Posted by Brad @ 9:30 am on September 6th 2011

Quote of the Day: Today in Political Rhetoric…

Jimmy Hoffa, as the intro speaker to the President of the United States:

Hoffa described the recent Republican-led assaults on collective bargaining rights as a “war on workers” and described Obama as union workers’ general who will lead them to victory in 2012 over the Tea Party and like-minded allies.

“President Obama, this is your army,” Hoffa said. “We are ready to march. Let’s take these sons of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.” […]

“We got to keep an eye on the battle that we face: The war on workers. And you see it everywhere, it is the Tea Party. And you know, there is only one way to beat and win that war. The one thing about working people is we like a good fight. And you know what? They’ve got a war, they got a war with us and there’s only going to be one winner. It’s going to be the workers of Michigan, and America. We’re going to win that war.”

I wonder if the fawning daisies on the left who are prone to getting the vapors when Rick Perry describes lynching the Fed Reserve chairman or Sarah Palin’s pac “targets” congressmen are going to get much up in arms about this. Probably they’ll post an obligatory “oh yeah, and this one was not a good way of talking about things either…” to save some cred, but we both know their hearts won’t be in it. Democratic voters can be trusted to have the frontal lobe capacity necessary to understand metaphorical language, whereas Republican voters are gun-weilding knuckle-dragging savages incapable of understanding violent imagery without being spurred to actual violence, much like Reggie Jackson and Leslie Nielson in the Naked Gun being programmed to kill the queen.


  1. I think we can live with this. Tea Partiers unquestionably make a living off of combative political rhetoric, and I don’t know that there’s much political common ground between them and the Teamsters’ Union. This is the sort of fight, and the sort of rhetorical tactics, that they really ought to expect.

    Comment by Rojas — 9/6/2011 @ 10:11 am

  2. Indeed. And I’ve made clear I have no problem with it. It was a fiery speech intended to rile up the base – which is something liberals whine that Democrats don’t do enough of, and whine that when Republicans do it it’s somehow inappropriate or, even worse, massively irresponsible.

    Comment by Brad — 9/6/2011 @ 10:22 am

  3. On cue, Sullivan dispatches a single-sentence denunciation of sorts, calling it “hyperbole”. Well he’s right – but recall the hysterics he launched into over Palin’s target map or Rick Perry’s equally “hyperbolic” allusion to lynching Bernake. And Media Matters calls out Fox News for running a story on this without noting that, in context, it’s perfectly clear that Hoffa meant to “take out” Republicans by voting…a context that, of course, wasn’t afforded Perry or Palin, in which it was argued that perhaps Perry or Palin actually meant that right-wing nuts should kill people or, at best, that even in context their rhetoric was irresponsible.

    Comment by Brad — 9/6/2011 @ 10:26 am

  4. I take your point regarding the hypocrisy on display. I have to say, though, that the whole “they’re encouraging violence!” line is…well, not just unpersuasive to me, but so obviously silly that it’s hard for me even to get angry about it. I suppose that there is a sort of person who actually buys into this sort of thing, but I have to think that the sort of person in question is so obviously off the fence and unpersuadable that, in terms of electoral success, the argument just doesn’t make any kind of difference.

    I am the grand bull moose gold medal winner of taking offense at uncivil political rhetoric, but my bugaboo is the attempt to divine hidden intentions or motives in one’s opponents. I actually fear that kind of argumentation to a degree, because it DOES have a superficial sort of plausibility to it–people are so steeped in a psychoanalytical culture and in densely plotted tales of political maneuvering that they really DO think that they can accurately divine the existence of nefarious conspiracies. And even political neutrals can wind up buying into that sort of thing. Which, again, diminishes common spaces in American politics.

    But war metaphors…well, I’m not concerned about them in sports or in politics, and I think they’re so obvious an example of political gamesmanship that they don’t even make the political commons a less pleasant place in any meaningful sense.

