THAT MAGIC MOMENT! A pundit cult chooses a few magic moments from a long White House campaign: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2010
It continues: Our first-ever fund-raising drive, that is! Meanwhile, we hope youll sample Chapter 1 at How he got there, our new companion site.
At that site, well be describing some deeply consequential history from the Clinton/Gore years. We think its very unwise for the liberal world to let this history get disappeared by the very people who worked to create it. In Chapter 1, we start to explain how George W. Bush found his way to the White House. This is deeply consequential history. And as history, its really quite recent.
Over here, well keep discussing foolishness from the mainstream pressand from its conservative and liberal branches. In our view, the mainstream has been very foolish this week, as it types novels from Campaign 08. If you think our twin efforts are worthwhile, we hope youll consider making a contribution.
Revealing Dowds true expertise: Finally and at long last, Maureen Dowd has given the world a look at her true expertise. Discussing NBC honcho Jeff Zucker, Dowd explains the way Americans most enjoy watching TV. The text is a mess in various ways. But this is the way the text appears in our hard-copy Times:
Yes, that text is a jumbled mess. (According to Dowd, the standard late-night host chuckles as Sarah Jessica Parker tells an amusing story and then is asleep by the time some starlet tells a salacious joke. If only it were so! Thats a show wed stay up to watch!) But clearly, Dowd has given a lot of thought to the deeply ingrained viewing patterns of Americans, who have always watched TV in a very specific way.
Just a guess: Well guess the lady could tell us a lot about the way we watch daytime soaps too.
(Again: Thats Dowds text from our hard-copy Times. For the on-line version of her column, just click here.)
Dowd is one of the utterly fatuous people who have driven our public discourse over the course of the past twenty years. She has invented quotes, imagined motives, and driven the nations focus to candidates hair-dos, spouses and wardrobes. Shes one of the biggest gender nuts in American journalistic history. Each December, she writes a column about her family, apparently so well know that her lunacy isnt exactly her fault.
You live within a very strange, deeply self-destructive culture. Dowd is an obvious barrel of airand shes the soul of our press corps.
THAT MAGIC MOMENT: [permalink] Within the codes of American speech enforced by Americas pundit brigade, its OK to claim that a candidates accent, or pattern of speech, may affect his electoral chances. We know this because of something we read on the front page of todays New York Times.
Michael Barbaro profiled Harold Ford, who may run for the Senate from New York. Right there in his second paragraph, Barbarao alluded to a possible problem:
Ford thinks he can win New Yorkers votes despite his Southern accent.
Could Ford lose votes in the state of New York because of his intermittent accent? Presumably yes, he could. We say that because considerations of speech and accent have commonly been discussed with regard to recent American pols, with the steady suggestion that accent counts when it comes to getting votes. We may be wrong, but we think weve heard Chris Matthews suggest that Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) might have trouble as a national candidate due to his very strong Deep South accent. (This topic is hard to search.) Meanwhile, pundits have often caught big national candidates affecting their accents to suit a regions preferences.
In 2007, pundits worried when they thought they heard Hillary Clinton affecting a southern accent in some venues. A similar complaint was lodged in March of that year, when Candidate Obama spoke at a black church in Selma, Alabama. Along the way, Candidate Gore had sometimes been accused of jacking up his accent too. In a somewhat similar vein, it was sometimes observed that Candidate Kerry had largely abandonedindeed, improvedthe upper-class accent of his youth. (Todd Purdum, New York Times, 7/29/04: His accent, though less plummy than in his youth, still bears an unmistakable upper-class stamp.)
Candidate Kerrys plummy accent was discussed in 2004. That same year, James Fallows observed a change in President Bushs speech patternsa change so pronounced that some were saying its cause must be strategic. Writing in the Atlantic, Fallows described a man whose speech patterns had changed dramatically, in just ten years:
I say: Maybe, Fallows judged, after fleshing Lakoffs view out a bit more. For our money, we thought it was obvious that Candidate Romney dumbed his speech patterns down in Campaign 08, though we dont recall anyone saying so. Except ourselves, that is.
That said, its plainly OK, within our speech codes, to talk about a candidates accent or speech patterns. Its OK to suggest that a candidates accent may affect his ability to win votes; its OK to suggest, as Harry Reid once did, that a candidate may even adjust his accent or speech pattern, depending on the setting. But uh-oh! Instead of referring to Candidate Obamas accent or speech pattern, Reid referred, in a single statement, to this candidates Negro dialect, or general lack of same. This has produced a Wide Pundit Uproaran uproar which only calmed down this morning because the disaster in Haiti forced grumbling pundits to pretend to discuss some real news.
Reid referred to Obamas general lack of a Negro dialect. In the process, he used one word which is largely outdated, and another which is hard to define. He also energized the priests and adepts of a powerful cultThe Cult of the Offhand Comment. Those adepts did what they always do:
They seized upon one odd remarkone odd remark from a 70-year life. They then posted impressive signs which clearly announced, The doctor is IN. Working from one lone remark, they let us know the state or Reids soulthe value of Harry Reids life.
This Cult has functioned this way for decades. Can our nation survive?
Weve suggested, for several years, that this is a very dumb way to do business. Its trueReid made a somewhat odd remark, using a two-word term which is surely archaic. But people make odd remarks all the time; they make such remarks for various reasons. Those odd remarks dont necessarily mean a bloomin thing about the state of their souls, about their outlook or their character. Typically, such odd remarks will be ignoredunless they can take discussion in a direction our Pundit Brigade likes.
Pundits may favor particular offhand remarks for a wide range of reasons. But when they seize on the random odd comment and act as if it Shows Us Everything, our pundit brigade is actually showing its own achingly low IQ.
Did Reids use of that peculiar term give us a window into his soul? Some have been troubled by the word dialecta word we ourselves would not have used because of its odd suggestions. But a very bright progressive academic used the same term, in the very same context, on the Maddow Show, this Monday night (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/12/10). Should she be called to task? Some have been troubled by the word Negroa word we ourselves havent used in decades, although it used to be the standard, non-insulting way to refer to African-Americans. (Like Pepperidge Farm, Sully remembers. We remember presenting that poem to fifth-graders, in 1970.) But: Did Harry Reids use of that two-word term tell us something about his soul, his character, his real inner views? If so, there would likely be other incidents in his long life in which his soul would have self-revealed.
Have you seen your squealing Pundit Brigade discuss such moments this week?
At present, your country is stuck with a pundit brigade which is almost defiantly unintelligent. One of their dumbest pastimes is this: They seize the single, stray comment or event and use it to flesh out their novels. In this case, cable pundits often seem to love stray events involving raceperhaps for their own psychiatric reasons, perhaps because race can drive cable ratings. (We refer mainly to white pundits here.) Its best, of course, when race and sex appear in one package, as in the matter of O.J.
(Why, oh why, cant Carrie Prejean please have a Negro boy friend?)
The dumbest thing these people do is search for the one Magic Moment. In the case of this weeks thrilling new book, pundits have rummaged through a million events from a long campaign; in the case of certain candidates, they have seized upon the two or three events which create a novel they enjoy telling. This new book was written by Halperin and Heilemann; for ourselves, we havent read it yet. But how dumb can our pundit cult be when its adepts thumb such a book? Using the adept Ben Smith for our text, well discuss that matter tomorrow. And well ask a major question about the claims in this new book:
If we question its claims about Major Dems, can we simply assume the truth of its claims (or suggestions) about Major Reps? Should we encourage the work of this cult when its defining The Other?
Tomorrow: The nature of picking and choosing