I assume that you have already seen this wonderful video, in which Chris Matthews interviews Rick “Gather Your Armies” Barber on Hardball. Not surprisingly, Matthews was concerned with some of the content in Barber’s recent campaign advertisements, particularly his claim that the IRS can raise taxes “without representation” and the exhortation, delivered by an actor playing George Washington, to “gather your armies.” To deflect this line of questioning, Barber deployed the classic defense of the person caught saying absurd things for attention: I was speaking metaphorically. To which Matthews replies, “Are you a metaphor? Are you a metaphor [for] a guy running for office, or are you a real candidate?” It’s not called Funball, pussies. Matthews makes a point as salient as it is rare: words mean something, and while their figurative meaning is important, their literal meaning counts, too. This Friday’s link roundup features a lot of people saying a lot of absurd and/or false things in the name of some larger, vaguer meaning. It’s the shield of metaphor, less politely known as lying, and it’s as beaten and bright-shining as ever.
I was originally alerted to this story by an email from Tea Party Nation, which continues to send me a stream of barely-proofread messages, may of which are titled “Draft.” It seems that Elena Kagan has become the first Supreme Court nominee in history to publicly advocate the banning of books, which seems like an odd tack to take, but whatever. And whatever, and whatever. It turns out that Kagan’s position is not so much that the federal government can prevent the publication of books, but that books can constitute campaign material under Citizens United v. FEC. Infamously, the Supreme Court found in that case that corporate spending for election-related materials cannot be limited anyway, so Kagan’s opinion on that case is academic in addition to misrepresented. But she wants to ban books! Metaphorically, at least, if not in any actual book-banning way.
The right made a rookie mistake with the Kagan book-banning story by connecting it to actual statements and verifiable facts. The trick, when you’re lying, is to lie about something so vague that it might not exist at all. This is known as rhetoric—sometimes even wit, as Joel Stein attempts in this article about how disappointed he is that Indians now live in his hometown of Edison, New Jersey. Lest you, like me, start out simply astounded by the unabashed racism that is the premise of Stein’s humorous essay, let me astound you by pointing out that this nostalgic longing for an all-white New Jersey was printed in Time magazine. Time motherfucking magazine, you guys. It’s like seeing the N-word in The Family Circus.
American journalism used to keep its racism in the subtext. In fact, it used to keep all sorts of crucial information out of the actual text, as Jeremy Scahill points out in The Nation, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Scahill’s essay is a direct attack on David Brooks, who criticized Rolling Stone for publishing the complaints of erstwhile Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal. In Brooks’s view, such “kvetching” is standard procedure in the corridors of power, and the old pro journalists know to keep it out of print. Such sycophancy toward power is arguably the most terrifying attitude that journalists in a representative democracy could have, as Scahill reminds us. My continual ambivalence about David Brooks is back on the dislike side of the line.
Man. After all that hyperbole and metaphor, I need a palate cleanser. Because Combat! blog is merciful, we have no intention of sending you into your weekend in a postmodern hall of mirrors where nothing is real. After all forms of human communication have become figurative, and “it’s in the fridge next to the mustard” comes to mean, ” I don’t know where it is, but I want to express my support for you feeling like I help you,” we will still have one purely literal form of expression: Wolf Parade. Behold, the way in which their new album is good: