Wednesday, February 20, 2008


A footnote to this post

Here is a videoclip: Well, that's a problem, isn't it?

Siesta Fiesta Shmiesta, why does it matter?

But today in San Antonio, Texas, his limited Spanish might have gotten the best of him as a small difference in words had a huge difference in meaning.

A few people were leaving at the end of his town hall event while Obama was still speaking. Obama chalked that up, unknowingly, to them just wanting to beat traffic so he said goodbye in front of the 3,000 person crowd.

But then said, "We're having a little siesta out here - a little party," as a way to coax them to come back.

The problem?

Siesta, in Spanish, means nap. Fiesta, in Spanish, means party.

It was unclear what Obama actually meant, but it would be hard to surmise Obama wanted for people to catch a nap in the middle of his speech

When I saw this "criticism" of Obama's mistaking one word in Spanish for another, I thought to myself: this is too inconsequential and petty. Whether he said "siesta" for "fiesta", whether he meant it to be this word or that word but it came out wrong. Why are they even talking about it? I realized this was just a symptom of a much larger unease. Obama has made his eloquence and way with words the central driving engine of his entire campaign. Issues, values, plans, ideas, thoughts about the very real problems that beset the US and the world, have been pushed aside. It's all about the "words", empty vessels which can be painted gayly by hopeful colours and sung in a particularly catchy tune. Since his gravitas seems to be anchored to mere fine, inspiring words, then his words become the centre of attention. In Obama's campaign, words are seen not as means to an end but an end in themselves. In every discourse, there is substance and there is form, there is intention and there is gesture. Obama's power lies in making the correct verbal gestures. Therefore the question about his speech in that gathering is not the content and import of what he actually said, but about the kind and accuracy of the words he chose to say. And if this is what the candidate is about then I guess it is fair game for the viewer to criticize him for an ignorant use of words, even in Spanish!


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