If you are a regular viewer of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, which at this stage of American discourse are types of news, you probably already heard about Jon Kyl’s claims regarding Planned Parenthood. During debate on the Senate floor, Kyl said that abortion is “well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does.” That number turns out to be off by a mere 2900%; abortion is actually about 3% of what Planned Parenthood does, which puts them well below such organizations as Courtney Love.* Shortly afterward, a spokesman from Kyl’s office told CNN that the Senator’s remark was “not intended to be a factual statement.” See, Jon Kyl wasn’t lying: he was merely making a statement that he did not consider accurate but his listeners did, as part of a persuasive argument he conducted in his capacity as a United States legislator. The absurdity of this defense has not escaped the internet, and Senator Kyl has consequently achieved the highest grade of infamy possible in contemporary western culture. He has become a meme.
Specifically, the phrase “not intended as a factual statement” has become a meme. As usual, the good people at Know Your Meme have done a tremendous job of documenting the early stages. On April 11th, both Jon Stewart and Stephen “Half of My Writing Staff is Still On Puns” Colbert did long, derisive segments about Kyl’s obvious mendacity. The same night, Colbert began posting a series of absurd “facts” about Kyl on Twitter, using the hashtag #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement. Twitter is to Colbert what burlesque clubs were to Lenny Bruce, and NITBaFS quickly spread throughout whatever portion of Twitter is the portion we know about.
A quick look at the live Twitter window that is part of Know Your Meme’s entry will remind you that, okay, puns are still better than what you get if you don’t hire a professional. Hpski50, for example, wryly observes that “Jon Kyl is actually Batman’s retarded vampire cousin,who thinks ‘guano’ is a Central American country.” This is an example of how putting too many ingredients in a joke is like putting chocolate chips and strawberries and cream filling and lemon and carrots in a cake, but presumably Hpski50 is not a full-time comedy writer.* The terrifying dishumor of our fellow Americans is not the point, however. The point is that of all the catchphrases to emerge from politics this year, “not intended as a factual statement” is the one that struck the most resonant chord.
I submit that that is a good sign. Despite an increasingly absurd politics and a generally-agreed-to-be-cynical electorate, you still can’t just say, “yeah, I was lying to everybody” and get away with it. Somewhere in the insulated, patrician fuck you that is “that was not intended to be a factual statement”—which assumes that speaking truthfully is a special occasion, and that we’re frankly a little naive for thinking otherwise—the American people detected a tactical error. Jon Kyl thought that his casual dismissal of our expectation that he not read lies into the Senate record would work, and he was wrong. His was so wrong that his belief struck thousands of Twitter-using Americans as absurd, and now he can track his wrongness via new quanta of mockery that appear every 30 seconds.
He is probably not doing that, of course. I don’t know which 24 year-old staffer was tasked with telling the senator about hashtag Not Intended To Be a Factual Statement, but his grandfather was greeted with “Who the fuck is Twitter?” when he and Kyl met for lunch that afternoon. Jon Kyl does not give a moist crap about what a bunch of people say about him on the internet, but that is not the crux of the matter. The crux is that a bunch of people on the internet give said moist crap about what Jon Kyl says in the Senate, and we have democracy. There are more of us than there are of him, and our sufferance extends only so far.
Irrelevant But Possibly Of Cosmic Significance: The oddly-spelled “Jon Kyl” is an anagram for “only jk.” I’m just saying that he’s currently famous on the internet for a retraction.