Voluntary, intentional statements vs. misstatements

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s epic brain-freeze during a Republican primary debate is often referred to as a “gaffe.”

That’s a strange word that gets used strangely — it gets applied to simple misstatements and unintentional double-negatives, to brain-freezes like Perry’s, and to slightly off attempts to praise local culture — such as when a candidate in Philly orders a cheesesteak with provolone, like most natives do, instead of with Cheeze Wiz, like most non-native members of the media imagine most natives do.

None of those examples above are of any real consequence. Michele Bachmann’s inversion of the birthplaces of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy wasn’t the kind of misstep that told us anything substantial about her merits as a candidate. Dozens of politicians who were well-informed about both countries have inverted the names of Iraq and Iran because that’s easy to do. And in every campaign, some sleep-deprived candidate will, like many an exhausted touring musician, greet a crowd of supporters by naming the wrong city. So what?

But such trivial incidents get lumped together into the category of “gaffe” along with other statements of a wholly different kind. Sometimes a candidate will speak candidly, voluntarily and intentionally saying something they fully understood and fully meant to say, and if that statement later comes back to haunt them it also gets categorized as a “gaffe.”

It’s not. A gaffe is a mistake. Such intentional and deliberate statements weren’t said by mistake. It may have been a mistake to say them out loud in public. It may have been a mistake to ever even think such things. But they weren’t said by mistake.

This is part of what’s broken in the way our political contests are conducted and covered. Think again of Rick Perry’s big “oops.” His temporary (anguishingly long, but only temporary) inability to remember the third Cabinet-level government agency he would eliminate was the focus of attention for days afterward and wound up seriously, maybe even fatally, damaging his candidacy. If he had remembered the names of all three agencies, that debate and the rest of his campaign would have gone very differently.

And that’s upside-down and backwards, because the thing that Rick Perry stumbled and bumbled trying to remember was that he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. Just months after the Fukushima disaster, Rick Perry voluntarily and deliberately chose to tell the American people that he wanted to get rid of the government’s role in nuclear safety, and yet the radically dangerous substance of what he tried to say was less damaging to his campaign then the fact that he stumbled in trying to say it.

In New Hampshire this week, Newt Gingrich said this:

If the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention to talk about why the African-American community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps.

If he had misspoken, forgetting the name of the NAACP or perhaps saying something like “NCAA” instead, then he’d be in the middle of a media circus and his campaign would take a hit as he became the butt of jokes until the next politician garbled some words.

But he didn’t misspeak. He said what he meant and he meant what he said.

Gingrich is insisting that this comment was taken out of context. Elsewhere in that same speech, he said that, “There’s no neighborhood I  know of in America where if you went around and asked people would you your children have food stamps or pay checks, you wouldn’t have a majority saying they’d rather have paychecks.”

If that’s what he believes, then it’s not clear why he thinks the NAACP and “the African-American community” need him — Newt Gingrich — to explain to them “why” they should believe what they already believe, or what it is he thinks is unique and exceptional about black people that makes them — contradicting his other statement — “satisfied with food stamps.” He was invited to the Family Research Council’s convention, and he went, and yet he didn’t see any need while he was there to deliver a lecture “about why the white evangelical community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” That’s a lecture he reserves for black people, and no matter what context he builds around that singling-out of “the African-American community” it won’t rescue him.

What’s amazing to me, as I said in the previous post, is that Gingrich’s primary opponents — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Rick Perry — haven’t jumped on this opportunity.

This is a free kick, an open goal, a hanging curveball, a giant fish in a teeny tiny barrel.

Newt Gingrich is their opponent. They are competing against him for a finite number of votes in a zero-sum contest. And he has just voluntarily and deliberately said something stupid and hateful.

Here is what you do when your opponent voluntarily and deliberately says something stupid and hateful: You pounce on it and you pound on it. You padlock it around his neck with a heavy chain and make him beg for the key. You make him own it or you make him disown it and you don’t relent until he does one or the other.

