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What I meant to say

Your Humble Blogger has been meaning to write a note about misspeaking in politics. There have been a bunch of examples recently, what with us being in an election season. More political talk means more screwups in political talk, and more reporting of screwups that might otherwise go unnoticed. The problem, actually, is that I am so slow as a blogger that by the time I sit down to actually write my thoughts out, there has been another incident that throws another new light on everything.

The other thing about YHB is that I tend to be very sympathetic to the person making the speech error. This is in part because I make plenty of speech errors myself, but it is also just because I tend to use my imagination to think about what the person intended to say, and how that got screwed up into what the person actually said. Which is not to say that I am always and utterly forgiving—sometimes that process leads me to believe that the speaker either (a) harbors some deep and unfortunate assumptions that have come out through the process of misspeaking, or (2) fundamentally does not get the social concerns that makes the particular misspeech so wildly offensive.

For instance, Rick Sanchez. Rick Sanchez was talking “ elite Northeast establishment liberals”, and how they exclude—wait a minute, I mean he was talking about “those left wing elite northeast establishment guys”, and how as a Cuban-American, he felt that they not only excluded him but looked down on him, and slotted him into the idea of Hispanic, and he resented them for it. And when Pete Dominick, who was interviewing him, pushed his buttons about Jon Stweart being a minority, too, he said that the guys who run the networks, a bunch of LWENEEGs, were just like Jon Stewart. Meaning, I’m pretty sure, that being Jewish was not, in itself, enough to exclude you from the LWENEEGS—that enough of the LWENEEGs were Jewish or had grown up amongst Jews and that the Jon Stewarts of the world had submerged their Judaism in LWENEEGdom that there really isn’t any cultural difference within the LWENEEG community between Jews and non-Jews. Which is probably not altogether accurate as an observation, but viewed in relative terms, I’m thinking a lot more bialys than boliche.

On the other hand, while he may have meant to say that, what he actually said sounded an awful lot like the Jews run all the networks, and he certainly ought to be aware that statements that sound an awful lot like the Jews run all the networks have a certain history in this country, and that statements that sound an awful lot like the Jews run all the US networks has a certain history in the wider world. Rick Sanchez should have heard that connotation, when it came out of his mouth, and should have found some way to correct it or dissociate himself from it. And when he didn’t hear it, or didn’t care, and didn’t dissociate himself from it (and his interviewer, while of course goading him, did give him plenty of chances to do so), I think it is predictable and even reasonable for people to think that Rick Sanchez doesn’t see that history as a problem, and perhaps doesn’t mind being associated with it. And then it seems reasonable not to trust the man. So—yes, I do not think he meant to say that Jews run the media, but I do think that his error in speech and his reaction to that error is revealing about his attitudes.

Compare that to the bizarre series of misunderstandings and misstatements concerning the WDEL debate between Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons. I haven’t seen an official transcript, and the on-line transcripts are suspiciously non-identical, but as far as I can tell… Ms. O’Donnell’s supporters feel that their candidate trapped Mr. Coons into betraying that he is unaware that the phrase separation of church and state is not in the Constitution, and the supporters of Mr. Coons feel that Ms. O’Donnell betrayed that she is unaware that the First Amendment to the constitution prohibits the Congress from passing any establishmentarian laws. I believe, from what I saw, that Mr. Coons avoided the trap, but Ms. O’Donnell sprung it anyway, making her look foolish—but then, I count myself among Mr. Coons’ supporters, so you have to take that for what it is worth. At any rate, in making her misstatement, Ms. O’Donnell merely revealed her belief that almost anything short of actual Federal establishment is permissible under the First Amendment, and that the idea of separation is one she is skeptical about. Which is her stated belief anyway, and was clear in the context of the whole discussion. So this misstatement is just a silliness of the sort that will happen to anybody who talks as much as a Senatorial candidate or political journalist is compelled to do.

Now, when The Sage of Wasilla allows something to go out under her name that confuses two states and their Senatorial candidates, that is also a silliness that doesn’t reveal anything about the way she thinks—but in that case, it is legitimate to ask if it reveals something about the way she runs her business: there seems to be a QC problem somewhere. If she had confused the two in an interview, it would have meant absolutely nothing. But in (pixel) print, stuff can be proofed before it goes out. And should be proofed. And proofed by people who have had enough sleep. It’s hard to believe that campaigns don’t work like that—I know they don’t, but I still find it hard to believe.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,