Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When is a Gaffe not a Gaffe?

A political gaffe, Michael Kinsley wrote years ago, is when a politician accidentally tells the truth.

Well maybe, but I suspect that we can narrow it down a little.  A gaffe in the good old USA is when a Republican says something that liberals have forbidden us to say.

That explains the Romney Libya gaffe.  You are not allowed to criticize the liberal foreign policy of appeasement.  That makes you a warmonger, someone that shoots first and aims later.

It also explains the Romney 47 percent gaffe.  You are not allowed to express the truth that liberal politics comes down to giving people free stuff, from Julia to Wall Street, and that, sensibly enough, people that want free stuff tend to vote for the Free Stuff Party.

It is impossible for President Obama to utter a gaffe, because nothing he says will outrage liberals.  Conservatives were outraged by the president's "bitter clinger" remark, but it didn't count as a gaffe because the mainstream media didn't all line up to highlight it.  You can tell when a gaffe has occurred because Rush Limbaugh will be able to set up an audio tape of about seven mainstream media newsreaders saying almost exactly the same thing, almost as if they were reading Democratic talking points.

The reason that our liberal friends think that the 47 percent remark is a notable gaffe is summed up in the headline for New York's Jonathan Chait: "The Real Romney Captured on Tape Turns Out to Be a Sneering Plutocrat."  Well, Mr. Chait, I listened to the tape and what I heard was a results-oriented businessman discussing the campaign dynamics.  There wasn't much use in the Romney campaign targeting the 47 percent that don't pay income tax with a promise to reduce income tax rates.  That's what he said.

America's real sneering problem begins with the word "plutocrat."  If you check the Oxford English Dictionary you will see that the first use of "plutocracy" dated 1843 and the first use of "plutocrat" is dated 1850.  We know what that is all about.  It is about the Napoleonic post-war baby boom starting to flex its oratorical muscles.  And the word has been used as a pejorative, a term of abuse, ever since.  In particular it is used by intellectuals to sneer at businessmen.  The pejorative use stems from the double meaning of "plutocrat."  It means rule of the wealthy, but also rule of the underworld, because Pluto was the god of the underworld.

Actually, businessmen tend not to sneer at the workers or the poor.  They tend more to shake their heads in perplexity.  That's what the bourgeois owners of the coal mines in Zola's Germinal did when the miners went on strike.  Businessmen also get ticked off when the workers occupy their factories and start breaking stuff.  But I don't think they sneer at the workers.

Longshoreman Eric Hoffer wrote his piece about sneering, so we might as well quote him, since he backs up my point.
[Y]ou are reminded of what British and French colonialists were saying about the natives... "Wait until you see what a mess these savages will make of things."

We know that rule by intellectuals... unavoidably approaches a colonial regime.

We now realize that government by persuasion has been an invention of the traders rather than of the educated. The trader is usually more interested in the substance of power than its appearance. The intellectual wants not only to possess power but to seem powerful.

It is well to remember that all through history the masses have found the intellectual a most formidable taskmaster.

A ruling intelligentsia... treats the masses as raw material to be experimented on, processed, and wasted at will.
The truth is, as Candidate Obama told his fundraiser in San Francisco, the mass of people are a bit of a problem for liberals.  They cling to their guns and God in their little towns where the jobs left 20 years ago.  In other words, Obama thinks of the American people exactly the terms developed above by Eric Hoffer 40 years ago.

Back to Mary Douglas and her Purity and Danger.  We all develop a system that explains how the world works and how to live successfully in the world.  A gaffe is something that sits crosswise to our cherished system, and therefore threatens it.  The gaffe is therefore experienced as pollution and the party that dared to utter it has to be removed.

Of course if the offending gaffe-meister persist in his heresy, his pollution of the purity of the system, then who knows where it may end.  It may end in the end of the current ruling class and their system.

But that's another story.

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