Friday, October 14, 2011

More Noise

It seems I have been bitten by the language bug since my now ended silence, I cannot stop analyzing what people are saying. Today I read about another political misstep by Scott Brown, soon to be former Senator from Massachusetts. It’s not that I am particularly focused on this man, it just happens that he embodies a certain approach to both political turmoil and the language he and his associates use to try and extricate him from his difficulties. What people forget in their times of trouble is that others do not forget. The political chattering classes will always tell us that such and such an incident will be forgotten “come voting day”. What actually happens is that the arc of the story of any given individual allows us to set aside certain mistakes, foibles and peccadilloes. We all knew Bill Clinton was a philanderer but it was his very success as a philanderer – his charm – that made him so appealing (cries of shock and horror at such a notion). No, we did not take to him because he was good at seducing women, he was someone whose ability to charm translated into what we call charisma. Others were notable seducers (Gary Hart, John Edwards) but lacked whatever it is that transforms good whisky talk into overwhelming public approval, though Clinton’s very small electoral victories seem to belie the notion of the extent of his skill. Part of what Clinton did, or John Kennedy in his time, was subtly alter the message depending on which constituency he was aiming at. Clinton was more Southern in the South, Kennedy more Catholic in the Northeast. Obama has that same skill, though his charm is not as warm as either Kennedy or Clinton. Clinton, like Nixon, looked straight into a camera and lied to the entire population of the United States, yet he left office still very popular. How? Clinton winked.

The first thing of any consequence I ever taught my daughter was how to wink. With this wink I also taught her to pucker one side of her mouth and use the side of her tongue to make a clicking sound as she winked. I told her that this would carry her further in life than anything else she would ever learn. Why, then, was Sarah Palin’s winking so abjectly unsuccessful? Well, take my daughter’s wink and click. She turns out to be a natural. Had I discovered that my daughter simply looked like someone with a facial tick I would have discouraged the winking. Sarah Palin is not a natural winker because she uses it only when the camera is on her. Clinton winks through life. Palin’s wink is a self conscious “see, I’m just like you” sort of activity while Clinton’s is a “wouldn’t you like to be a member of this club?” motion. Nixon was incapable of anything remotely associated with winking. I have noticed that the people who wink more than any other are the Irish. We consider the Irish to be very charming but, as I like to say, you don’t have to live with them. So, Clinton’s, or Kennedy’s or Obama’s story is what attracts us and we choose to set aside the less comfortable aspects of their personalities or styles. Recently Scott Brown made an insulting remark regarding his likely Democratic Party opponent in next year’s Senate race, Elizabeth Warren, specifically about her appearance. This will not be forgotten because it is the opposite of Clintonian. Remarking on a woman’s appearance is the least charming thing you can do and cannot be set aside because it indicates how you will regard women’s standing in the legislative process and how slightly you regard the effect of legislation on women. Whatever it was that Clinton exuded it reassured us that he would not slight women, no matter the position of his pants while talking to them in the Oval Office.

Scott Brown has been caught plagiarizing the text of another politician’s website for use on his own website. When this copying was brought to his attention he had this to say: it was the fault of one of our interns. That sound you hear is a hammer blow to the coffin lid of Scott Brown’s short political career. “The Intern Did It”. If you scoured all the dictionaries of the world and commissioned speeches from all the great wordsmiths of the political universe you could not have come up with a string of more politically fatal words. Even under normal circumstances this would not be a good response but when thousands are camped on Wall Street and at City Halls and outside Federal buildings demanding that ordinary people get a fair shake, ordinary people who would be glad to have a job even as a lowly intern, you really have shoved a blade into your own artery. What possesses people in such positions to say these things? As I like to say in regard to Afghanistan or Iraq, why didn’t they just ask me? I could have told them. And if a sometimes employed actor in Echo Park Los Angeles could have told you, you know you’re in trouble.

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