October 13, 2003
How to write like a timid right-winger

The New York Times' William Safire, not so very long ago, seemed more or less able to straddle his two designated tasks for the paper (serving both as its conservative conscience and its premiere linguist) while keeping a bit of respectable distance between the two roles.

Until he decided to take down Howard Dean, that is. Using the Democratic presidential candidate's words against him, of course. How ironic!

This prospect should have left any self-respecting Freeper shivering with excitement...Ann Coulter crossed with the Master Orator! Finally, conservativism balanced with level, accurate reasoning!

Nah.

Instead, we're treated to the deconstruction-that-never-was, wherein Safire mentions an incident where Howard Dean took issue with another Times reporter's usage of an "inaccurate" quote that John McCain had attributed to him in a prior story. "Inaccurate," as we all know, often means "decontextualized" in these instances.

What horrendous McCain smear was quoted in my colleague's story? Here's the passage in The Times, coming after McCain said that Dean's national security positions "are way out of the mainstream":

"For instance, Mr. McCain cited Dr. Dean's remark that `the ends do not justify the means,' in reference to the death of Saddam Hussein's sons. `I was astounded,' the senator said. `The ends were to get rid of two murdering rapist thugs and the means was the use of American military intelligence.' "

It turns out, of course, Dean's actual quote was a bit different in its intended attribution:

"Questioned about the deaths of Saddam's sons, Odai and Qusai, in Iraq, Dean dismissed suggestions that it was a victory for the Bush administration. `It's a victory for the Iraqi people...but it doesn't have any effect on whether we should or shouldn't have had a war,' Dean said. `I think in general the ends do not justify the means.' "

Safire refuses to budge, however, and (flying in the face of the Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter school of attack) appears to use his tools of linguistic analysis to make his point, namely:

Dean spinmeisters will abandon their candidate's untenable "never said any such thing" and argue that the words "in general" remove the quoted sentence from an answer to the specific question about killing Saddam's sons. They will blow smoke about Dean offering a philosophical observation entirely detached from the rapists who were the subject of the question. Some partisans would buy that.

But it is not Dean's way to explain "what I meant was..." His eagerness to expunge from the record his snap judgment about the killing of Saddam's sons to claim falsely "I never said any such thing," to suggest it is a McCain concoction, an "urban legend" tells us that he is a man who treats a toothache by biting down on it hard.

The fact remains, however, Howard Dean's quoted language, and more particularly, the placement of clauses, indicated one thing, and one thing only: In regards to the war in Iraq (and not the death of Saddam's two sons), the ends did not justify the means. It's all right there in the initial quote: pure, simple, and very much unadulterated.

Language, after all, ultimately relies on our faith in "meaning" and "context". And when William Safire butchers that meaning and context, he doesn't do a dissection of language. He does a hatchet job.

Posted in a Grave fashion.

Other Recent Items of Interest:

Make our "team" part of your "team"
jean-paul tremblayJean-Paul Tremblay written-ed, directed and co-produced a bunch of so-called "comedy" and "video" content, is notoriously competitive, and nonetheless settles for bottom-tier tokenism. Repped by John Herndon at Grape Dope Entertainment. Thrill jockey!
matt haberMatt Haber has written for The New York Times, Esquire, and The New York Observer. He is not allergic to pet dander and can do "ethnic" accents if the part calls for it. He is repped by Candy Addams at Entertainment 4-Every-1. Feeling special?
Guy Cimbalo is so cute! Yes, he is. Who's a cute little Guy? You are, you are! Guy's our very own star of stage and screen and is repped by Jeff Kwatinetz at The Firm. Rowr!
What "They" Say About "Us"

"Humor so black you're afraid to laugh." - Playboy

"Low Culture gets more mileage out of headlines and photo captions than most blogs get out of endless pages of text." - The Week

"No irony slips past Low Culture." - Daniel Radosh

"what's happened to this site? it used to be one of my favorites. now there are never new posts and when there are it's bloodied and dismembered dead bodies... grave, indeed." - Some Guy Named Tim

"I don't get it." - Some Person Calling Him-/Herself "Cubeoid"

Text Ads, our nod to the Plebes
or, "Fun with Adblockers"

Recent Artifacts

The Archive Office (Front Desk)

Additional Information
Looking for an RSS Feed, or want to syndicate this site? Click here for that purpose.

Some of our older readers may be asking, "Whatever happened to that 'famous' two-column, Shallow and Grave-formatted version of Low Culture?" Rest assured, we've archived that motherfucker here.

This here site, though, was built and crafted by none other than Low Culture Design & Media Mega-Powerhouse HQ.