Part 1—Anthropologist needed: A famous old cult struck again last week—The Cult of the Offhand Comment.
For decades, adepts of this stupid old cult have wreaked havoc on American politics. In their most famous ritual, they seize relatively pointless remarks by presidential contenders, then bellow and wail about these remarks, distracting attention from things which actually matter.
This is one of the three million ways American voters get distracted from things which are worth discussing.
Last week, the famous old cult struck again, this time against Barack Obama, the sitting American president.
The president made a dumb remark, as everyone does at some point. He said the private sector of the U.S. economy “is doing fine,” although it plainly isn’t.
When the cult struck, our liberal leaders reacted in three basic ways:
First, they defended the accuracy of Obama’s remark. Digby pretended that Obama’s remark was right smack-dab on the money:
DIGBY (6/8/12): It is, of course, true. But in political bizarroworld, telling the truth is a gaffe.Before long, Digby posted an “update” to this rather implausible post. In this adjustment, she contradicted her original claim, while pretending that she was doing no such thing:
Of course the president is right that the private sector is doing ok and it's government cutting spending that's causing the depression. But I'm not sure how much it benefits him to point it out at this late date.
DIGBY: Update: Also too—he should have said "doing better" rather than "doing fine" which isn't the way people feel and sounds odd to the ear. Plus it isn't actually working up to capacity, so "fine" is more optimistic than it should be.According to Digby’s updated analysis, Obama shouldn’t have made his original statement because it sounds odd to the ear!
Given the fact that Obama’s statement was just plain inaccurate, this type of defense wasn’t likely to work. For that reason, some liberal intellectual leaders tried a different approach. They simply ignored the whole flap!
At the Washington Monthly blog, Ryan Cooper was sitting in for Ed Kilgore. On Friday, Cooper said nothing about Obama's remark or the attendant flap. He then authored this claim the next day:
COOPER (6/9/12): The chatter today is about Mitt Romney’s comment explicitly saying that what America needs is fewer cops, teachers, and firefighters...As Greg Sargent notes, that’s something Republicans have usually avoided, couching their “slash government” plans in vague generalities, but it’s nice to have things squarely on the table.As the nation chattered about Obama, Cooper told grateful liberal readers that the nation was actually chattering about something Romney had said in reply.
On Sunday, Kilgore returned to his post. But as of Monday morning, Obama’s remark has never been mentioned on his high-profile blog.
(On Friday night, Al Sharpton adopted this same denialist stance. In his hour-long program on The One True Liberal Channel, he discussed Romney’s remark in detail but never mentioned Obama’s. Three reliable liberal pundits helped him execute this approach. If you got your news from this program last Friday, you didn’t hear that Obama had made any type of unusual statement.)
On a political basis, will Obama’s statement turn out to be a big deal? We can’t answer that. But thanks to The Cult of the Offhand Comment, Obama’s remark will get discussed. For that reason, some liberal pundits took a rather comical third approach to the unfolding flap.
At TPM, Brian Beutler executed perfectly:
BEUTLER (6/8/12): President Obama covered a lot of ground in his press conference today, but what’s sure to get the most attention is a claim he made about the health of the private economy. This is regarded as newsworthy because reporters recognize (correctly) that Republicans will use it out of context in attack ads.Republicans will take his remark out of context! On Friday evening’s Hardball, Joan Walsh took the same approach. Indeed, she even criticized journalists, who have always been a key part of The Cult of the Offhand Comment.
You could tell Walsh was really offended by what Those People were doing:
WALSH (6/8/12): I have also got to say, I watched this unfold on Twitter today. And I saw a lot of people I respect, a lot of journalists I respect say, “Oh, wow, I know what he meant. But boy, he’s going to pay for that.”“We just have to keep saying this,” Walsh said, explaining the plan.
I don’t know. He's only going to pay for it if we pretend to be stupid and that we don’t understand the context and we let Mitt Romney get away with it. We know what he meant, and he’s right. The economy—we would have a seven-point, a 7 percent unemployment rate, which is not good, but it`s a lot lower, if it weren`t for the public sector layoffs, most of which are in red states, governors like Rick Perry and Scott Walker.
MATTHEWS: I'm with you.
WALSH: I know you’re with me, but we just have to keep saying this.
Republicans and journalists will take Obama’s remark out of context! Beutler went on to explain what Obama meant or supposedly meant, just as Walsh did on Hardball. But at this point, our analysts indulged themselves in a good solid mordant laugh.
They’ll take his statement out of context! Coming from Walsh, this complaint was especially rich.
Over the past year, Walsh has made a minor industry out of taking relatively pointless remarks by Romney out of context. Does Romney “like to fire people?” When the candidate made this pointless remark, liberal leaders instantly noted that it was being taken out of context—wildly so, Kevin Drum said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/3/12).
Even Josh Marshall said that Romney’s remark was being taken out of context. Greg Sargent said this:
“Let me go on record saying it would be misleading and unfair to clip the video in question in order to quote Romney this way: ‘I like being able to fire people.’”
That’s what a long list of liberals said on Day One, in real time. But by now, Romney’s pointless remark has become familiar low-IQ wallpaper for “liberal leaders” like Walsh. Walsh then complains when a stupid old cult plays games with Obama’s remarks!
For decades, the liberal world slept in the woods. In her current role as Chris Matthews’ press agent, Walsh has monetized the cluelessness she worked to evince in the Clinton/Gore years and their aftermath.
Now that the liberal world has emerged from the woods and has started creating new “liberal” platforms, it’s strange to see the New Liberal Culture that is being formed.
What would happen, we once asked ourselves, if an anthropologist was asked to explore the peculiar folkways of this emerging tribe? In the last year, this simple question led to one of the greatest intellectual experiments of the modern era!
Tomorrow: Margaret Mead appears