party infighting, Monday’s Republican primary debate saw the […]

  3. Amazing. Never stop blogging

    Taylor M

    March 9, 2012 at 6:11 pm

  4. This is just the right making use of the left’s strategy (from Chomsky etc.).

    Just as they have adopted every other strategy after some frustrating internal hand wringing about their feelings about the ethics of it.

    And so we continue the cycle of degenerative discourse.

    The underlying issue remains the same. We either use the caretaker strategy, which is a synonym for subsidizing the birth rates of the lower classes, or we use the aristocratic strategy which is a synonym for constraining the birth rates of the lower classes.

    The ‘framing’ in political discourse consists of using every possible distraction to avoid the underlying issue: that norms are dependent upon the behavioral ability of the majority and therefore the right’s concept of freedom requires individual accountability and the suppression of the birth rates of the lower classes in order to achieve improvements in the body politic. The left’s concept of freedom requires redistribution, tolerance for impulsivity over discipline, and an authoritarian government to perform administration of it.

    It is possible to create a compromise between these two worlds, but not while the ‘framing’ is conducted by either the right or the left as a means of avoiding the underlying problem.

    Curt Doolittle

    March 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    • No, this is a hilarious post about different philosophical theories about the meanings of words, dude. You just didn’t get the joke.


      March 9, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    • oh man, this guy totally didn’t get it.


      March 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    • You stepped in it, man. Google the name ‘Hilary Putnam’ so that you’ll ‘get’ the post.

      Robert Hockett

      March 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm

  5. […] via Republicans attack ObamaContent as “socialized meaning” « fauxphilnews. […]

  6. Man. This guy just keeps getting funnier. I love the guy who didn’t get it.

    Devon Belcher

    March 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm

  7. Meanwhile, the President dodged attacks from the left for conceding too much to causal theories of reference.


    March 13, 2012 at 11:28 am

  8. This is so frickin’ funny. The last lines from Romney are perfect. BTW, I submitted this to Fark.com. Hopefully it will make it onto the main page (though the odds are low).

    Jeff Glick

    March 16, 2012 at 11:36 am

  9. The article forget to mention Obama’s deference to foreign linguistic communities. How jejeune. We need a return to American semantic exceptionalism.

    Christopher Hitchcock

    March 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

    • Yeah! People are even looking to the French language for the meaning of “entrepreneur”, goddamit!

      Richard Baron

      March 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm

  10. Re the picture: the odd item out is clearly Lenin – no doctorate in Philosophy.

    Charles Pigden

    March 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm

  11. Do Romney’s speeches really give evidence of semantic internalism? Surely he is deferring to the practices common in his speech-community (that of GOP magnates, apparatchniks and ‘intellectuals’). Indeed, as the distinguished linguist, Noam Chomsky has pointed out (http://www.makeoutclub.com/boards/7/topic/214281), the speech community in question may even extend into the Democratic Party including President Obama himself. It’s just the most of the people listening to Romney’s speeches belong to a different community, (namely one in which ‘jobs’ means jobs). Hence the unfortunate misunderstandings.

    Charles Pigden

    March 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    • RIght yet again — though I hope not too many people will realize that (I didn’t, until you mentioned it), as it would ruin the joke.


      March 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm

  12. The Santorum gag was subtle enough I almost missed it. The temptation to play it up must have been nearly irresistible.

    • You bet it was! I found that it was less funny when it was more obvious, though. Maybe that’s just me — I’m a big fan of subtlety.


      March 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm

  13. Odd that you fail to mention Herman Cain’s use of ‘Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan’ to refer to Uzbekistan. The ultimate semantic internalist neocon coup.

