Supplemental: Construing a comment on Reconstruction!


Frequently, we're surprised:
We're often puzzled by Gail Collins' columns.

Today, she does an easy-reader comparison of Candidates Sanders and Clinton, being careful not to tax her readers.

(Way back when, Collins voiced an explicit theory about journalism—if you make it really easy and fun, a whole lot of readers will come.)

Collins writes today's column in Q-and-A form. Below, you see two consecutive Q-and-A's. We're putting the questions in bold, just the way Collins does.

These Q-and-A's concern Candidate Clinton. Do the answers make sense together? The italics are ours:
So Clinton isn’t in the pocket of big special interests who paid her millions of dollars to give speeches?

Many people think her Wall Street reform plan is O.K. But on a personal level, it was inexcusable of her to give those $200,000 speeches for investment bankers and the like when she knew she was going to be running for president. Not good at all.

You’d better say something positive about Hillary Clinton now or I’m going to call this quits.

She’s stupendously smart. She has a lifetime record of fighting for good causes, particularly children and women’s rights...
Do those answers make sense together? First, Collins says it was inexcusable for Clinton to give those $200,000 speeches when she knew she'd be running for president.

In her very next breath, she says Clinton's "stupendously smart!"

To us, those answers are a difficult fit. That said, let's consider that second assessment of Clinton.

For ourselves, we've never quite understood why so many people say that Clinton's "stupendously smart." It's a fairly standard line. We've never quite seen the evidence.

On the brighter side, Candidate Clinton plainly isn't dumb! What does seem slightly dumb to us is the way her recent extemporaneous comment was interpreted, her remark about President Lincoln.

Uh-oh! At the end of Monday night's CNN forum, Clinton was asked to chat about the one past president she finds most inspiring. It's the type of question candidates get asked 1) in the hope that we can finally learn what they're really like, or 2) in the hope that they'll put their foot in their mouth.

Despite being stupendously smart, Clinton quickly created a problem. We highlight the part of her rumination which got people upset:
CLINTON (1/25/16): He kept his eye on the future and he also tried to keep summoning up the better angels of our nature. You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive. And I don't know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.

But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.
That answer wasn't stupendously helpful. In our view, Kevin Drum offered the smartest assessment, sagaciously saying this:

"It's not totally clear to me what Hillary meant by that."

In our view, that was a very bright comment by Drum. Here's why we say that:

People! Extemporaneous speech isn't like a written text. In extemporaneous speech, people often make slightly murky remarks, statements which can be understood more than one way.

We're often surprised by the number of people who don't seem to grasp or acknowledge that fact. Instead, they impose an interpretation on a somewhat murky remark, usually an interpretation which makes them mad. It doesn't seem to occur to them that the speaker may not have intended her remark in precisely the way they took it.

In the case of Clinton's remark, you can take it to mean that Clinton thinks that Reconstruction was a bad idea. Quite a few pundits did take it that way, at which point they began to explain why that was wrong, so wrong.

Later, her campaign said that wasn't what she meant. Essentially, they said she expressed herself a bit clumsily. We'd have to say that could be true.

For Drum's more complete assessment, you can just click here. For ourselves, we're often amazed when people formulate hard-and-fast interpretations of some extemporaneous statement which may just be a bit murky.

(For the record, we recommend applying this forgiving interpretive rule to people in both major parties.)

Is Hillary Clinton "stupendously smart?" We've never quite understood that standardized assessment. On the other hand, it seems to us that Collins possibly vegs out on a lot of low-grade TV shows.

Last year, she referred to "The Cupcake Wars" as if everyone would know what that meant. This morning, she poses this question to us the humans near the end of her piece:

"Do you ever watch those house-hunting shows where people make the list of what they want in their next home, and it’s always a place in the heart of the city that’s quiet and has green space for the dog and four bedrooms so guests can come visit, for no more than $500 a month?"

Crackers, please! For us, the answer arrived with stupendous speed:

No! We never do!

Coming soon: People who judge candidates as if they were college professors


  1. The narrative says Democrats are smart; Republicans are dumb. Hillary's impressive college and law degrees show that she's smart, but there's no evidence that she's super smart. OTOH there is evidence that Cruz is super-smart, but have you seen that reported?

    Al Gore was represented as smart, and George Bush as dumb. Yet, Bush's academic record was far superior. They both graduated from top colleges with mediocre grade. But, Bush went on to earn a Harvard MBA, while Gore failed to complete a Masters in Journalism and a Masters in Theology at Vanderbilt.

    Ronald Reagan was smart and very knowledgable about policy matters. Who knew? Dwight Eisenhower was smart enough to graduate West Point, become a top general, and win the war in Europe, yet he was presented as a dummy. (That has changed in recent years.)

    Clarence Thomas is obviously smart. His success in the face of enormous obstacles and disadvantages proves that. His performance during the confirmation hearings showed how smart he was. His thinking of Congressional jurisprudence has been influential. Yet, he's often presented as a dummy.

    OTOH, has the mainstream press ever reported that Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson once said he feared that stationing 8,000 Marines on Guam would cause the island to "become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize."

    1. "The narrative that exists only inside my head says . . ."


    2. According to a very brief Google search, CBS and the Washington Post reported Hank Johnson's 2010 statement (as well as local Atlanta stations). For the record, Johnson later claimed he was joking, which could be doubted.