This is how campaigns work. This is what candidates do. Yet Mitt Romney has not done this. Rick Santorum has not done this. Ron Paul has not done this. Rick Perry has not done this.

Why not?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Because all four of those individuals are leading members of the Republican Party.

    (They are also all stupid and insane in their own unique and special ways.)

    (Yeah, I know. Redundant.)

  • walden

    take your point, but the Perry example isn’t quite right. The Department of Energy is not responsible for regulating nuclear plant safety (but does manage its own nuclear facilities – mostly weapons facilities). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the safety regulator.  (I’m sure you remember Three Mile Island?)

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    I work for the DOE, so I have some knowledge of this subject.  We don’t regulate nuclear facilities directly (the NRC is a semi-independent agency), but we did provide substantial technical assistance on both the Fukashima disaster and the Gulf oil spill.  More importantly, we’re the folks who do most of the work on the safety of the country’s nuclear weapons, as well as international nuclear non-proliferation, in partnership with the folks in the State Department.

    What’s terribly ironic is that most people assume the entire DOE is the section I work for, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  I believe we do awesome things, but our budget is only a fraction of the entire department’s (less than a 1/10, in fact). So when they say they want to get rid of the DOE, they usually mean my office.  In general, not only do politicians have no idea what my specific office does, they’re unaware that the rest of the agency even exists.

  • spinetingler

    “the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable
    Energy. …our budget is only a
    fraction of the entire department’s (less than a 1/10, in fact). ”

    Your budget wouldn’t likely even cover the doughnut budget for the DOE black projects…

  • P J Evans

    There’s also FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Which probably has something to say about nuclear energy, although they seem to be concerned more with things like competition between energy companies (making sure it exists where it should).

  • Twig

    You’ve put me in the odd moral conundrum of wondering if I respect Newt Gingrich more than Mitt Romney because Gingrich doesn’t even attempt to hide his contempt and disinterest for us little people.

    I mean, I suppose openly loathing the people you wish to represent does count as a strategy.

  • http://twitter.com/Jenk3 Jen K

     the thing that Rick Perry stumbled and bumbled trying to remember was that he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. Just months after the Fukushima disaster, Rick Perry voluntarily and deliberately chose to tell the American people that he wanted to get rid of the government’s role in nuclear safety, and yet the radically dangerous substance of what he tried to say was less damaging to his campaign then the fact that he stumbled in trying to say it.
    It seemed to me that Perry’s lack of memory showed that he really doesn’t CARE about eliminating the department – he just thought it would appeal to voters. AKA the stumble revealed his mendacity. 

    Re: Newt, I AM seeing comments on it, but not from his opponents. Why? Because the opponents (and presumably their staff) think the same way Newt does.  They all assume that African-Americans prefer food stamps to paychecks. Their silence is telling us all we need to know. 

  • JohnK

    Considering Santorum made an almost identical comment the same day (?) it would be risible for him to go after Gingrich. At least Gingrich made his point explicitly clear; Santorum tried to backtrack and say that he didn’t actually mean “black” and just mispronounced something else (although he refused to clarify what he actually mean).

    I understand Twig’s point about Gingrich v. Romney. The nice thing about Gingrich is that he’s such an apologetic jackass that you can engage with the substance of what he’s saying (especially when he tries to address the black community, which he does a lot for God knows what reason) without worrying that he’s going to come up with some halfassed “I mispronounced what you misinterpreted”. He flipflops too but not every single time.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    If another (edit)Republican(/edit) candidate wanted to hang this statement around Newt’s neck, it wouldn’t be by calling out the racism, it would be by calling out (what Republicans are now calling) the socialism.

    If Newt thinks that African-Americans should demand paychecks, who does he believe they should be making that demand to?

    Workers demanding paychecks from business? That sounds like the kind of thing a Union does!

    Citizens demanding that the government give them jobs? That sounds like a demand for more government, bigger government, and more burearocracy.

