IMITATIONS OF DISCOURSE: Candidate Mondale's etiquette gaffe!

FRIDAY, MAY 29, 2020

As gaffe culture emerged:
We self-defined, self-impressed "human beings" can be amazingly dumb.

Let's make that observation a bit more interesting. The intellectual leaders among us humans can be amazingly dumb!

Wittgenstein sketched one of the ways that dumbness can work among the highest academic elites. This morning, though, the New York Times seems to go out of its way to showcase this hard-wired dumbness.

How dumb can the dumbness get? Consider the way this letter begins. The New York Times chose to publish this letter at the very top of today's letters column:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (5/29/20): Amy Cooper is surely a Karen (an entitled white woman), and a bad dog owner, and probably a little racist, but does she deserve to have her life ruined over this incident—and perhaps be permanently banned from the park, as the Central Park Civic Association has asked?
So the letter begins. It begins by normalizing a mocking, derogatory term which is applied to a wide swath of people on the basis of race (and gender).

In fairness, this writer says a "white woman" is only a "Karen" if she is "entitled." Only a fool would think that a group denigration of that type can be contained in such ways.

This morning, the Times helps enable the current superspread of this derogatory race- and gender-based term. In doing so, it joins The Atlantic, and the Central Park birder himself, along with that Harvard man's sister and a growing cast of thousands.

(Stating the obvious: in terms of misogyny and woman-hating, the term plays a role similar to that of the previous term, "dumb blonde." You'd think that anyone could see that, but our brightest lights routinely won't.)

In The Atlantic, a Kaitlyn offered this chirpy analysis back on May 6. (She referred to the term as "a popular joke.") Her piece was linked to this very week by a David Graham.

It should be hard to be this dumb, but our high-end journalists are up to the task. Such observations help us recall the birth of the modern-day gaffe.

Michael Kinsley explained the emerging phenomenon in the trivia-pimping year of 1984. The whole point of the gaffe, he claimed, was that the much-maligned statement in question had to be trivial, pointless.

In that sense, the ensuing pseudo-discussion had to be defiantly dumb. The ensuing bafflegab would therefore, by definition, be an imitation of discourse, even perhaps of life.

Back in 1984, modern gaffe culture had begun to emerge. Today, it helps define the simple-minded world of our upper-end press corps, many of whose silly-Bill members have "gone to the finest schools."

(Stating the regrettable: When Bob Dylan presented that phrase in what may be his most famous song, he was, by fairly obvious inference, perhaps and possibly tilting toward the denigration of women.)

Today, the press corps [HEART] gaffes! Over the past three or four decades, gaffe culture has expanded to include a wide array of monumentally pointless missteps.

As we've noted, the press corps will seize on the spoken gaffe, but also on the wardrobe or hairdo gaffe.

They'll note the cheese on the cheesesteak gaffe. For decades, they've discussed the gaffe which involves asking for the wrong type of beverage when in a bar or saloon.

In 2008, the Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick discovered the "too skinny to get elected" gaffe. In a sensible world, this would have meant that no serious newspaper would ever have wanted to hire any such Amy.

In our world, the reverse was true. When the New York Times saw her "too skinny" piece, they knew they had to recruit her! (Or so perhaps it went.)

We've listed many kinds of gaffes this week, but we haven't yet mentioned the etiquette gaffe. According to a report by Gay Jervey, that gaffe was invented by a Maureen. It happened in 1984, the year of Kinsley's excavations.

Jervey's report was sourced to Bill Kovach, Washington bureau chief at the New York Times during the era in question. Kovach's story appeared in Jervey's profile of Dowd in the late, lamented Brill's Content.

Kovach had a major career. But good God! This story:
JERVEY (June 1999 issue): Even as a young reporter Dowd had an eye for telling detail and nuance...“We were on deadline,” Kovach explains. “Mondale and Ferraro had just been nominated...As the candidates stood on the platform, Maureen jumped up and grabbed me and said, ‘Look! Look! There is the story. Mondale doesn’t know whether to hug his wife or Ferraro. He doesn’t know what to do.’ She saw that signaled a new era, with women playing a whole new role in politics and men not quite knowing what to do.” That keen observation...crystallized for Kovach just how clairvoyant a reporter she was.
In this way, Dowd's brilliance was discovered by her newspaper's power brokers. Sixteen years later, she built seven (7) columns around Candidate Gore's bald spot.

Candidate Bush won by a hair, then sent our army into Iraq. People are dead all over the world because of the gaffe of the bald spot.

Concerning Mondale's etiquette gaffe—he didn't know which Karen to hug!—please consider the following:

On that same evening, Candidate Mondale was caught in public making an accurate statement. During the speech in which he accepted his party's nomination for president, Mondale said that he would have to raise taxes—and that his opponent, Ronald Reagan, was going to do the same thing, although he wouldn't tell us.

In this emerging age, this was the ultimate gaffe. No, it wasn't a trivial statement, but it was an accurate statement—and according to Kinsley's various definitions, a gaffe occurs when a politician says something that's actually true.

This spoken gaffe dealt with a major policy topic. For many years thereafter, Mondale was ridiculed, by reporters and pundits, for having made that accurate statement.

That said, up in a sky box, a Karen had reportedly spotted a gaffe—in this case, an etiquette gaffe. It didn't get a lot of play as campaign reporting unfolded, but it presumably led to this Karen's ascent, and onward to the "Creeping Dowdism" which came to engulf the Times.

It was a Katherine, Katherine Boo, who stood up on her two hind legs and tried to warn us about that creeping investment in trivia. In the years which followed his disregarded warning, trivia may be their most important product as the Samsons of the guild proceeded to dumb the world down.

That said:

Regarding Aperol Spritz and Taylor Swift, you can check the original document here.

We don't want to offer that document as a criticism of the youngish reporter who wrote about Candidate Biden's gaffe last week, linking it to Candidate Clinton's previous "hot sauce" gaffe. Boo tried to serve the nation well, and so will that youngish reporter.

To us, that document showcases something else. It documents the way New York Times editors seem to love our nation's trivia and those who pursue it well!

No, you can't run a modern nation this way. In the words of a famously average Joe, just "take a good look around."

Tomorrow: The Family of Man, the book


  1. Calm down, dear Bob, please.

    In all fairness, you're acting like a crybully.

    Every time Our Beloved Commander is called 'insane' or some such, you start jumping, joyfully, up and down.

    But when your zombie boss Rapist Joe is criticized for his bullshit (albeit quite softly), that's a Greek fucking tragedy, nothing less.

    Calm down, dear Bob, calm down.

    1. Snowflakes be snowflaking.

    2. Rapist Mao just knows in his heart that Biden is guilty, because it takes one to know one, right Mao?

      Rapist Mao perhaps believes that "like recognizes like", huh Rapist Mao.

      Rapist Mao never had a willing woman, so he calls them all zombies because he thinks all sex is like coerced sex, right Rapist Mao.

      And that's a Greek fucking tragedy.

  2. "Stating the obvious: in terms of misogyny and woman-hating, the term plays a role similar to that of the previous term, "dumb blonde.""

    I disagree. The term "Karen" refers to a sense of entitlement that comes from race and social class (upper SES). Blonde only refers to hair color and race (since it is difficult to be naturally blonde without also being white).

    Blonde jokes are misogynistic because they are meant to refer to all women, with blondes as the more extreme example. Karen refers only to upper class privileged women and is not a racialized term (although the name is WASP).

    I agree with Somerby that it is wrong to mock any group, especially based on fixed characteristics such as race or gender. But hasn't he done the same thing, in the way he maligns all of humanity, calling all of us dumb? And isn't he doing the same thing when he singles out academic elites?