    3. I'll take Anonymous January 28, 2016 at 4:50 PM for $50, Monte.

    4. the narrative says david in cal is ill prepared to weigh in on who is smart.

      was it smart to try to shut down the government?
      was it smart to invade iraq? or lower taxes on the rich?
      was it smart to evaporate funding for environmental science?
      was it smart to think that it was Anita Hill's pubic hair on the coke can? is the thought of that so stuck in his head that he cannot ask questions on the job?

      and I'm sorry but were those really corn fractals in the kaleidoscope? no they were not

    5. The super smart Ted Cruz in action:

      Relatedly, Cruz is also set to join Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal at a religious liberty confab with Pastor Kevin Swanson. If you’re unfamiliar with Kevin Swanson, Right Wing Watch has put together a rather comprehensive survey of his body of work as it relates to LGBT people, among other things. Swanson celebrated the murder of an abortion provider, argued that sex slavery is actually better than social welfare programs, believes that God gave gay people AIDS as an “act of kindness,” and thinks Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill should be a model for the United States — among many other things that are, as Ted Cruz would say, politically incorrect.

      Make no mistake: Ted Cruz is running an explicitly theocratic campaign. (His well-worn Constitution seems to be missing Article VI, Section III. You know, that whole thing about banning religious tests for office.) He has mashed up radical Tentherism, talk-radio conservatism, and religious extremism into a great ball and he is running to lead a revival in this nation based in end-times Protestant eschatology. It is Dominionism 101. (There is more than a little irony present when Cruz mocks the president as "the chosen one," when there is considerable evidence that Cruz was deliberately raised to believe that of himself by his crazoid preacher father.) When Steve King says he prayed his way to endorsing Cruz, and that he did so "hoping that god would raise up a leader," he's not kidding, and I promise we'll get to that later. But the thing about it is, not only is Ted Cruz running an explicitly theocratic campaign, he's running a very good explicitly theocratic campaign. Of all the true believers in Ted Cruz on that stage, nobody believes more truly in Ted Cruz than the candidate himself.

    6. People are dead all over the world because of E.J. Dionne and Jonathan Alter.

  2. Was it really inexcusable of Hillary to give those $200,000 speeches for investment bankers and the like when she knew she was going to be running for president? The question is why they paid that much for her speeches? Is she a great orator, or are they buying influence with the next President? I'd say the latter.

    I think Hillary might be a good President. In my opinion, she has been greedy and sleezy. But, once she achieves the highest possible office, she might put the sleeze behind her and do a good job.

    1. Day of Shining Star to Be Marked in Uganda

      A Ugandan national preparatory committee for celebrating the birth anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il (the Day of the Shining Star) was inaugurated in Kampala on Jan. 21.
      Henri Masico, department director of the Ugandan Presidency, was elected chairman of the preparatory committee.
      The committee decided to arrange a meeting, photo exhibition, film show and other diverse political and cultural events to mark the Day of the Shining Star.

    2. DinC,
      If you're saying business leaders are greedy not, not stupid, you are agreeing with liberals.
      Business people didn't cause the economic crash through stupidity. They crashed it through greed and fraud.

  3. Do you ever think Bob misunderstood what others feel is a comedic piece of commentary? Did you ever catch his headlining peformance in Vegas?

    Crackers please! He left parts out of that, too.

    1. Yes, Bob does seem to miss that Collins is supposed to be funny in the Art Buchwald tradition. He may be thrown off by the fact that Art Bachward wasn't very funny and Collins even less so.

    2. They, unlike the Bobster here, have had a nice long paying career in the semi-comic field.

  4. You can't buy a president for $200,000. Even Wall Street knows that. Why doesn't Collins?

    1. "You can't buy a president for $200,000." ???

      How about millions of dollars worth of $200,000 speaking fees? Did you simply forget to add or are you stupid? (the traditional "both a and b above is an acceptable answer).

      The relevant question for how much it takes to bend a politician's backbone is "What would you do for a Klondike bar?"

    2. "You can't buy a president for $200,000." ???

      How about millions of dollars worth of $200,000 speaking fees? Did you simply forget to add or are you stupid? (the traditional "both a and b above is an acceptable answer).

      The relevant question for how much it takes to bend a politician's backbone is "What would you do for a Klondike bar?"

  5. #1 Fan of Bob Somerby Since Before His Aragon High DaysJanuary 28, 2016 at 8:25 PM

    Can't believe Bob hasn't weighed in on media coverage of the latest Barbie controversy.

    Although this is a vanity blog and Bob can explore what he wants to, - sadly to us fans - it seems (or may be) more and more evident that his recent machinations are products of the soviet mind hive at the expense of hard-news critiques.

  6. The Secret Survey

    Dating a wealthy person is the dream of many people, especially women today. There are so many luxuries that come with all that money and many would give anything just to be able to date a millionaire. Considering that there are even millionaire dating sites today that make it even easier to find a millionaire match, you still want to weigh in everything that comes with dating one. Most people look at the good side of it and remain blind to the ugly side of it. Before even getting into the dating, look at both sides and then get into it more aware and ready for the possible outcomes.

  7. I hope Bob writes a couple of more installments on liberals like Kathleen Parker.

    1. People are dead all over the world because of Parker.

  8. Clinton gets in trouble when she invokes murdered people in Presidential History.

  9. Bobtease Twins:


    "Coming soon: People who judge candidates as if they were college professors"


    "Tomorrow: Amid the hammering, banging and pounding, our plan for the next two weeks"

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