Changing name to KennedyCare may relieve pols, but it won’t comfort the public

I’ve always been fascinated by the way in which language can degrade, especially when the object of a given word or phrase is not held in high esteem.  For example, the word spinster simply used to mean a woman who spun thread.  Over the years, the word came to mean an unmarried woman (it was the legal term on wedding documents in Victorian England).  It has ended up meaning a dessicated, barren virgin.  Another word that made an even more extreme transition in meaning is “beldam.”  Its origin is the medieval French phrase “belle dam,” which translates to “beautiful mother” (or grandmother).  Its current meaning, of course, is ugly old hag.

When a term becomes degraded, members of the class encompassed within the term often seek to introduce a new word or phrase that is free from any negative baggage.  The nomenclature for American blacks is a perfect example, since they have long been a linguistically disfavored group.  In the last 100 years, the polite (as opposed to derogatory terms) for African-Americans traveled this lengthy linguistic path:  colored person, negro, black, African-American, person of color, African-American/black.  My daughter is perpetually confused by the African-American phrase, and insists on calling all black people of color “Africans.”  I don’t blame her for the confusion, although I keep reminding her that these “Africans” have roots extending much further back into America than we do.

One of the most brilliant cartoons I ever saw was one that Berkeley Breathed published in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  In it, Steve Dallas, perpetual preppie, was standing by his old-fashioned mother as a little black boy walked boy.  Said his mother, “Oh, look at that cute little colored boy.”  Steve writhed.  “Mom, you can’t say that,” and the following dialogue (which I’m reconstructing from memory) ensued:

Mom:  Oh.  Negro boy?

Steve:  Mom!

Mom:  Black boy?

Steve:  No, that’s not right.

Mom:  African-American boy?

Steve:  No, Mom.  He’s a “person of color.”

Mom:  But that’s what I said:  “col0red boy.”

The travails of African-Americans illustrates something very important about language:  you can change the term, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you change the public attitude about the person or group encompassed within the term.  Had American people respected blacks at all times, “negro” would never have taken on demeaning connotations.  The problem isn’t the word, it’s the user’s attitude.

This harsh linguistic fact is something that the Democrats have recognized and they’ve therefore leaped with relief on Kennedy’s death as a means of remedying the problem.  They know that the label ObamaCare has become inextricably intertwined in the public mind with a program that only the most hardcore Democratic faithful want.  For the vast majority of Americans, the phrase “ObamaCare” sends shivers of revulsion up and down their spines.  (There’s also the problem, as I’ve noted before, that, unlike Bill Clinton, who was able to escape some of the taint of “HillaryCare,” Obama’s identity is now inextricably intertwined with “ObamaCare.”)

There is, therefore, a desperate effort amongst Congressional Democrats to relabel a revolting product in the hope that they can fool the American people.  Drudge exposes the Democrats’ new plan:  “HEALTH BILL FROM THE GRAVE: DEMS RALLY AROUND OBAMAKENNEDYCARE.”  Nancy Pelosi was not subtle (but is she ever?):

“Ted Kennedy’s dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, declared after his death Tuesday.

For people with their heads stuck in their Foggy Bottoms, this re-branding seems logical.  After all, if you served 20 years or more in Congress with the affable murderer, it would make perfect sense to you that tacking his name on a project would create an instant cachet that can be sold to all your fellow Congress people.  Those of us out in the sticks, though, real people who recognize that Kennedy got the kind of health care that will be denied to all of us (although still made available to his former colleagues) are likely to be less impressed by the relabeling.

Shakespeare said “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Bookworm says “What’s in a name?  That which we call ObamaCare by any other name would still stink to high political heaven.”

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  • Danny Lemieux

    Brilliant. Word association lies at the heart of good marketing and you are right about how the brand equity of words can degrade with time: look at what Liberals have done to the word “liberal” for example.

    So, what kind of word associations do we get with KennedyCare? Debauched? Under-water? Obese alcoholic philanderer? Tax & Spend? Aristocrat wannabee? I am not sure that the rest of the country shares the same word association with the Kennedy name as does the state of Massachusetts.

  • benning

    A turd is a turd is a turd.

    Such is the case with ObamaKennedyCare.

  • Earl

    I beg you to reconsider the use of the word “murderer”…..

    I do not normally find myself defending Teddy Kennedy, but I’m not aware of ANY actual evidence that he intended the death of Mary Joe Kopechne (I’m open to being educated on this point). And I think that intent is needed to sustain a charge of murder.

