I look back longingly on the verbal calamities of four years ago. It felt like they might mean something. When Sarah Palin said the one could see Russia from Alaska, I thought: “This woman makes crap up when she has no idea what to say.” When Obama asked what a “ball-hitch” was or that Hillary’s voters were “clinging to their guns and religion,” I thought: “This man belongs to a distinct social class.”
But this campaign season has been so much worse. These “gaffes” are useless.
I was in the Nashua, New Hampshire ballroom when Mitt Romney said “I like being able to fire people.” I was kneeling between the tables about 10 yards from him. It was rather clear he was making a commonplace observation about the free market. The Chamber of Commerce audience loved it. Not a single person gasped or gave a screwy look to one another when he said it. I thought Romney had accomplished much that morning.
But in the back of the room, where most of the media was, the remark was tweeted quickly and instantly declared a gaffe.
More recently, Barack Obama was making an entirely banal point about society and government, that no entrepreneur can claim to have built his business all by his lonesome. “You didn’t get there on your own,” he said. I don’t have to recount that.
There is this weird assumption on the part of the media that if a candidate can be hurt if their comments are misconstrued then it is the solemn duty of the media to misconstrue those remarks.
This news coverage is justified in passive constructions. “The Obama campaign opened itself up to attack,” or “The Romney remark could reinforce a negative image.”
Then the defensive partisans charge in: “Let’s put the remarks in context.”
The charging partisans of the other side: “Let’s put them in some other broader context, like our nation’s unemployment problem, or its history of racism, or in contrast to an obscure Federalist paper quote I can recall.”
This is the cue for pundits who brand themselves “thoughtful” and “fair” to narcotize us with their thoughtfulness.
For once, I’d like a pool report to tell the truth “Candidate x got off the bus and addressed an enthusiastic crowd with the exact same platitudinous crap he said four hours earlier to another equally enthusiastic crowd. There was no sense to it whatsoever, but man, these people really ate it up. And his enemies will twist his words into slightly offensive shapes and make a big dumb boring hullaballoo about it until the nation finally stirs itself to end this thing with their votes.”
And even in wishing this, I’m playing another predictable role in the charade. I can do no other.