    Taxpayers demanding the government create jobs through economic stimulus? According to Fox news and the RNC, that’s Socialism! (Beside, everyone knows the government can’t create jobs!)

    Only then could another candidate could break out the statistic that most folks who get food stamps are white, and that it’s terrible to perpetuate racially-charged stereotypes about government assistance to the poor!

    (and yes, I feel a little dirty for having written this)

  • FangsFirst

    I’m amused by the assumption that “food stamps” and “paychecks” are somehow mutually exclusive.

  • Twig

    I doubt Gingrich has even seen or held a physical paycheck in 20 years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    One of the insidious thing about “Welfare to Work” is that, as soon as you get work, you lose the welfare, even if the work isn’t bringing in the same amount as the welfare did.  Nice incentive to get off welfare, huh?

  • FangsFirst

    One of the insidious thing about “Welfare to Work” is that, as soon as
    you get work, you lose the welfare, even if the work isn’t bringing in
    the same amount as the welfare did.  Nice incentive to get off welfare,
    huh?

    Yeah, my best friend in high school and college had a mother on welfare. Kinda. She worked jobs, too.
    He was the one who explained that to me–not as a defense of his mother, but an objective “This system is stupid” explanation.

    And of course my *coworkers* have EBT cards. And Wal-Mart is cautious as hell about working anyone without pay these days (as with anything I suppose it depends more on the store, but I even ask about a department transfer and managers start saying, “Are you on the clock? Wait until you’re on the clock. This is work related, after all!”–not in a nasty way, but definitely in an “oh no please don’t report us” sort of way, for sure), nevermind the absurdity of the idea that any of them is just hanging out volunteering.

    It’s been suggested that I take on SNAP myself over the years (not that there’s something wrong with being on it, other than being an indicator of being financially screwed, which is the part that concerns me)

  • Anonymous

    We need to demand that minimum wage be increased until it has the same purchasing power that the 1970 minimum wage did.  En masse.

    And come up with some incentives to actually hire Americans, while we’re at it. The whole reason companies can get away with the appallingly low min. wage we have right now is because they can always threaten to replace us with robots or illegal immigrants for even LESS.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    It’s the binary black-and-white thought process of the right-wing authoritarian in action, combined with the fact that they no longer have complete contact with reality. 

    In the imaginary world Gingrich, Perry, et al. are speaking from, a job with a paycheck obviates the need for food stamps, WIC or other forms of public assistance.  In the event their wage does not cover all of their living expenses, the solutions are extremely simple, and solely dependent on the individual–cut out unnecessary expenses, switch jobs, or move to a place with better employment options.  This does not take into account that many people are already living on budgets pared clear to the bone (yes, we may purchase “luxury” goods with what money we have, *when* we have it–as someone once said, it’s nice to have the means to cook AND store food, keep our homes relatively comfortable, and communicate with friends and family by some means other than face-to-face), nor does it take into account that there may not be any jobs within easy transport range that pay any better than our current job that we’re qualified to do, and the training necessary to qualify for them also takes time and money we don’t have.  And it definitely doesn’t take into account that pulling up stakes and moving may be impractical at best, outside our current abilities at worst, and may actually place us in a far worse position than we are currently even if we *do.* 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Gingrich, Perry, Romney et al are exceedingly _rich_ men.  They _live_ in a world where “paycheck” means “slice of a six-figure income”. So it’s not hard to see why they would make that mistake:

    It’s the side they’re _really_ on bleeding through. The side of the 1%, for whom government assistance is *means* “thing that siphons a bit off of the high-energy beams of money being projected into my bank account”, not “Thing that helps people keep body and soul together”. For all their talk about representing the common working-class person and being a champion of the masses, these are people for whom the poor — even the working poor — are like a funny kind of draught animal.

