Thursday, February 01, 2007

I used to speak the King's English, but got a rash on my lips

I realize that non-sports posts are probably 200 percent less fun for everyone, but since this is my only platform these days, tough.

Here is a recent quote about Barack Obama from Joe Biden, soon-to-be-erstwhile Democratic Presidential Candidate:

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

First, you have to love the audacity of someone who uses the left branch "I mean" and the phrase "you got" with any kind of frequency commenting on how articulate others may or may not be. Mind you, the rest of the quote -- if not Biden's entire career -- has proven that when the Flying Spaghetti Monster was handing out brain synapses, Joe Biden was mysteriously not present.

Of course the media's going to make a big deal out of this. And that's not an indictment of the media; considering the last six-plus years, I want to have an idea of how long a presidential candidate thinks about something before saying it, or usurping the Constitution for that matter. But what strikes me in these situations is how meta-whatever the analysis is; it always comes down to how the "slippage" is going to affect Biden's run (which is doomed anyway, since he's running against two of the most dynamic Democratic Candidates in my lifetime) and how his "slip" displays a lack of political couth. Whether or not those two things are important in general is irrelevant; they're clearly not the most important things.


For some reason, I am amused by those moments in someone's life when his or her prejudices are laid bare. I find it especially fun when that person spends much of his or her life preaching tolerance and equality. It's not because I mock those virtues; it's because I often find that the people who speak out the most about something do so out of guilt. Ever notice how politicians -- or, say, preachers -- who get outed have often spent much of their careers talking about how horrible homosexuality is? Or guys like Mark Foley, who combat a desire to sex up 15-year-old boys by passing bills that make pedophilia even more illegal than it already was (it's now tremendously illegal, gentlemen; as Bill Walton has proven to all of us, attaching the superlative "tremendous" to anything makes it exactly 123.5 percent more awesome or condemnable)? Sure, Biden hasn't exactly made civil rights the keystone of his political career, but like many Democrats, he knows that the minority vote is extremely important and usually his to lose, and thusly spends his time sucking more African-American dick than a Colorado football hostess (as opposed to Republicans, who spend more time sucking Evangelical Preacher dick than a male prostitute). I can't help but think that after pandering to a specific group of people for so long, it's natural for someone to build up a certain amount of contempt for that group. If you think about the nature of pandering -- which usually involves discovering the most base common denominator of that group, and then treating it (at least when addressing that group) as if it's the only issue in the world worth talking about -- it almost has to lead to a candidate thinking that every group of people is nothing more than a brainless, one-issue mass waiting to be manipulated. When people address the NAACP, they don't discuss Russian foreign policy; conversely, when people address the Promise Keepers, affirmative action isn't going to be on the agenda. The concept of cognitive complexity -- particularly when speaking in sociological terms -- is anachronistic with campaigning, if not politics as a whole. But none of this is particularly earth-shattering news, so I'll move on.

End aside.

Biden fell into the same trap that thousands of sports writers have fallen into: When trying to find ways to describe a black person in flattering terms, the issue of elocution almost seems unavoidable. Mercifully, the concept of criticizing athletes (or black people in general) for poor grammar (or at least doing so publicly) seems to be a thing of the past. But lauding those who speak well appears to be a cultural artifact that will die hard. The idea that one would expect a black person to speak a certain way is inherently prejudicial and arrogant. And if that's the case in sports, where intelligence or level of education is not an entry requirement, then it's even more galling when the setting is politics, a field where (presumably) one's intelligence is his or her most vital trait.

Essentially: How the fuck else would Biden expect a black presidential candidate to speak?!?

My issues with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aside, neither would be considered a purveyor of poor English. In fact, I can't think of a single presidential candidate -- black, white or redneck -- who has suffered in the enunciation department. It's not only a job requirement, it's a de facto candidacy requirement. So, Biden's remark is not only prejudicial, but monumentally stupid. It's like saying a presidential candidate is great because he wears ties.

That Biden has made a living out of saying dumb, unfounded things as loudly as possible makes this statement relatively unremarkable; it would be more surprising if someone like John Edwards, who won't open his mouth without asking his pollster if it's OK, said something similar. But I'm not sure that this was actually a "slip" on Biden's part. I really, honestly think he was aiming to start the Uncle Tom chorus ASAP. Obama is relatively unimpeachable, especially since he's taken the offensive against the morality police by owning up to doing stuff, like blow, in his past. The time appears to be right, with the perfect storm of Clinton running against him (a woman who is easily demonized, especially with her recent metamorphosis into a hawk, which will allow many in the party to avoid guilt for not supporting the first viable female presidential candidate in the country's history) in his primary, and a complete and utter liar running against him in the form of John McCain for the big chair. The only chance someone like Biden has is turning the primary into a referendum on Obama's blackness, which isn't a winning strategy at all. But any casual follower of American party politics will realize this is exactly what Democrats do every presidential election cycle. There are times I'm convinced the Republicans pay off the no-chancers like Kucinich and Biden to do the real dirty work in the primaries.

One last note: Re-reading Biden's quote for the 40th time leaves me less stunned at his blatant, patronizing tone toward Obama, and more stunned by just how poorly he speaks. "That's a storybook, man"? Even my Italian grandfather, who has trouble ordering a sandwich in English, knows that "storybook" in that context is an adjective. How has this guy managed to stay in national politics for so goddamn long?


Anonymous said...

"In fact, I can't think of a single presidential candidate -- black, white or redneck -- who has suffered in the enunciation department."

Not to hermeneutically distort your overall argument by interpreting said whole through one minor point, but......George W. Bush isn't exactly the greatest orator.

Btw, your emphasis on the ability to speak as being a precondition for the presidency is a hegemonic re-silencing of the mute population. Mutist.

-D. Suave

Diesel said...

Bush's issues are in terms of the finer points of public speaking, not a grasp of the language itself. Getting fumbly with contractions is a far cry from saying "cain't" on a regular basis.

Fuck you for making me look up hermeneutically.

If any mute has a problem with me, he or she can say it to my face.

How 'bout them Seahawks.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you go look up the word 'enunciate' while you've got that dictionary out. Your attempt to split oral language usage from its definition is not correct. Need I even bring up W's enunciation of the word 'nuclear'?

Btw, not only are you a mutist, but you're also, sadly and tragically, a transgenderist. To wit: "If any mute has a problem with me, he or she can say it to my face." Why oh why Diesel must you hegemonically force your own gendered bifurcation upon the transgendered mute community? That constitutes a re-re-silencing, or if you prefer, a bi-re-silencing. It makes one wonder what other bi-issues you're trying to avoid.

St said...

"...hegemonic re-silencing..."


"...gendered bifurcation..."

I can't decide which is my favorite. I wish I were a transgendered mute. I bet I'd get all the sweet fellowships.

Diesel said...

The concept of a transgender mute makes me instantly think of Celine Dion with duct tape over her mouth. Strange.

And you're right, Seth: I've been trying to hide my bilateralism for years. Damn you.

Anonymous said...

Forget your stupid comment about the Hawks, Diesel. Not only are you a Mutist and a Transgenderist, you're also a Seahawkist. Big Blue is going to win the Superbowl next year.

-Matt Hasselbeck