    The current misogynistic terms are Chad and Stacey. Karen is singled out for ridicule of the upper class, which makes it not so much misogynistic as classist. And if it is not OK to mock poor people, why is it OK to mock upper class people? (Yes, figures of authority and the rich have always been targets of ridicule because it amuses the masses.)

    My point is that if Somerby truly abhors this kind of Karen-mocking, why does he so frequently do the same to other groups he himself doesn't identify with?

  3. This "chirpy" (how sexist a term is that?) description of Karen has none of the elements Somerby complains about:

    "Amid the coronavirus pandemic, “Karen” has been adopted as a shorthand to call out a vocal minority of middle-aged white women who are opposed to social distancing, out of either ignorance or ruthless self-interest."

    People are using the term to talk about white middle-aged women who call the police on others because they disapprove of their behavior.

    I don't see anything racial, classist, or sexist about it, except that men tend to use physical aggression directly instead of using the police as a proxy for their aggressive urges.

    How telling is it that Somerby equates this to blonde jokes! As if women are the only ones to abuse 911.

    It leads to: "911: Tampa Man Calls for Sex"

    And isn't the whole meme of Florida Man kind of a sexist dumb blonde joke?

    But what I want to know is, why does Somerby increasingly refer to the articles written by female reporters about social issues (perhaps assigned to them by an editor) using derogatory terms such as "chirpy"? Does he not realize how insulting he is being?

  4. "People are dead all over the world because of the gaffe of the bald spot."

    Aren't those people dead because some voters took the bald spot way more seriously than they should have?

    I'm not convinced that anything Dowd said has ever made a difference to anyone.

    1. Gore himself refused to contest the election results.

      Gore refused to run on Clinton's record.

      Gore set himself in opposition to an immensely popular Bill Clinton, who was perceived by many as the victim of a Republican vendetta, thus abandoning him to his attackers.

      Gore had his own scandals, such as the Chinese donations and his use of govt resources for fund-raising.

      Gore let Tipper attack rock and roll, including a highly visible defense by Frank Zappa, alienating the young and the hip and contributing to his stodgy rep.

      Gore displayed none of the passion he later showed in his environmentalism, about any issue.

      Gore wasn't up to the job.

    2. Gore chose Joe Fucking Lieberman to be his VP.

  5. Somerby needs to go back and re-read Boo's essay. She isn't complaining about "trivia" or "gaffes". Her complaints is that the issues are ignored in favor of a focus on the game of politics:

    "To these bored and overexposed insiders, everybody eventually begins to seem absurd, predictable, incapable of sincerity, inspiration, or meaning -- undeserving of being “taken seriously.” A game it is, then. Whoever pens the most metaphors wins."

    This essay, by Jamison Foser, suggests that this isn't attributable to Dowd (Boo's target) but to a series of male reporters as well. Somerby, as usual, ignores the activities of the men in order to focus on female reporters, as if they had enough power and influence to affect the course of mainstream reporting. That's Somerby's bias revealed once again.

  6. Bruce Springsteen has nothing to do with today's essay and I doubt he would agree with Somerby much -- for one thing Springsteen is a liberal/progressive and Somerby clearly is not. Using a reference from one of his songs is like Trump's campaign borrowing music from some band that hates his guts.

    1. I'm glad Springsteen has finally been injected into the conversation.

    2. He's so right about this:

      President Donald Trump will win another term because Democrats don’t have a candidate who can speak to America’s working class.

    3. Democrats speak now only to pretentious urban technocrats who hate the working class and spoiled social justice obsessed whites who could really care less about blacks and gays.

      That's how you get fools like Trump elected.

    4. "Democrats don’t have a candidate who can speak to America’s working class."

      Well, Trump sure as hell can't speak Spanish.

    5. Does Trump speak to America's working class? I don't see how.

    6. "Does Trump speak to America's working class?"

      I'm pretty sure Donald Trump told them to jeopardize their health so his economic failures don't look so bad.