  • FangsFirst

    And it definitely doesn’t take into account that pulling up stakes and
    moving may be impractical at best, outside our current abilities at
    worst, and may actually place us in a far worse position than we are
    currently even if we *do.*

    It disturbs me deeply every time I remember that they’re not.  It should
    be unnecessary for a working person to need food stamps in order to
    survive.

    What I’ve never understood is how it is anyone imagines EVERYONE can have a living wage job if they just try. Okay, *poof* everyone has amazing levels of ambition and the ability to be hired. Hooray!
    Wait, did that somehow eliminate fast food workers and retail workers and restaurant servers and pizza delivery people and janitors and all sorts of other below or barely living wage jobs?
    Who the hell is working the jobs that don’t pay living wages once everyone “moves somewhere else” or whatever the hell they think people can do?
    Everyone CAN’T do that. First there aren’t enough living wage jobs, but second, non-living-wage jobs don’t disappear.

    I’m inclined to believe that usually this rhetoric stems from that kind of “I don’t understand what it is like living on nothing, so that can’t possibly actually happen in this country.” I generally tend to feel that this is a sincere sentiment: “You can just get a better job!” Even if it WERE true, there just aren’t enough of them and never will be and we will always need crap jobs to be filled anyway.

    How does this not get through to people? Is it that they don’t understand that being paid minimum wage is so far below a living wage it isn’t even funny? Do they sincerely believe that high schoolers and college students can make up the entire “crappy low-paying job” market?
    I mean, I imagine it comes from not thinking very hard about it (or at all), but what kind of stupid excuse or explanation are they riding on?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Is it that they don’t understand that being paid minimum wage is so far below a living wage it isn’t even funny?

    No, no they do not.  I’ve heard people claim, with their bare faces hanging out, that if we just get rid of the minimum wage, there will be enough jobs for everyone!  Because workers don’t actually NEED food or shelter, I guess. 

  • FangsFirst

    Hey, there probably WOULD be jobs for everyone.

    Man, staffing problems would be a thing of the past!

    So long as you didn’t mind an entire staff of people starving and constantly ill from living outsider under newspapers or blankets or whatever they could find.

    They couldn’t call out sick though. Since they wouldn’t have phones. But those are a luxury anyway, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Answer — They don’t really care about the issue; they just want us to stop talking about so we can get back to shoveling money into their accounts. If they really cared, they would at least take the time to understand the basic situation, but they clearly haven’t.

  • FangsFirst

    Heh. Yeah I never thought they CARED. I just think they sincerely believe it when they say “there are ways to get jobs” and stuff.
    I more thought maybe they’d consider the really, REALLY obvious problem with the entire sentiment and how it could be pointed out to them. It couldn’t be called false accusations of racism or anything else. It’s just…impossible. It’s not possible. And there’s no way to realistically or even fantastically insist that it is.

    But, hey. No one has ever brought it up to them, so I guess there’s no need for them to figure out how to defend it or think harder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I just think they sincerely believe it when they say “there are ways to get jobs” and stuff.

    Yeah, but I don’t think they care enough to sincerely believe that. When Herman Cain suggests that the reason the unemployment rate is so high is because of laziness, it isn’t because he’s forgotten about the recession or is too stupid to connect an economic downturn with widespread joblessness. It’s the equivalent of a parent saying, “Because I said so” or a teenager saying “What-EVER!” It’s a brush-off, designed to cut off debate so they can move onto something more interesting to them.

    Of course, later on, when given an opportunity to bash President Obama over the unemployment rate, they’ll suddenly realize that there really aren’t enough new jobs being created to keep up with the population. They’ll suddenly understand how creating 200,000 McDonald’s jobs is not the solution to long-term structural unemployment, because those jobs don’t pay enough to support a family and return very little marginal value to the community. Some of them might even understand that there is something that the federal government can do to help fix this problem.

    But they’ll only know these things and remember these facts when it’s convenient for them. When they’re not interested in talking about these issues, they’ll default to the suggestion that there are billions of unfilled high-paying jobs and Americans are just too lazy to take them.