    If there isn’t any evidence of intent, then negligent homicide is the proper charge, is it not? Using “murder” in this context appears over the top, to me.

  • Bookworm

    I use the word murderer quote deliberately, Earl. The initial act — driving into the water — was clearly nothing more than negligent homicide or manslaughter or whatever name you want to give it. Had that happened, Mary Jo’s death could have been a tragedy but, assuming Kennedy was not driving drunk, not a moral crime. (Driving drunk adds a new element, because the law has traditionally taken the intentional conduct in getting drunk and applied it as intention to commit the later criminal act.)

    Where Kennedy, drunk or not, crossed the line was in abandoning Kopechne to die. At that moment, Kennedy was no longer in the realm of accidents. Instead, he made a conscious decision to take her life in order to protect his reputation. He didn’t wander away confused. He didn’t run away to seek help. Instead, when he made the conscious decision to vanish from the scene, take a shower, call his friends, and pretend nothing happened, he deliberately killed her as surely as if he had deliberately put a gun to her head. To my mind, that is truly murder — the deliberate, intentional taking of a human life.

  • Quisp

    I remember an early interview with British actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste just after the movie Secrets and Lies came out. The plot of the movie involves a black woman discovering she was adopted and her birth mother is white. The American interviewer kept referring to her as African-American, and Jean-Baptiste kept pointing out that she is neither African nor American. (Her parents are from the Caribbean, I think, and she was born in London.) The poor interviewer couldn’t bring himself to say “black” but he couldn’t avoid the subject, since it was central to her role in the movie they were discussing.

  • Ymarsakar

    Murder: Second degree

    Second-degree murder is ordinarily defined as 1) an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable “heat of passion” or 2) a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender’s obvious lack of concern for human life. Second-degree murder may best be viewed as the middle ground between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

    The precise definition of murder varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Under the Common Law, or law made by courts, murder was the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. The term malice aforethought did not necessarily mean that the killer planned or premeditated on the killing, or that he or she felt malice toward the victim. Generally, malice aforethought referred to a level of intent or reck-lessness that separated murder from other killings and warranted stiffer punishment.

    The definition of murder has evolved over several centuries. Under most modern statutes in the United States, murder comes in four varieties: (1) intentional murder; (2) a killing that resulted from the intent to do serious bodily injury; (3) a killing that resulted from a depraved heart or extreme recklessness; and (4) murder committed by an Accomplice during the commission of, attempt of, or flight from certain felonies.

    Some jurisdictions still use the term malice aforethought to define intentional murder, but many have changed or elaborated on the term in order to describe more clearly a murderous state of mind. California has retained the malice aforethought definition of murder (Cal. Penal Code § 187 [West 1996]). It also maintains a statute that defines the term malice. Under section 188 of the California Penal Code, malice is divided into two types: express and implied. Express malice exists “when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature.” Malice may be implied by a judge or jury “when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

    In Commonwealth v. LaCava, 783 N.E.2d 812 (Mass. 2003), the defendant, Thomas N. LaCava, was convicted of the deliberate, premeditated murder of his wife. LaCava admitted to the shooting and the killing, but he claimed that due to his diminished mental capacity, he could not form the requisite malice when he committed the killing, so as to be convicted of first degree murder. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found that Massachusetts law permits psychiatric evidence to attack the premeditation aspect of murder. However, the judge’s instructions to the jury regarding the definition of murder was sufficient to render the error harmless, according to the court.

    Many states use the California definition of implied malice to describe an unintentional killing that is charged as murder because the defendant intended to do serious bodily injury, or acted with extreme recklessness. For example, if an aggressor punches a victim in the nose, intending only to injure the victim’s face, the aggressor may be charged with murder if the victim dies from the blow. The infliction of serious bodily injury becomes the equivalent of an intent to kill when the victim dies. Although the aggressor in such a case did not have the express desire to kill the victim, he or she would not be charged with assault, but with murder. To understand why, it is helpful to consider the alternative: When a person dies at the hands of an aggressor, it does not sit well with the public conscience to preclude a murder charge simply because the aggressor intended only to do serious bodily injury.

    Some murders involving extreme recklessness on the part of the defendant cause extreme public outrage. In People v. Dellinger, 783 P.2d 200 (Cal. 1989), the defendant, Leland Dellinger, was found guilty of the murder of his two-yearold stepdaughter. The primary cause of the child’s death was a fractured skull caused by trauma to the head. However, other evidence showed that the child had large quantities of cocaine in her system when she died. Moreover, her mother discovered that the defendant had fed the child wine through a baby bottle. Due to the defendant’s “wanton disregard for life,” the verdict of murder was proper, according to the California Supreme Court.

