The Contradictory Meanings of Anaphora

There was a big dust-up following last weekends debate and then subsequently when Rubio was shown to repeat his own talking points again and again. Jonathan Chait had written at the time, Rubio Glitch Truthers Insist He’s a Poet, Not a Robot. That was following off John Podhoretz’s tweet above which introduced us all to the word “anaphora.” It is a fascinating word in that it means more or less the opposite thing depending upon whether you are using it in grammar or rhetoric.

Anaphora in Rhetoric

In rhetoric, Merriam-Webster defines it is “repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect.” People have referenced Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speak and the opening of A Tale of Two Cities. I’m more fond of this little bit from Richard III, because when spoken, it is virtually impossible not to come down really hard on each of those Is:

I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature…

Of course, as Chait noted, this is not the kind of thing that Rubio did. The defenses of him sounded to me very much like the defenses of Sarah Palin’s claim that Paul Revere was ringing bells during his midnight ride. It is a sad fact of life that politicians generally can’t just be allowed to admit to a mistake and move on. I’ve noted before that it would be nice if Sanders could just say, “We need to work on our healthcare plan.” Or simply that everyone would understand that is a workable starting point. But no, he is supposed to just pretend that there is no problem.

Marco Rubio - AnaphoraBut Rubio’s mindless repetition is not anaphora in a rhetorical sense. It’s rather the opposite in that it doesn’t focus the theme in a structured way. It just repeats the same talking point. Anaphora is the use of repetition to layer. You aren’t using anaphora if you say, “I’m the best man for the job. I’m the best man for the job. I’m the best man for the job.” But you are if you say, “I’m the best man for the job because the modern world needs a modern leader. I’m the best man for the job because I bring new thinking. I’m the best man for the job because I’m not stuck in the past!” That would be anaphora.

Anaphora in Grammar

In grammer, anaphora is quite different, “use of a grammatical substitute (as a pronoun or a pro-verb) to refer to the denotation of a preceding word or group of words.” To give you an idea of this, consider the sentence, “I like it, and they like it.” That’s a repetitive and boring sentence. It would normally be written as, “I like it, as do they.” So in rhetoric, anaphora is the explicit use of repetition and in grammar it is the avoidance of it. Quite interesting, I think.

At this point, I would think that the Rubio campaign would prefer he use the grammar version of anaphora. If he’s been trying for rhetorical anaphora (and I don’t think he has), he’s been failing miserably.

GOP Debate: What Happens When Policy Is Gone

GOP Debate - Kids Mud FightingI hadn’t meant to watch last night’s GOP debate. But it was amazing. I couldn’t turn away. The thing was, it didn’t seem like a debate. It was more like kids throwing mud at each other. But I find this more interesting than the substantive debates that the Democrats have. Now that may be because I already know where the candidates stand on most issues. So I see the debates as being artificial. Republican debates are more like fist fights. And this one was the top of the them all.

But it got me wondering: why do Democrats talk about actual policy whereas we see no such thing at any GOP debate? Part of it surely is that Republicans don’t really have much to offer in terms of policy that they can talk about. If they get into the details of their economic policy, it will be clear that all they care about is giving tax cuts to the rich and allowing companies to send more jobs overseas even while polluting more here at home. They aren’t going to talk about that in a debate.

It’s even worse on foreign policy. Pretty much every Republican has this to say about the subject, “Obama has made us weak! I will make us strong!” But if you burrow down into what their actual policies are, they are the same things that Obama is doing. So what they are really saying is, “I will do exactly what Obama is doing, but I will really mean it!” Once you realize this, you can’t watch a GOP debate without finding it amusing — and horrifying. Kind of like watching Dead Alive.

Why the GOP Debate Was Contentless

There is a more fundamental issue at hand, though. The Republicans have moved about as far to the right as they possibly could. This is why it is interesting that people consider Donald Trump too far out. While it might be true that he is too far out, he is not too far to the right. He never would have caught on if he had gone in that direction because only the billionaire class is interested in that kind of a candidate. There is no doubt to me that Trump is by far the most reasonable candidate in the Republican primary.

So when you get these people together who really don’t disagree on anything they can really talk about publicly, they have nothing to do but sling mud at each other. And it was quite a scene. Mostly, it was just allegations about how the others weren’t the True Conservative™. It was, not surprisingly, like Monty Python:

This is a natural problem in a two party system when one party decides to move distinctly toward the other. And that’s what the Democratic Leadership Council was able to do to the Democratic Party. Now I’ve always thought that fundamentally, those people weren’t interested in the Democrats winning elections, but really just wanted a socially liberal Republican Party. But even if you grant that their real concern was making the Democrats competitive, they won the battles and lost the war.