  • FangsFirst

    It’s the equivalent of a parent saying, “Because I said so” or a
    teenager saying “What-EVER!” It’s a brush-off, designed to cut off
    debate so they can move onto something more interesting to them.

    Ooh! that is such an excellent encapsulation! Thank you!
    Capturing the fact that the parent or teenager feels utterly right in making those shut off comments and doesn’t consider that there could be reasons for it to be different…perfect!

  • Anonymous

    It disturbs me deeply every time I remember that they’re not.  It should be unnecessary for a working person to need food stamps in order to survive.

  • http://about.me/matthew.platte Matt Platte

    For those Republicans (and Ron Paul) the racism stick has no handle, just pointy-hurty bits from end to end.  Better to leave that one alone.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Is the “Recent comments” list on the right not working for anyone else?

    Disqus is making me nostalgic for WordPress, and that takes some doing.  :-P

  • Anonymous

    You have dealt with evangelicals long enough to know why not — because in their epic struggle of “us v. them” the “them” always includes African Americans. Newt’s contenders for the nomination will remain quiet on this because
    they don’t want to alienate the racists in their party. And Rick Perry
    doesn’t want anyone to bring up the name of his ranch again, which would
    surely happen if he worked up the nerve to call out someone else’s
    racism.

    A bigger why not needs to be reserved for the mainstream media. What’s the media’s excuse for not calling b-s on Newt’s claim? When is someone going to ask him to his face (and Rick Santorum who  made a similar egregiously racist claim earlier this week) the following question — “The majority of people who use food stamps are white. Why did you feel the need to specifically mention black people when you made that claim?” Then follow it up with repeated questions about his insertion of race when he’s attacking a government entitlement program. Maybe if this type of questioning ever happened, republicans might stop saying this racist crap in public. They will never stop believing it, but maybe they’d realize that it’s impolitic to say it out loud in this day and age of camera phones.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    A bigger why not needs to be reserved for the mainstream media. What’s the media’s excuse for not calling b-s on Newt’s claim?

    If they were honest, I suspect it would be something along the lines of “we are lazy, spineless hacks who will unquestioningly swallow ANYTHING an Important Person says for fear of losing our all-important Access.”

  • runsinbackground

    I think that that raises the question as to under what circumstances it’s appropriate to save or spend Access (assuming that it’s the sort of thing that is open to that metaphor). Should a news agency spend Access to bust Gingrich’s ass over this appalling comment now, or should they save it so as to have it handy when they need to bust President Romney’s (or Santorum’s or Gingrich’s or whoever’s) ass over some other moronic and/or evil policy decision in the future?

  • Rugosa

    You’re right that Access is an issue, but not because the media wants to be able to bust someone’s ass in the future.  It’s Access in all its pure glory, that makes the reporter important when he has it and a goat when he doesn’t. 

    Yes, I’m trying to keep my cynicism up-to-date, cf. Lily Tomlin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    Both — because the President needs the media a lot more than the media needs the President.

    The media has been openly hostile to several Presidents (LBJ and Clinton chief among them).  But they still got invited to press conferences.

  • Anonymous

    The media does focus pretty relentlessly on gaffes, though, and don’t seem to worry too much about losing access by pissing off the politician who screwed up, even when it’s long been known that the media can actually play a large role in destroying a campaign by doing this.

    It’s not about access to politicians; it’s about access to an audience. A popular enough media organization can force politicians to provide access. The most important thing for a media organization is to maintain the trust of its viewers by appearing as fair as possible (to them). Fox actually does a pretty good job of calling out Democrats who deserve it because it can do that without fear of its audience siding with the politician over the network, and so doing this only increases trust in the network (by implicit comparison to the lying Democrat). The problem that CNN has, for example, is that their relationship with their audience is built on a reputation for being unbiased and non-partisan, and their audience is not overwhelmingly ready to believe one side of the story. If CNN attacks Gingrich, they lose the eyeballs of everyone who agrees with Gingrich and feed a liberal media narrative that they’d like to avoid. It’s basically the same reason that other candidates aren’t attacking Gingrich; enough people whose opinions CNN and the Republican candidates have to care about are sympathetic enough to Gingrich that it’s stupid to call him out, because there’s no compensating advantage to be had in picking up new supporters/viewers (this is obvious among the primary electorate, but is also pretty true for CNN). It would not at all surprise me to see several people on MSNBC go at him over this, but they have a different audience and make a different value proposition to that audience.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    #3:

