Breaking news: politicians said a lot of dumb s**t this week. If that sentence made you pay any more attention to this article than you normally would have, your anxiety sweat has probably smudged the note your mom wrote you on the inside of your crash helmet.
The rest of you, I know, are not surprised. Actually, check that; I don’t know. I’ve never been clear regarding the approximate demographics we’re going for with this column. All I know is that after I wrote several pieces about Rocky Mountain spirit quests, my bosses told me to just write about Mitt Romney’s real-world fever dreams from here on out.
Also, something about going head to head with Austin Rhodes. I haven’t been to Augusta in a long time, but he’s the guy who looks kind of like Paul Giamatti picked a fight with a lint trap, right?
If we’re being realistic, we should probably cut politicians a little more slack. Yeah, a good many of them — mostly Republicans, now that Keith Olbermann has been ripped apart by the vortex of his own ego — probably have little more than perpetuating their own influence in mind, but it’s got to get old having every syllable you utter being scrutinized in an hour-long special edition of Al Sharpton’s “Politics Nation” or Sean Hannity’s “What’s With the Blacks?”
We prefer our political figures more akin to a toilet bowl: cool, sterile and willing to take whatever crap comes their way without slamming the lid on your junk. Personal note: if I took every metaphor that far, Quentin Tarantino would sue me for plagiarism.
In the real world, we don’t often check our speech for correctness because we either A) are among like-minded individuals, or B) harbor an implicit trust that those in our company will be intuitive enough to delineate the (admittedly) thin line between humor and insensitivity or downright stupidity. In some public figures, even within the same profession, this line exists in varying degrees of solidity.
Take Howard Stern and Don Imus: Stern has generally gravitated more towards a seriocomic commentator role as of late, but even at his raunchiest he was a near-perfect cross-section of cultural insight and moron-baiting. If Martin Luther King, on the other hand, were alive today, Imus would exhibit genuine, pleasant surprise at his being “so well-spoken.”
I hope, then, that this week’s column serves as something of a guide to distinguishing between cause for genuine anger and face-palming gaffes. I’m taking these quotes from two relatively small-time conservatives so that we’re on an even playing field. Again, I’m not sure of our audience demographics, so young people, think of this as two C-level Hufflepuff students slap-fighting for the last Chocolate Frog. Elderly folk, this is kind of like central casting got Perry Mason and Andy Griffith mixed up.
Case No. 1: The Legitimately Stupid
Quote: That the Aurora, Colo., shooting was “an attack on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” (Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas, GOP)
Since Gohmert — which sounds kind of like a noise both ends of you would make after eating way too much creamed corn — goes on to wonder why no one else in the theater was strapped and ready to take the gunman down, I have to assume that he either A) lives his life according to the apocryphal Book of John McClane, or B) mistook, as I did at age six, the word “Calvary” for “cavalry.” Either way, Rep. Gohmert is a deep-fried wingnut. Truly, only a deep-fried wingnut would suggest that the best preventative measures to curtail mass shootings is to arm a greater percentage of the population. It’s like fixing a defective stovetop by burning your house down. I had to stretch for half an hour before typing this next statement, but Louie Gohmert is the kind of maniac who watches “Stomp the Yard,” then buys camouflage tap shoes for every white person in America. You know: JUST. IN. CASE.
Forgetting the logic-rape of Gohmert’s statement for a moment, I’m not sure when we started associating “Judeo-Christian beliefs” with packing heat. Depending on whether my crisis of faith is at a crest or a wave, I’m either not a Christian, or at least a very bad one. Still, I attended church and Sunday School on a regular basis for more than two decades, and this is the first I’ve heard of a Christian Militia. Yeah, there was war: most of it was in Judges, and it was awesome. Here’s the problem, though: while the Bible is based loosely on historical fact, that’s sort of like saying “The Lion King” is based on Hamlet. It’s true, but there are liberties taken. Hairy, hairy liberties.
It’s hardly surprising. Studies consistently show that the highest percentages of gun owners are located in deep red states. Deep red states tend to also be the most destitute, and when destitution looms, people get desperate and simple. Gohmert is loosely threading together two things that shouldn’t have anything to do with each other — guns and God — in a cheap, deplorable attempt to stay in the good graces of his redneck constituency. And for that, he deserves your undying loathing.
Case #2: I Know What You’re Thinking, But WAIT…
Quote: “During the 1980s, Tip O’Neill and other liberals said, ‘We were hoping that Reagan would grow in office, but he hasn’t grown at all.’ What they meant was, he had not shed his small-government principles and his hawkish views… Truth is, some conservatives lamented that he had indeed ‘grown’ in office. He had gone out of his way to accommodate liberals and moderates, and to accommodate the Kremlin. He was raising taxes, spending like crazy, welcoming wetbacks, pursuing arms control.” (Jay Nordinger, The National Review)
I don’t have time to run down the National Review’s penchant for vague or outright racist epithets, but let’s just say that every time the editors’ kids watch a Lil’ Wayne video on TV, the local Ghostbusters get a really awkward call about “spooks.”
But I think we all need to let our blood cool a little and give Nordinger a bit of a break here. Subsequently, he said that he was simply trying to mimic the hyper-conservative attitude of the time in the use of that phrase, and I believe him. Ill-conceived? Well, hell yeah. But I believe him, if only because I’m pretty sure it’s damn near impossible for anyone to be stupid enough to lay bare his bigotry in national print. Maybe I have too much faith in the human race, but that’s a ship I’ll go down with.
Some sources are already debunking this interpretation, asking why actual quotes wouldn’t have worked just as well, and pointing out that the other key phrases — “raising taxes,” “spending like crazy,” — were used in place of other possible throwback terms. I’ll tell you why, and it’s the same thing Patrick Swayze gave so much of himself telling us: pinkos and Valley Girls just aren’t funny.
Guns and satire, I think, have a lot in common. Wielded by a skilled, even-keeled operator with the cognitive capacity to tell right from wrong, it is a beautiful thing to watch. Marine snipers amaze me, and there will never be a more perfect mockery than “Dr. Strangelove.” But for every tragically necessary headshot and work of comic genius, there are a thousand clumsy, dangerous, sociopathic asshats ruining it for the rest of us.
Paint in strokes too broad, and you risk obscuring the shape of your subject.
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