Friday, September 26, 2008

Magic Words in Politics

Politicians use magic words to rally, inspire, capture the public's collective imagination, distort logic, and obscure reality. Politicians accomplish some of this with ordinary language to shape our perceptions and expectations and to misdirect our attention. Many words politicians use possess massive clout: freedom, liberty, and solidarity evoke sentiments for which millions of have laid down their lives. A concept deemed worth dying for is, accordingly, life-enhancing.

A major magic word in the current United States presidential race is change. A short form of Presto Chango, change is a transfixing word that electrifies the air. It etches itself into people's memories, because it is the moment they opened up to the possibility of the impossible. It asks us to jump outside ourselves with courage and humor and openness and perspective and carelessness. Change is the sudden, momentary standstill in a square dance when there's a call to switch partners. Change is the whack when a bat sends a baseball soaring. It's an immensity revealing itself—a greatness that can't be explained but that reveals itself in that instant and reminds us of our own possibilities. The magic of change sweeps people into standing ovations, so it's little wonder that politicians have harnessed its power.


Tamara said...

Is the magic amplified when the word used taps into or reflects a prevailing mood?

It seems that 'Change' resonates with people because so many truly want it at this time. Would the word be as powerful if the economy were great, we weren't at war, and things were generally fine?

Eccentric Scholar said...

Tamara, I think the word resonates anytime. It's like that moment in a square dance when you can suddenly change partners. Things were dancing along swimmingly, but it's suddenly exciting to confront new possibilities, new attractions, new chemistries.

Change is unpredictable and therefore wrought with danger, of course. Shift a stone and you might find a buried treasure, or you might cause an avalanche. For that reason, I find the word "change" a troubling slogan for a political campaign. It's powerful, but perhaps too volatile.