THE SHORTHAND AND THE POWER: Everything seems to fit!


Yang keeps shorthand alive: Once the “shorthand” has been established, weak minds want to advance it! For a perfect example of this practice, consider this piece by Jia Lynn Yang.

Yang’s piece appeared at the top of the front page of yesterday’s Outlook section.

At issue are two recent statements by Candidate Romney—statements which have been used to build a shorthand portrait of the hopeful. Yang seems to know there are major shortcomings with the way these “supposed gaffes” have been interpreted. But note the way she struggles and strains to keep shorthand alive:
YANG (1/22/12): On the campaign trail, Romney has weathered criticism for some supposed gaffes he’s made—“corporations are people” and “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me” are the most prominent. But these are not simply unfortunate slips of an overtired campaigner; they may reveal the real Romney. Far from backing away from them, he’s dug in. “Corporations are collections of people that are trying to have good jobs for themselves and promote the future,” Romney said while campaigning in New Hampshire, five months after uttering the original quote.

Even his insistence on having the leeway to fire people is not a one-time, isolated statement. In his 2010 book “No Apology,” Romney bemoans unions that make it tougher for employers to lay off workers: “Unfortunately, some union CEOs are less concerned about an industry’s competitiveness than they are with how many of their union’s jobs they can protect.”

The comments have been decried as tone-deaf, but they may reflect Romney’s background in the peculiar world of corporate consulting.
“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” Everybody and his pet dog has cited the problem with this out-of-context statement as a window into Romney’s vile soul. But once a shorthand account is accepted, suggestible “journalists” like Yang will fight to retain their shorthand. In this case, she grabs a single sentence from a book, trying to say that Romney’s “gaffe” was “not a one-time, isolated incident.”

But does that second statement, the one from his book, show that Romney’s “likes firing people?” In all honesty, no—it doesn’t. Unless you’re seven years old.

In fairness, Yang is engaged in a decades-old practice—the pseudo-journalistic practice of keeping shorthand alive. In our last post, we quoted Dana Milbank and Bill Turque describing the process involved in this game. In this case, Journalist Yang is “on full alert” for “the slightest deviations" by Romney. In Milbank’s language, reporters like Yang “are perpetually on the lookout for new examples” which support the shorthand they've chosen.

Note the way Yang starts to “reason” as she chases the grail. According to Yang, Romney’s “supposed gaffes...may reveal the real Romney!” (Or then again, they may not!) According to Yang, these comments “may reflect Romney’s background in the peculiar world of corporate consulting.” (Or then again, maybe they don’t!)

Of course, Romney’s proposals quite plainly reflect his adherence to plutocrat values. But we “liberals” aren’t smart enough, or trusted enough, to argue and win that case.

And so, we play a pleasing game. In the past few decades, this game has savaged progressive interests.

This game leads us off toward Bedlam. Our tribe doesn't seem to know.

1 comment:

  1. Quoting out of context "I like being able to fire people" is, of course, quite wrong. It does show the depths to which our political conversation has sunk that the people who quote this aren't shooed off the stage.

    What is also weird is that in context the statement is already quite damning.

    Romney describes a utopian reality where your average American can a) pick and choose any-old medical insurer, b) at any time, and c) "fire" the current one when dissatisfied?

    It only because of the health care act that you will have a functioning consumer-oriented insurance market (these are the "exchanges"). And it is only because of the same law that you will be able to switch and bring your pre-existing conditions with you.

    A functioning punditocracy would be pointing out that Romney had made the case for the Republican-reviled "Obamacare," by appealing to Republican ideals with Republican language.

    And that would have the additional benefit of bringing the conversation away from har-haring at alleged gaffes, and back to policy.