Jun 26, 2008

The gaffe squad

Hendrik Hertzberg is puzzled by outrage over the latest "gaffe" by Charlie Black, the McCain advisor who recently said that a terrorist attack on American soil would be helpful to McCain’s candidacy.

"Black merely stated the conventional wisdom. The view that terrorism is good for McCain is supported by polling data and is shared across the board—hence, for example, the widespread calls from within the Obama camp for a running mate with strong military or national-security credentials. I share this c.w. myself. So, too, we may assume, does Al Qaeda, which has people who read the internets if not the actual papers.... Obviously, this is not something that Obama or his people can say. But commentators can say it, and I hereby do so."
Have gaffes always been this fleeting, this slight? The real gaffe, of course, would have been for Black to say "I hope there's another terrorist attack so McCain wins". It's been the same way with most the so-called gaffes of this campaign — Hillary's RFK assassination comment, her use of the word "white," Obama's "bittergate". They weren't in and of themselves controversial statements. But they lay close enough to other statements that would be deemed controversial, were they to be made, that the media simply split the difference and cried foul.

Its like the magnetic hum that you pick up off of live electricity cables, or the dives you see in football (soccer, whatever): you may not have actually fouled the other guy, but you allowed yourself to get into the sort of situation in which the other guy might reasonably fall to the ground, rolling around, clutching his knee. The other day Obama said the GOP would probably play the race card and the GOP instantly hit the deck, saying "he played the race card!" Even saying someone else is going to play the race card is playing the race card, apparently. What kind of card is that exactly — the Joker? What they really mean, of course, is that he used the word "race" — a slightly less remarkable observation. Victimology has become such a double-jointed, reverse-current, topsy-turvy art form that certain words — black, white, terrorist, assassination — don't even have to be organised into meaningful sentences any more. They just need to appear, and computers crash, minds blow, the space-time continuum buckles and breaks.

My friend Nick, who knows more about football than I do, adds:— "Your football analogy is about right, although in football there almost always has been a mistake on a defender's part, even if he didn't touch anyone, or not enough to make them fall over. In politics, it's as if you're
not even allowed in that part of the pitch."

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