Posted by Brad @ 12:16 pm on August 16th 2011

When “Plain Meaning” No Longer Means “Plain Meaning”

So the newest flap is over comments from Rick Perry regarding Ben Bernake.

“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.”

Now, I’m no fan of this kind of rhetoric – I’ve bemoaned it before plenty, mostly because it obfuscates without advancing. But come on

What Perry is now shown to have said has a plain meaning. He’d support lynching the Fed Chairman.

Would he now?

Question: Does anybody believe that Rick Perry would actually support the literal lynching (or trying for treason) of Ben Bernake? Does anybody actually, in the real world (not the world of “taking political offense”) really believe that? Really?

It was a stupid metaphor from a guy trying too hard to be homespun, and to my mind the treason invocation is far more alarming than the “treat him pretty ugly” thing, because it belies the binary “you either agree with my political views and are a good America or disagree with my views and thus hate freedom” bullshit that idiot partisans fall into. It’s also totally unnecessary: Perry brings up an interesting issue right out of the Ron Paul playbook, but note that Ron Paul, as ardent an anti-Fed guy as you can find, never started throwing around invective at Greenspan and Bernake personally. Perry just introduced a viable issue, and killed it in its crib (not literally!), while advancing a demonstrably destructive partisan paradigm. That sucks.

But let’s not meet hyperbole with hyperbole. Rick Perry, for anybody that might misunderstand, probably does not, in fact, support tying the Fed Chairman to a tree and hanging him.

10 Comments »

  1. But let’s not meet hyperbole with hyperbole. Rick Perry, for anybody that might misunderstand, probably does not, in fact, support tying the Fed Chairman to a tree and hanging him.

    He’d have to move pretty fast to beat Ron Paul to it, anyhow.

    Comment by Adam — 8/16/2011 @ 12:32 pm

  2. To be fair to Paul, he’s managed to make a career out of attacking Fed Chairman without so much as even being rude to them, to my knowledge.

    Comment by Brad — 8/16/2011 @ 12:53 pm

  3. Unless by “rude” you mean “trying to abolish their jobs”.

    Comment by Brad — 8/16/2011 @ 12:53 pm

  4. Well, partisans on both sides have now sort of entered a mode where the use of uncivil discourse by the other side is seen as a disqualifier in and of itself. So, naturally, those looking to score points are putting the nastiest reading on the other side’s arguments that they can, and the most literal meaning on their own side’s comments.

    Take Sullivan himself, who reads in a lynching above, and who simultaneously thinks that the word “terrorist,” applied to members of Congress, is a purely semantic description and in no way freighted with connotations involving violence and the destruction of tall buildings.

    This isn’t quite what I had in mind when I called for a more civil public discourse.

    Perry, though, had to know how that sort of comment was going to read to outsiders, just as he has to know how his constant flirtation with Confederate imagery is going to be seen. He’s a big enough boy on a large enough stage that it’s hard for me to be sympathetic.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/16/2011 @ 3:25 pm

  5. Yeah, and admittedly, my point here is a little pedantic. Call it a pet peeve. It’s the same impulse that makes me wince when somebody says “Man, that guy is literally on fire!”.

    It’s pedantic of me, but it’s also combined with an exhaustion for outrage-mongering of all kinds, where suddenly all these professional journalists get themselves tha vapors over a pol’s use of violent imagery in a political metaphor. One imagines them suddenly having to fan themselves with their cricket hats to keep from fainting.

    Very, very few people are actually offended by shit like this, and almost nobody, that I’m aware, actually believe that Rick Perry means this literally. We all know what he meant. But suddenly in the heat of a partisan struggle, the D.C. press corps become wilting lilies whose soft virgin ears can’t believe what they’re hearing and who do DECLARE! With an added level of condescension that oh sure, THEY might know what Perry meant, but what about all those other Americans who might take him seriously and are pushed to violence because of this? All those poor, poor, little-minded fools in red states who one minute show up at a rally for a Republican presidential candidate and the next moment are tricked into lynching the federal reserve chairman!

    It’s my same objection, btw, to people trying to pull in Sarah Palin’s crosshairs in the Laughner stuff. I’m tired of people pretending to be offended by stuff, or choose to be offended vicariously, on behalf of some imaginary demographic, or the people who are offended because we need to calibrate our political rhetoric, apparently, to dim, violent schizophrenics off their meds, or very slow children. Bah.

    It’s bullshit.

    Comment by Brad — 8/16/2011 @ 3:53 pm

  6. It just seems like a stupid, ill-informed, and hypocritical comment that suggests that Presidential candidate Perry is pretty rough around the edges for a national race, and it does in some small way go ot the pile of things through which we assess his judgment, gravitas, readiness for the office, etc. But beyond that… no not too worried about him actually, literally, forming a lynch mob. I will say that the plain regional meaning of “treat him pretty ugly” combined with the context of treason and whatnot, does strike me as a down home way of hyperbolically saying we would string that boy up. Even if that boy was appointed by Bush and did a lot of that money printing treason during the latter Bush year as well. Ya’ll.

    Comment by Jack — 8/16/2011 @ 5:06 pm

  7. Well, you beat Sullivan then, who is still arguing that the fair reading of Perry’s comment is “Texans should rise up and literally murder Ben Bernake by hanging him from a tree,” and not, “this policy would be unpopular in Texas.”

    Comment by Brad — 8/17/2011 @ 11:58 am

  8. Hahaha:

    “[Rick Perry] realizes that talking about the Fed is good, too,” Ron Paul said, according to the LA Times. “But I’ll tell you what, he makes me look like a moderate. I have never once said that Bernanke has committed treason.”

    Comment by Brad — 8/18/2011 @ 10:10 am

  9. Really, the most troublesome part of Perry’s statement is the “almost treasonous” bit. Treason implies a deliberate decision to harm the United States. We ought to be able to debate the wisdom of a loose money policy without resorting to the claim that the people who advocate it are out to wreck America.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/18/2011 @ 12:42 pm

  10. Agreed. As I mentioned in the post (in the midst of a patented run-on sentence):

    and to my mind the treason invocation is far more alarming than the “treat him pretty ugly” thing, because it belies the binary “you either agree with my political views and are a good America or disagree with my views and thus hate freedom” bullshit that idiot partisans fall into.

    Comment by Brad — 8/18/2011 @ 12:57 pm

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