To start with, winning elections means nothing if it goes along with the entire political environment moving in the opposite direction. And that’s what’s happened. It wasn’t Reagan that moved the entire country to the right; it was Bill Clinton. He was the one who managed to greatly constrain the Overton Window. And as a result of this, the Republicans had two options. They could have jumped over the Democrats and become a complete populist party (and this is more or less what Trump is doing). Or they could move way off to the right. And that’s what they’ve done.

It is funny that every four years, we hear what a “deep bench” the Republicans have. And then they all get out there and there isn’t a deep bench. It’s just a bench of a bunch of guys who all play the same position. There is nothing different about them other than that they have different styles. Last night at the GOP debate, we saw a free-for-all. There was nothing to discuss. There aren’t different conservative policy positions. There is just one and the only question is which one of the candidates will enforce it most rigidly.

Offensive Randy Newman

Randy NewmanWill pointed out that I hadn’t done a week of Randy Newman. And given that we was a very big part of my life at one time, I thought this would be a good thing. But I figured that I would constrain the choices by only doing offensive Randy Newman songs. Now don’t be smart! I know that leaves a lot of choices, but it certainly isn’t the case that most of his songs are offensive.

In fact, off his first album, Randy Newman, there isn’t a lot of offensive material. But there is a classic of Newman’s own brand of offensiveness: “Davy the Fat Boy.” It starts with the singer talking about how he’s been friends with Davy since they were very young. And Davy’s parents told the singer to take care of Davy after they go. So what does the singer do? He turns Davy into a carnival freak.

Randy Newman World

It’s really horrible. But it is typical of Randy Newman’s wit. The universe of his songs is not a pleasant one. People are cruel to each other. The best you can hope for in Newman’s world is a small amount of pity and the recognition that we are all damned.

Consider the song “Old Man” off his later album, Sail Away. It is a tender goodbye to an old man who is dying — I assume his father. But it is thoroughly mocking. Newman will not allow the old man any of the standard illusions that people use at that time. The only thing that makes the song not completely horrific is the understanding that the singer will face exactly the same thing soon enough.

“Davy the Fat Boy” works on a whole other level. Maybe it is the case that the singer is doing right by Davy. If there weren’t a good deal vagueness, it wouldn’t be a Randy Newman song.

On the other hand, if you want to get an idea of the sadness that underlies everything Newman did, you can listen to I Think It’s Going To Rain Today.

Anniversary Post: Mathew Brady’s James Polk Photo

James Polk by Mathew BradySupposedly, on this day in 1849, James Polk became the first sitting president to have his photograph taken. It’s that one over there on the left and it was taken by the 27 year old Mathew Brady. I’ll talk about it in a moment.

Polk was a very effective president. But he was also a slave owner and what I would call pragmatically pro-slavery. He seems to have been aware that the slavery advocates were just piling up sandbags to keep out the rising waters. It was all doomed to failure, but there was Polk filling the bags and stacking them.

I have this problem. When slavery was based upon losing wars, and being a slave meant bad luck, I can see people supporting it. But slavery in America is a different matter. I don’t care how far back you go, there really was never a time when it was acceptable to be in favor of it. But Polk was pro-slavery long after any apologetics can be applied.

Of course, I don’t think much different about the titans of industry today. These are all people who are in the business of dehumanization. When you get right down to, the basis of conservatism is that there isn’t such a thing as human dignity. Any dignity that humans have is contingent. In the past, it was based on birth. Now it is based upon wealth, which just so happens to be mostly based on birth. Clearly it is different from slavery, but it is a similar system of control.

Mathew Brady

Mathew BradyThat photograph was taken by Mathew Brady — an early American photographer. And Polk was not the first president he photographed. He had photographed both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson sortly before their deaths. And boy oh boy did Jackson look bad! But James Polk was the first sitting president. Interestingly, just a few months later, Polk was dead too. If I had lived at that time, I would have been suspicious of the young Mr Brady.

Mathew Brady is very well known for his photographs of the Civil War. He spent $100,000 taking 10,000 photographs of the war. He had expected that the government would pay him for the photos. Perhaps if Lincoln had not been assassinated, they would have. But instead, he was left holding all that debt and all those pictures of an event no one was keen on remembering. Like many great artists who are celebrated long after it does them any good, he died in 1896 at the age of 73, penniless in a charity hospital.

Yay capitalism!