    The media does focus pretty relentlessly on gaffes, though, and
    don’t seem to worry too much about losing access by pissing
    off the politician who screwed up, even when it’s long been
    known that the media can actually play a large role in
    destroying a campaign by doing this.

    This is  more of an example of IOKIYAR.  The media was perfectly happy to pounce on any little error (gaffes, mistakes, or even lies from Karl Rove) from Al Gore.  They didn’t seem too concerned with Access to his White House.

  • Anonymous

    Fred:  “This is a free kick, an open goal, a hanging curveball, a giant fish in a teeny tiny barrel.”

    Because it’s something that the others wouldn’t want emphasized.  Just as when an airplane crashes, rival airlines don’t take advantage of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    You know why not, Fred: the candidates all know that the Republican primary electorate they’re courting includes far more stupid, hateful voters who would be offended by having Newt’s and their racism called out than anti-racist voters who would actually be less likely to vote for Newt because he said this.

  • Anonymous

    Because unfortunately a large part of the GOP voting block agrees very much with Gingrich and the rest aren’t about to antagonize that voting block by calling Gingrich out. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The Republicans keep asking themselves how to reach out to blacks and other minorities.

    This is an easy one!

    Any candidate who got before the cameras and said, “I think what Newt Gingrich is appalling, [cue platitudes about how the party stands for decent hard-working Americans everywhere], and his attitude is exactly the kind of deplorable thinking we need to get rid of if we, the Republicans, want to govern this country for all Americans” — well, if they meant it even a little, they might just change the voting patterns enough in the USA.

    I think they will decide to keep talking and bemoaning the lack of traction among minority voters without bothering to do anything substantive about it because TAX CUTS.

  • Zeborah

    Because it’s more taboo, considered more shocking and cruel, to call some action or speech racist than it is to do or say something racist. Racism is bad so “racist” means “evil”, and [insert person here] isn’t entirely and irrevocably evil so they can’t be racist, and calling them that will sully their good name forever, how dare you do such a vile thing? This is political correctness gone mad, it’s anti-freedom of speech, it’s anti-America!

    Because calling out racism or sexism or anything else is political suicide.

  • http://twitter.com/teflaime teflaime

    Because they are all going to angle to set Obama up as the champion of the welfare state – linking the black president to the black community and using racism to win the election?

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    Today Rick Santorum made an equally racist statement – he declared that marriage was a privilege and not a right, indicating he wants to reverse Loving vs. Virginia.

    (OK, he made it in the context of gay marriage and may not have realized just which case established marriage as a fundamental civil right. But I wouldn’t put it past him to be dog whistling here.)

  • http://failingtheinsidertest.blogspot.com/ Jeffrey

    Link?  I googled for it and failed.

    If I had to guess, Santorum said what he meant to say.  He’s in favor of States’ Rights, even in cases where he thinks the state should not exercise this right.  I would assume from his statement that he thinks states have the right to define marriage however they like, and this includes banning interracial marriage. 

    Similarly, he thinks that states should have the right to ban contraception, but should not in fact ban contraception.  Or at least, this is his professed position.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra
  • Toby

    Racism is a political tool that places poor and working class white people under the illusion that they’re somehow on the same side as rich white people. How in the world is the Republican Party going to convince white 99%ers to continue to vote against their economic interests, if not by setting them against the threatening image of poor, lazy black people who want their stuff? Without that, the Republican Party is kind of screwed. That’s why no one’s going to come out against it.

