What would Wittgenstein do: Back in the 1930s, a vaudeville comedian named Al Kelly emerged as a master of double-talk.
We recall seeing Kelly on the Ed Sullivan show in the early 1960s. He would pretend to discuss some serious topic, but he would produce pure incoherence.
We thought of Kelly last Sunday morning as we watched Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press. The horror began when David Gregory asked her about a statement she once made about the ACA:
GREGORY (11/17/13): The president has been apologetic. He has been accountable for saying something that was not the case. You were speaker of the House. You, in many ways, were seen as an architect and a key ally on this. And this is what you said back in June of 2009 on MSNBC. Watch.Gregory’s question was clear and direct. We don’t want to prejudge the appropriate answer.
PELOSI (videotape): What we are talking about is affordable, quality, accessible health care for all Americans. It's about choice. If you like what you have and you want to keep it, you have the choice to do that.
GREGORY: Are you accountable for saying something that turned out not to be correct?
We don’t want to prejudge the answer. But here’s what Pelosi said to this, Gregory’s first attempt:
PELOSI (continuing directly): Well, it's not that it's not correct. It's that if you want to keep it— And it's important for the insurance company to say to people, “This is what your plan does; it doesn't prevent you from being discriminated against on the basis of pre-existing conditions; it doesn't—it's lifetime limits, annual limits and the rest of that.”Did that collection of words make sense? Already, visions of Kelly had started to conquer our mind.
Gregory wasn’t satisfied with Pelosi’s response. Like a host playing straight man for Kelly, he decided to try it again:
GREGORY (continuing directly): There's a bottom line to this, which I think people understand and the president has acknowledged, which is, if there are not— The government is deciding there have to be minimum standards that are minimum requirements in any health care plan. So if you have something and you like it and it doesn't meet what the government says you have to have, you cannot keep it. And that's not what you said here.At this point, Gregory broke in. This exchange ensued:
PELOSI: If you had your plan before the enactment of the law in 2010, if you had your plan before— There is nothing in the law that says you have to— But you know, again, we can go back and forth in this. What–
GREGORY (continuing directly): But this is an important— because the grandfathering has changed. And the bottom line is, the president acknowledged—it doesn't seem like you're acknowledging—that saying to people back in 2009, “Hey, this is going to be easy. If you like what you have, you can keep it. This is all about choice—”Gregory wasn’t willing to quit without making one last attempt. Here’s what happened:
PELOSI: And you could. You could if you had your plan until the enactment of the law in 2000 (sic) —any pre— Grandfathering is for those before 2000 (sic). But let me say this, and I commend the president. He's gracious, and he's taking responsibility. But that doesn't mean that there was anything in the law that said if you like what you had before 2010, you couldn't keep it. But I think it's really important to make that point. He took responsibility for the big picture, and that's important for him to do because that's what people see. But this is nothing— But you said earlier, if you— if the law says that you must— you can't— the law doesn't say that.
But again, neither here nor there. How do we go forward?
GREGORY (continuing directly): But the bottom line is, people are getting policies that are canceled, and that was not the representation that was made. And it was also foreseeable. That was part of the debate that this would actually happen.To watch the tape, click here. We’ve edited the transcript as fairly as we can.
PELOSI: Well, now, I would agree with you for the policy since 2010, but not for the 2000 before (sic). But the president has also said that the insurance companies—and many of them have been very responsible, and some not so. The insurance company has to say to you, “You're not getting the exemption, pre-existing conditions; you will have lifetime limits; you will have annual limits.” And by the way, you have to tell people that they can go to the exchange, the marketplace, where they may qualify for a subsidy or they may just get a better price.
Wittgenstein thought a great deal of “philosophical” discourse was, in effect, a form of doubletalk. In their “surface grammar,” philosophical statements sound like familiar, everyday statements which do in fact make sense.
Watching Pelosi, our thoughts went lower. We thought of Kelly, confusing us rubes on the Ed Sullivan show.
Brother Kelly explains: In this clip from 1956, “NBC chief engineer Pelman” tells Ernie Kovacs how the network will cover the political conventions.
Will NBC use a coaxial cable? Starting around 7:40, “Pelman” explains.
We’re not saying you’ll think this is funny. We’re saying it sounds like Pelosi.