    7. "Does Trump speak to America's working class?"

      He fills huge arenas full of enthusiastic working class Americans in every state anytime he wants. Except in pandemics of course.

      Hillary for example wasn't able to half fill small halls. They had to change the angle of the camera to a tight shot. Workers didn't like her because she made it obvious she didn't give a shit about them except to take them for granted. Jeb Bush too.

      Trump doesn't give a shit either, but he talks a good game, plus he hates Hillary and other entrenched political elites as do the working class so they have at least something genuinely in common.

    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    9. It's not whether he fills arenas with his cultist followers. It's whether what he says addresses working class lives. Is it jailing Hillary that would substantially improve their lives? Does raging against twitter address their basic concerns? Perhaps, eliminating ACA is what working class is pining for?

    10. I said. He addresses their distain for Democrats and other establishment elites who abandoned them and still take them for granted. They bond over that big time.

      Even if he does nothing else for them, at least he recognizes their distain for the people who left them behind, hate them and take them for granted (Democrats, Bushes, Romney).

    11. Demographically speaking, Trump's supporters aren't working class. They are middle to upper class. They are also white males. He has been losing women and elderly voters. The typical Trump supporter isn't Joe the Plumber at all. Women are nearly half of the working class and they don't like Trump much at all. If you combine them with the % that are non-white in the working class, probably less than half of the working class supports Trump.

      See here:

    12. I don't know what Springsteen meant exactly but I am including the middle class in the group.
      Trump can engage people who feel like both parties only pay them lip service, that they are run by people who don't really care about them and are instead subservient to rich corporate donors. That's how he wins despite being a classless, boorish turd.

    13. They're rolling out one useless troll after another these days - flooding the zone with flopsweat.

    14. Springsteen is a liberal/progressive and not in any way a Trump supporter. Somerby likes to co-opt famous people without regard for their own messages, just because he likes a phrase here and there.

    15. Sanders had the same type of appeal and accordingly, filled arenas in the same way while Clinton barely half filled tiny halls.

      We need to change. That's the message.

    16. Dusty Staccato,
      You don't need to be a Metropolitan technocrat to think Trump voters are racists.
      Studies show, most people who don't work for the corporate-owned media think so.

    17. Studies show most people think Trump voters are racists? Trump voters are 25% of most people.

    18. 10:26,
      That sounds about right. The number who support an authoritarian white Supremacist as President is somewhere around 45 percent of the overall electorate.

  7. “This morning, the Times helps enable the current superspread of this derogatory race- and gender-based term.”

    Not really. The term is already in wide usage, and it arose through social media, no mainstream media effort required.

    Yes, the Times chose this specific letter to publish over others they likely received, but it may be that this one conveys the sense of a significant subset of letters they received. If a letter writer freely chooses to use a current meme like “Karen” to express himself, why should that cause the Times not to publish the letter? It is informative to see what actual people think and the way they talk.

  8. Somerby’s examples of gaffes don’t all belong in the same category.

    Choosing the “wrong” beverage, wearing a tan suit, being “too thin”; these are just idiocies made up by pundits to create an impression about a candidate.

    Saying “I’m going to raise your taxes” isn’t so much a gaffe, unless you believe Mondale didn’t mean to say it; he did intend to say it though. Some may have considered it a gaffe because they felt it hurt his chances in the election, and that may be true.

    Biden’s “you ain’t black” comment is also possibly in this category, as was Hillary’s “deplorable” comment, or Trump’s “they’re rapists”, ie things a candidate says that may be deliberate but that could be damaging to their electoral prospects.

  9. Not much mention of bird-man Cooper's threat ("you're not going to like what's next") and pulling out his dog treats. There was no way for her to know he wasn't giving poison to her dog, or escalating from a verbal altercation to a physical one.

    1. I agree. She’s obviously a handful, but he was downright creepy.

    2. She seemed jealous of her own dog.

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