If you’ve spent any time teaching rhetoric or composition,* you’ve likely noticed that many people understand on an instinctive level what a sentence sounds like but have no idea what to put inside it. I became fascinated by this phenomenon in the years before I withdrew to my mountain lair, back when I used to spend hours a day watching high school students compose sentences. “Although,” they would begin, and then lapse into a state of deep concentration, as if they A) had no idea what they were going to say but B) knew the second part would contradict the first part. In the same way that we all learned language by mimicking sounds before we knew they were vehicles for meaning, many of us have mastered the art of building the shape of a truthful statement and then filling it with total bullshit. This week’s link roundup features statements, actions and ideas that resemble decency in silhouette, but which turn out to be crassly unethical and vapid in content. It’s the perfect preparation for a weekend whose structure will be exactly the same as every other, but which will of course turn out to be an unprecedented, irreplaceable experience that will probably involve throwing up. Won’t you bring a little bile to your mouth with me?
Naturally, our gold-medal performer in the category of Behaviors That Resemble Honesty is Newt Gingrich. As a likely candidate for the presidential nomination of a party that advertises itself on traditional values, Gingrich faces a disadvantage: he has been married twenty times. Many of those marriages ended in tragic aide-fingerings, but Gingrich has come up with the perfect explanation for why he is still a good person. As he told the Christian Broadcast Network, Newt cheated on his wives because he was working so hard for America. “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” Gingrich said. Now that is some existential mendacity, right there. Not only does he file his repeated choices to violate his marriages under “things [that] happened in my life,” but also they happened because he was working so hard, and the whole thing was driven by patriotism rather than, you know, a fat guy with a boner. Newt Gingrich: Working Hard would be a great name for a satirical pornography.
I kind of hope that Gingrich wins the nomination, because A) please dear god, not Palin and B) Obama will be able to get way, way less likable and still look good by comparison. He seems to be off to an early start, since earlier this week he formalized the practices of indefinite detention and military trials at Guantanamo Bay. It’s not that the US government is holding people without trial: there’s a board that periodically reviews whether prisoners held without charges against them are too dangerous to release or, presumably, dangerous enough for a kangaroo court. In the latter case, they’re even allowed to hire private attorneys—at their own expense, of course—and see some, but not all, of the evidence against them. Plus they can call witnesses in their own defense, although the aforementioned boards will determine which witnesses are “reasonable.” Don’t worry, though: the United States government is only operating an island stockade where prisoners are held indefinitely without charges or subjected to rigged trials with secret evidence for foreign people, plus whomever else they’ve done it to without telling us. By the people, for the people.
You don’t have to go to Cuba to get a grotesque mockery of the American judicial system, though. The budget-minded can visit Tennessee, where Monroe County Sheriff’s Detectives Doug Brannon and Pat Henry posed as federal defense attorneys in order to convince a man to incriminate himself and plea guilty to a host of drug and burglary charges. Upon the urging of Brannon and Henry, John Edward Dawson refused to cooperate with his own public defender, insisting that he had made a deal with a “federal lawyer” who had worked everything out. That this federal lawyer was in fact two sheriffs perpetrating an elaborate subterfuge on the man they had helped arrest was a-okay with Tennessee Tenth Judicial Judge Amy Reedy, who ruled that Dawson has simply “made a real bad decision.” Then she took off her mask and revealed that she was actually a sheriff’s deputy, too, immediately before shooting Dawson in the face.
Government runs much more smoothly when everyone is on the same side, as Wisconsin Republicans demonstrated two days ago when they figured out how to run the state legislature without Democratic legislators. State Senate Majority Leader “Effed” Scott Fitzgerald realized that the body’s quorum requirements only applied to spending bills, and like that the chamber passed a law depriving state workers’ unions of collective bargaining rights. The benefit reductions and other fiscal elements of the controversy, which Democratic lawmakers have already agreed to, are now a separate bill. Of course, this turn of events completely undermines Governor Scott Walker’s claim that eliminating collective bargaining was a cost-saving measure, but that’s fine. Now that Republicans have gotten what they want, they’re free to say why they really wanted it. “If we win this battle,” Fitzgerald said, “and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.” It’s nice that the best strategy Wisconsin Republicans could think of for beating Obama was to deliberately impoverish thousands of his supporters.
But hey—when you’re right, it doesn’t matter what you do to win. That also applies to situations where you just really, really want what you’re doing to work. Example: this “viral” Jennifer Aniston commercial for SmartWater, which is not “viral” so much as “designed by a professional ad agency and sent to internet sites under the heading ‘Jennifer Aniston sex tape.'” That’s just one of the many ethical behaviors involved in this advertisement, which winkingly deploys a series of hack devices and reaffirms the American cultural conceit that anything is okay as long as you say you’re doing it ironically. Will someone please just love Jennifer Aniston and help her be quiet?