    Adam Taylor

    March 16, 2012 at 9:53 pm

  14. Hahaha! Now where do the Ruritanians stand?


    March 18, 2012 at 2:56 am

  15. […] the fabulous FauxPhilNews “If you want content, you fix it yourself,” said Romney, kicking off a long series of comments […]

  16. Since your comedy derives from pedantry and moralism, I’m surprised you’re arguming from the social construction of truth. Also of course, accusing Romney of internalism would mean he was alone in his beliefs. More people share his delusions than share whatever micro-doctrines you preach to your students.
    As a socialist I’m quite comfortable with assuming the social construction of reality. Liberals being individualists, they have a much harder time of it.

    Palomar Picasso

    March 18, 2012 at 8:01 am

    • As a socialist myself, I’m rather ashamed to be associated with this comment. Or have I just missed the joke?


      March 18, 2012 at 11:41 am

      • Democracy, or representative government, is relativist as to truth. The rule of law is the rule of process.
        You can accept that, or not:

        McGinn calls himself an atheist and you call yourself a socialist. Reading him its clear he’s still a Catholic, and reading you it’s safe to say you’re still a liberal.

        Palomar Picasso

        March 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      • Palomar, it’s clear that you don’t understand what’s going on here. The article is about meaning, not truth, and it’s certainly not about the social construction of truth. Further, there’s no implication that a semantic internalist is alone in his beliefs. Lastly, I don’t have students to “preach to,” as I myself just graduated from college. I don’t know what battle you think you’re fighting here, but to everyone else, the ObamaContent article is just a bunch of puns and silly quotes.


        March 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      • Oy! I forget and use the colloquial. My sloppiness with philosophical terms mirrors yours with politics.
        Carry on

        Palomar Picasso

        March 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm

  17. Reblogged this on F Lengyel and commented:
    Applied philosophy at the highest level.

    F Lengyel

    March 18, 2012 at 8:10 am

  18. Is Romney even a Reagan conservative? Just throwin’ this out there: If by some coincidence Romney were to trace an image resembling Ronald Reagan in the sand, I think we’d have grounds to deny that that the resulting image was actually OF Ronald Reagan.

    I am also slightly disappointed by IBM’s work on Romney. I’m beginning to think Watson would have made a more convincing candidate.


    March 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm

  19. It’s ok, Elizabeth. I’m still hoping my Oscar-me (?) is over on that Twin Earth getting this joke, too. And I actually googled Putnam. His theories reminded me of an episode of The Justice League I saw last year, where a good Lex Luthor steps through a crack in time& space to ask the good Justice League to fight the Evil League of superbadguys on his earth. Batman was Owlman and Superman was something like Megaman. The cartoonists made the corrupt president on this twin-earth look like Bill Clinton with an eyepatch. I wondered if that Bill Clinton had an actor look-a-like who sang Judas Priest spoofs instead of the Mambo#5 spoof.

    Other than that, I can’t help much with deciphering this thingie. Mind was my worst subject. Philosophy in Literature was my second worst. Oscar is my cat’s name.


    March 19, 2012 at 12:05 am

    • Oh, I got the jokes in the post — I thought the post was hilarious. I was hoping that Palomar Picasso was making some kind of joke I was missing. It turns out he IS the joke.

      That said, I think a philosophical Justice League, including a bizarro episode that finally DOES resolve the debates about Twin Earth identities, is a fabulous idea.


      March 19, 2012 at 8:16 am

  20. 🙂


    March 19, 2012 at 11:56 am

  21. […] Fauxphilnews uncovers the link between neo-conservative politics and semantic internalism. […]

  22. When we consider the origin of this attack on prescriptive grammar the real question we have to ask is who is master?

    Yes, that’s right there can only be real source for this attack on socialized meaning, that friend of monarchs and the rest of the 1%, the standard bearer for stipulative definition, who converses to our children in his own private language, Humpty Dumpty.

    Sadly it looks like he has won this round. There’s glory for you.

    Allan Olley

    March 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm

  23. Oh no….a republican is using the words “trickle down” again!


    April 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm

  24. I wonder where “KISS MY ASS” would fit in this argument.


    April 6, 2012 at 7:47 am

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