    Comment by Rojas — 9/6/2011 @ 10:51 am

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I’m taking issue with the commentators who wrap themselves in faux-outrage on these matters because it serves, to them, a desirable political end (or at least they think it does). I also think that they genuinely believe that, for instance, the right’s base can’t be trusted in a way that they don’t intuitively believe of liberals – so it belies a weird sort of categorical prejudice.

    Fuck those people, is the point of the post here.

    Although I will say I do think, at least when the larger media latches on to the story, that there is some political impact to that faux outrage, in that I do think it A. leads partisans towards a more dehumanizing characterization of their political opponents, and B. creates some political damage in terms of contributing to certain narratives (Perry is extreme! Palin is bad for America!) that rubs off on even sophisticated voters, and C. even if it doesn’t rub off, it does contribute to the inside baseball dust-kicking nature of a lot of political discourse that turns off so many casual voters or political neutrals.

    So, as stupid as I think it is, I won’t go so far as to say it’s so stupid that it has no measurable political import.

    Comment by Brad — 9/6/2011 @ 11:03 am

  6. It’s not just a matter of “context”. The quote as given dishonestly omits part of what he said.

    Comment by Infidel753 — 9/6/2011 @ 12:34 pm

  7. I’m not quite sure how that’s dishonest, or that it materially changes what people are objecting to. It did not, for instance, materially change the objection when it was clear that Sarah Palin’s “target list” were links to the political challengers to the targeted congresspeople (thereby making clear they were being “targeted” for being voted out of office and not, you know, shooting). Nor did anybody seem to give the “context” argument to Rick Perry’s metaphorical statement about Bernake, choosing instead to believe he meant that Texans ought to literally hang the Federal Reserve Chairman from a tree until he was dead (when in context it’s quite clear that Perry’s statement meant nothing more than “the Federal Reserve is unpopular with some folks”.

    No, in all these cases the context is clear – people are using these phrases in the context of a metaphor for civic action. I mean I guess you could argue that Fox News was trying to imply to its viewers that there WAS no other context besides calling to violence, but I think that’s made clear by reporting on the physical context (i.e. at a political rally) and regardless its no less egregious than what we heard about Perry or Palin, save at the time those making the accusations were also arguing that the context didn’t matter.

    Comment by Brad — 9/6/2011 @ 12:52 pm

  8. As usual, I disagree with everyone.
    Brad, remind me again which office Hoffa is running for so I can hold him up to the same standards and examinations as the leading candidates for the President of the United States? And while we are at it, so we can fairly compare Sullivans vapors over Perry’s statement, in addition to the violent metaphor, which U.S. senior appointee did he accuse of treason?

    And Infidel, I won’t speak for the third hand issue of how Fox or “the wingnuts?” are portraying the quote, but in this post it is self evidently about voting them out, merely using a metaphor. Call it dishonest is dishonest. Progressive blinkers and all that.

    Comment by Jack — 9/6/2011 @ 5:19 pm

  9. Jimmy Hoffa was introducing the incumbent candidacy for the Presidency of the United States, at his behest – who by the way has had ample opportunity to disassociate and, to my knowledge, cares not to. He also holds an office of sorts representing 1.5 million teamsters, and, more actively than is the case with almost any CEO you can name, is expressly desirous of bending the political world to his will – and an organization, btw, that sees as its mission political engagement and, to that end, are very significant campaign actors in the President’s election campaign. Certainly Jimmy Hoffa acts in an entirely different realm of political significance than any other (unelected) Tea Party leader you’ve ever seen quoted and from whom people are very willing to glean “the Tea Party positions” (I might also apply that “get out of jail free” card to influential religious/evangelical leaders, prominent grassroots organizers of any stripe, former office-holders, “celebrities” of the Donald Trump variety, etc. etc.). I would rate Jimmy Hoffa Jr. as a more influential public figure than Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, though probably below Perry. Less smoke, perhaps, but more fire. I’d also add that Jimmy Hoffa Jr.’s views on economic partisan fights are of more relevance than, say, Rick Perry’s views of the Federal Reserve, in that it’s unclear to me that Perry would actually do anything of significance relating to the rather peripheral issue of the Federal Reserve, while Jimmy Hoffa Jr. will almost certainly do things of great significance to what might be the most central issue of our time, that being government deficits, and jobs (or lack of them due to rising pensions, health care, etc.).