    A person who unintentionally causes the death of another person also may be charged with murder under the depraved-heart theory. Depraved-heart murder refers to a killing that results from gross negligence. For example, suppose that a man is practicing shooting his gun in his backyard, located in a suburban area. If the man accidentally shoots and kills someone, he can be charged with murder under the depraved-heart theory, if gross Negligence is proven.

    In Turner v. State, 796 So. 2d 998 (Miss. 2001), the defendant, Jimmy Ray Turner, was convicted of the murder of his wife. The couple had contemplated Divorce, but had apparently reconciled. After their reconciliation, they went together to the defendant’s parents’ house to return a borrowed shotgun. As they walked to the parents’ house, the defendant, who testified that he did not think the shotgun was loaded, demonstrated to his wife how he carried the gun with his fingers on the trigger and walked with his arms swinging. His wife stopped suddenly, bumping into the defendant. The shotgun fired, killing the wife. Although the defendant was not charged with premeditated murder, he was indicted and convicted of depraved-heart murder due to his gross negligence in handling the shotgun.

    So, no Earl. Murder is not about first degree murder only, the pre-meditated killing of a person.

    And I think that intent is needed to sustain a charge of murder.

    Intent is only for first degree. Second degree doesn’t even require it at all.

  • Ymarsakar

    I would suppose that prosecutors normally try to find the defendant guilty of first degree and not second degree because of the punishment categories for first vs second. It makes the case tougher, but then again, it’s better for the prosecutor’s career if he gets a conviction.

  • Ymarsakar

    That guy is the Tory leader, so to speak. He’s McCain basically. That’s why Republicans are losing.

    And why NHS will not be rid of. It’s not that people don’t want something better. They just don’t want to change the status quo, their “great national institute”.

    You think that’s a choice? That’s a choice the elites made for you. You don’t have a choice. There won’t be any political party for you. In England, the major parties favor NHS. One more than the other one.

    There’s your ‘democracy’ for ya.

  • MacG

    I loved that Steve Dallas exchange with his mother. What’s in a name? Names of things are important to allow us to differentiate between things in dialog. They help up draw distinctions, sometimes subtle ones, that can change the course of dialog. Imagine this description given to police of a “suspect”: It was a human. If that was all there was to describe a “suspect” then what good is it? Do we have descriptors to identify that human. Tall, short, heavy, skinny, white, black, etc. These are descriptors that set apart the “suspect” from the rest. These names of things, if you will, set and hold boundaries. If the “suspect” is a tall stocky white man that puts all tall stocky white men in that category and rules out all of those that do not have those features such as most white men, all white women and all other races. The police aren’t going to have any interest in the others as suspects.

    E-harmony tries to match people with like descriptors so they can start (in theory) with all the common things to give the relationship a fair start. This is how friendships naturally start, we see something compatible and either to pursue or allow that friendship to develop. Imagine if they started with the differences, it would be a short date.

    This is the problem that I have with the term African-American. It starts with the difference. It uses descriptors that set up a distinguished group – declared to be different than me. I do not identify with the name of this group. This does not sound like anything familiar me and therefore do not identify it as something with which that I have in common. This is bound to fail. If ya gotta have the hyphen, take a little linguistic license, how about American-African? At least we can start on common ground. – being Americans.

  • Ymarsakar

    The New Russian Cold War.

    Interesting perspectives, but I use them as data sources not as opinion sources.

  • Tiresias

    My issue with “African-American” is that (along with several Africans who are black) I happen to know at least twenty people born, raised, (therefore native to), all over Africa. In this particular cohort, not one happens to be black.

    Several years back one of my Egyptian friends tried to identify himself as “African-American” for some bit of paperwork (relating to a rent-controlled apartment, I think it was) and got shot down instantaneously. He found it interesting. “Well, I was born in Africa, I’m a naturalized citizen of America – what else is it supposed to take?”

    He’s been awaiting the answer to that one for a while, now. Maybe Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton can explain it to him.

  • Ymarsakar

    Only the Democrat’s wage slaves are allowed to apply for African-American bennies. An Egyptian, sir, isn’t one of em.


    A turd is a turd is a turd.

    Eloquent and to the point.

    As for anyone having the chutzpah to link Kennedy to care … just remind them that you DO NOT want the type of care that Mary Jo got.