    Newt’s only mistake was being too explicit and blatant about it. You’re supposed to use suggestive images and code words–the image of the “welfare queen” and its descendants–so that everyone can pretend that nothing racist is going on.

  • animus

    A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaenon Shaenon K. Garrity

    Arrgh…I had the same reaction to Perry’s “gaffe.”  It gives me shivers to think that if he hadn’t blanked, the audience would’ve happily applauded when he proposed eliminating the Departments of Education, Commerce and Energy, and the media wouldn’t even have bothered to mention it in coverage of the debate.

    I mean, who needs federal oversight of education?  Who needs an office to issue patents and trademarks (one of the many functions of the Department of Commerce)?  Why on earth might we have a department that funds energy research and keeps track of our nuclear materials, including nuclear weapons?And, yes, Fred is correct that overseeing nuclear safety is one of the jobs of the Department of Energy.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is an independent agency that advises the DoE on nuclear issues.

  • ako

    What’s amazing to me, as I said in the previous post, is that
    Gingrich’s primary opponents — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and
    Rick Perry — haven’t jumped on this opportunity.

    Watching Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich all running around condemning each other’s racism would probably make this the most entertaining Republican primary ever, but I doubt any of them want to open themselves up to the obvious riposte.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I’ve been trying to think of a way to more succinctly state the ideas of my first comment, and I think I’ve got it…

    In U.S. politics, during the primary, you run to the extreme, and during the general election, you try to move back to the middle. So Republicans in the primary want to avoid doing anything that is seen as “leftist” or “liberal”.

    Sadly, to Republicans, opposing racism is a “liberal” issue.

  • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

    If you’re curious, actual data on recipients of food stamps (the SNAP program) can be found here (.pdf). As I discovered, in 2010 35% of recipients were white, while 22% of recipients were black.

  • nirrti

    Why would the other three pounce on Newt’s statement if they totally agree with him anyway? After all, Newt used the black people=food stamps statement because he knew it would get him even more votes, not less. Southern Strategy all the way, man.

    I happen to have an autism spectrum disorder that often makes speaking a chore, at times. Because I find it hard to find the “right” words in real time to say and I end up stammering and sounding inarticulate. This is in spite of the fact that I’m a grad student and quite intelligent.

    Unfortunately, some people tend to judge me based on the way I say things rather than the content of my speech and think of me as “slow” or worse. A “neurotypical” can say any inane thing he wants…as long as it’s done flawlessly yet I can say the most brilliant thing in the world and get ignored because my delivery was imperfect.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    The Southern Strategy is a delicate dance that involves a lot of kayfaybe on both sides. If a candidate came right out and said “If elected, I’d put all those uppity n—–s back in their place,” it would not end well for him. For the strategy to work, the candidate has to be able to plausibly deny that he meant anything racist and is shocked, shocked, that anyone would take it that way, while winking to the constituents. The constituents, contrariwise, need to be able to keep telling themselves “I’m not a racist! It’s not [racial group] I dislike, it’s just [stereotype associated with racial group] I don’t like. Why, some of my best friends are [racial group], but we get along okay because they’re just [racial group], not [stereotype]” They *need* it to be “welfare queens”, not “black people” because acknowledging that they really are just shameless bigots makes them feel like bad people. And you don’t vote for someone  who makes you feel like a bad person

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to the TV generation. People only want to hear what you have to say if it comes in easy-to-understand sound bites AND you look and sound good while saying it. :(  My tendency to ramble causes the same problem.

  • vsm

    Finland is having a presidential election in a couple of weeks, you know. It isn’t nearly as significant a position here as in the US, though not quite as ceremonial as in Germany. The campaigns have been utterly boring, as everyone knows the crown will go to the right-winger Sauli Niinistö, who’s spent the past six years campaigning with the bare minimum of subtlety, eagerly aided by the corporate media. Estimates give him something like 40% of all votes on the first round while his closest competitor will be lucky to break 10% (Each party with representatives in the parliament gets to put forward a candidate, so there’s currently eight of them). Most parties actually had difficulties finding a candidate, to the extent that the Centre Party had to allow someone hated by the leadership to run, because no one else would.