    I take your point, although it’s kind of missing the point. We’re told, repeatedly, that use of violent imagery, for Republicans addressing their base, is irresponsible at best and consciously stoking violent sentiment at worst. Beyond Sullivan, Josh Marshall and Think Progress and others have developed a virtual cottage industry of cataloging this kind of thing as it pertains to elements of the right-wing grassroots a helluva lot more outside the mainstream of that movement than Hoffa is to the Democratic party (the Minutemen, the Oath Keepers, whatever). That the standard does not apply, or does not apply as strongly anyway, to Democrats, tells me that they may not view violent imagery itself as the problem, but violent imagery directed towards Republicans as the problem. One could make a valiant effort trying to defend that, I suppose, but it’d be mostly bullshit, and mostly a categorical prejudice simply viewing the right’s base as being especially ill-equipped or disinclined to not be programmed for violence by significant public figures in their movement.

    Either that or, as I strongly suspect, most people actually understand perfectly well the context and meaning in all three of these cases (Hoffa, Perry, Palin), all from people saying more or less the same thing (“fuck Democrats/Republicans”), but choose to accept that context in the case of one side of the partisan divide, but put on airs and play dumb and feign outrage on the other.

    Comment by Brad — 9/7/2011 @ 8:29 am

  10. OK, good points all around. But I find the idea of Hoffa being more influential than Palin et al an unfair comparison, largely because the head of the teamsters is always, always going to have almost the exact same views as Hoffa expresses. It is virtually a job description, and he is interchangeable. Whereas the same can not be said for governors etc.

    Comment by Jack — 9/7/2011 @ 9:47 am

  11. But that wasn’t an expression of views, and the issue isn’t the thought, but the language (or the confusion between those two things). Every Teamster President might wish to say “elect people who are friendly to labor”, but that hardly makes them destined to say “let’s take these bastards out,” anymore than all advocates of Federal Reform reform are required to say the chairman is guilty of treason.

    Of course I get what you’re saying, and you’re absolutely right in regards to Hoffa. I’m just wondering why people are affording that leeway, benefit of the doubt, and plain contextual meaning in some instances but not in others.

    Comment by Brad — 9/7/2011 @ 9:57 am

  12. Oh, and I said earlier that the president didn’t exactly disassociate* himself, but not sure if that was true, I went hunting.

    In wake of the Tuscon shooting and Obama’s warnings against “violent rhetoric” back in January, reporters wanted to know whether Obama would distance himself from Hoffa’s fiery speech. When pressed about whether Obama approves of the comments during a briefing with reporters Tuesday, at first Carney was a little put off by the question.

    “These weren’t comments by the President,” he said.

    “I understand that there is a ritual in Washington that somebody says something and you link the associations, and then everybody who has an association with him or her somehow has to avow or disavow it,” Carney said. “The President wasn’t there — I mean, he wasn’t on stage. He didn’t speak for another 20 minutes. He didn’t hear it. I really don’t have any comment beyond that.”

    ABC News’ Jake Tapper pressed further, arguing that the Obama campaign made a stink in 2008 when a McCain surrogate said something offensive at an event before the Arizona senator spoke and McCain eventually apologized.

    “Is this the new standard?” Tapper demanded.

    An exasperated Carney then said only: “Mr. Hoffa speaks for himself and the labor movement, and the President speaks for himself.”

    Of course, I’m more taking on the idea that Hoffa is himself an important political figure, but still, glad he got nailed a bit on it.

    *as much as I am loathe to participate in the “disassociate” game, which I hate in pretty much all contexts but which I’ll throw in their face here.

    Comment by Brad — 9/7/2011 @ 10:23 am

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