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The Sacramento Bee

Doublespeak as Art Form

"We need change, all right. Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington. We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington -- throw out the big-government liberals."

- Mitt Romney,

Sept. 3, 2008

And then the gorilla run knee socks paint porno on the Cadillac. But school laughed and didn't we sing hats?


Maybe you wonder what the preceding gobbledygook means. I would ask which gobbledygook you mean: mine or Mitt Romney's? If he's allowed to spew nonsense and people act as if he's spoken intelligently, why can't I? If he gets to behave as if words no longer have objective meaning, why can't I?

I mean, baffle grab on the freak flake. Really.

If you're a regular here, you've heard me rant from time to time about intellectual dishonesty -- to argue that which you know to be untrue and to substitute ideology for intellect to the degree that you'll do violence to language and logic rather than cross the party line.


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And no one does it like Republican conservatives. They are to intellectual dishonesty what Michael Jordan was to basketball: the avatar, the exemplar, the paradigm. They have elevated it beyond hypocrisy and political expedience. They have made it ... art.

Which returns us to the astonishing thing Mitt Romney said while addressing the party faithful in St. Paul, Minn. You want to walk around it the way you would Michelangelo's "David," admiring the elegance of the workmanship. You hesitate to touch it, much less pull it apart. To do so seems almost an act of desecration.

Unfortunately, some of us are too plodding and earthbound, too blind to the seductions of art, too stubbornly wedded to some vestigial notion that intellectual honesty matters, to walk past a steaming pile of bovine excreta without calling it a steaming pile of bovine excreta.

So excuse me, beg pardon, so sorry, but I have to ask: What liberal Washington is he talking about? The federal government has three branches. The legislative, i.e., Congress, was under conservative control from 1995 until 2007. The judicial, i.e., the Supreme Court, consists of nine justices, seven of whom were nominated by conservative presidents. The executive, i.e., the president, is George W. Bush. Enough said.

Washington is already what Romney wants to make it. Our current state of affairs is indisputably a product of conservative governance. I wish that mattered more than it does.

That it doesn't matter much at all you can credit to conservative politicians who have, over the years, trained their followers to respond with Pavlovian faithfulness to certain terms. Say "conservative" and they wag their tails. Say "liberal" and they bare their fangs. Say either and all thinking ceases, so much so that a representative of the ideology that has controlled most of Washington most of the last 12 years can say with a straight face that his ideology needs to seize control of Washington to fix what is broken there. And people hear this Orwellian doublespeak ... and cheer.

And all it costs us is language, the ability to have reasoned and intelligent political discourse, the idea that words do, and should, have weight, dimension and intrinsic meaning. Maybe you disagree. In which case, let me just say this:

Piffle crack eat monkey snow. Really.

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Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004. He is the author of the novel, Before I Forget. His column runs every Sunday and Wednesday in the Miami Herald. Forward From This Moment, a collection of his columns, was published in 2009.


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