    The point? American presidential elections are a wonderful spectacle. I’m both in awe and repelled by the people willing to seriously run for the position. Their psychology is completely alien to me. The pressure must be enormous, not to mention the skills required. How to blow the right dogwhistles while also courting the moderates and the large companies, throwing dirt on your opponents while deflecting their attacks on you, touring the country from months, all the trying to look and act like what your strategist thinks the public thinks a good leader looks and acts like. I wonder how much the ability to win that game correlates with the kinds of skills necessary to a good president.

  • Lori

     
    I wonder how much the ability to win that game correlates with the kinds of skills necessary to a good president.  

     

    Available evidence says that the correlation is much weaker than any intelligent person would like. 

  • Anonymous

    As a citizen of the United States of America, I would first like to apologize for our shameful national display that we call an election.

    Although it has to be interesting to notice the contrasts between the party of Treason and Tea versus Obama in terms of pure intellect, maturity, and competence.

  • vsm

    Although it has to be interesting to notice the contrasts between the party of Treason and Tea versus Obama in terms of pure intellect, maturity, and competence.

    It is. I imagine it’s one of the reasons you need to be really, really far to the right in most European countries to not root for the Democrats.

    But really, I wouldn’t want to sit on my high horse lecturing Americans about how horrible their politics are, even if imagining oneself that much more refined and civilized than the colonials is quite attractive to us Europeans. Thankfully, the rise of right-wing populism, some of which is even uglier than tea partying*, should put a damper on it. I’m mostly amazed at the scale, really.

    *As a local example, a now-prominent politician of that stripe once publicly called a gay black man a “avttre snttbg” (rot13) without losing his party’s support. So yeah.

  • Anonymous

    “Why not?”

    Because that would require them to think there was something wrong with it, first.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    You know, this reminds me of the one time I was on a jury many years ago. 

    The case was against a young African American woman who had been busted by an undercover vice officer as a prostitute.  The lawyers on both prosecution and defense were fairly young, probably not long out of law school, and likely still building their careers.  The prosecution kept pressing that the letter of the law was what was important, the defense kept insisting that the charges were leveled because the young woman in question fit the profile of a prostitute and the DA’s office jumped to conclusions about her intentions that night. 

    The trial lasted two days.  The witness’ testimony we had to go on was sparse, and contradicted on a few little details.  It was a he-said / she-said scenario, so we in the jury had to determine which witnesses gave the most credible testimony.  However, both prosecution and defense teams did little to cross examine witnesses, did not press on them on the details that were inconsistant with other the other witnesses.  If they had asked a few more direct questions, we in the jury might have been able to better determine which situation was the most likely and thus do our civil duty as the defendant’s peers. 

    In our deliberations, we all expressed our upset at the fact that the defense and prosecution seemed to be ignoring the giant elephants in the witness’ testimony, with none of them willing to ask questions that might lead to answers that deviate from the respective narritives that they were trying to get us to believe.  They were not interested in justice, in seeing the law applied fairly and in accordance with its intended purpose, just in winning the case, regardless of what the truth was. 

    To this day, I regret not making a scene in the court room when we went back after our deliberations.  I would have been held in contempt of the court for what I felt like saying, but it would have been worth it, just to get on record that I felt that the lawyers present should have been immediately dismissed by their respective firms for dereliction of the duty that their legal system has entrusted to them. 

    What is happening here is something similar.  These candidates do not want to go the White House to fulfil a civil obligation that they feel drawn to execute.  They just care about “winning”, not “duty”.  They do not bring up this “gaffe” of Gingrich’s because doing so would prevent them using the same kind of tactics later, and might call some of their own previous statements into greater scrutiny. 

    It represents a certain moral cowardice. 


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