How I learned to stop worrying and love the f-bomb

posted at 4:08 pm on March 9, 2009 by Jeff Goldstein

(Ed. note: Guest post by Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom and Hot Air original video contributor)

Let me begin by noting that this post is not about Rush Limbaugh.

You’re welcome.

Now, just to be clear, Mr Limbaugh will appear in the post — and as a character he will be prominently featured — but this post is no more about Rush than, say, Moby Dick is “about” cetology, or “The Jeffersons” is “about” a string of dry cleaning stores.

I offer that disclaimer because what seems to have gotten lost in the late unpleasantness between those who have supported Mr Limbaugh for his comments, offered in response to a specifc (and leading) prompt about the trajectory of an Obama presidency (with supporters having been called, alternately, “cultists,” “denialists,” “extremists,” or “idealists,” depending on who is doing the describing) and those who have been more critical of Mr Limbaugh for what they argue was either the provocative nature of his formulation or the lack of precision with which it was delivered, is the reason why any of this is at all important to begin with: namely, because where you stand on the issue provides insight into how you think language works — or should work — something that, protestations by a few prominent right wing pundits to the contrary, is not only not trivial or “fundamentally unserious” but is in fact crucial, I’d argue, to any understanding of how and why the conservative movement finds itself out in the political wilderness.

But before I elaborate, allow me to do what so few commentators have done: provide the full context for Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails” soundbite:

I got a request here from a major American print publication. “Dear Rush: For the Obama [Immaculate] Inauguration we are asking a handful of very prominent politicians, statesmen, scholars, businessmen, commentators, and economists to write 400 words on their hope for the Obama presidency. We would love to include you. If you could send us 400 words on your hope for the Obama presidency, we need it by Monday night, that would be ideal.” Now, we’re caught in this trap again. The premise is, what is your “hope.” My hope, and please understand me when I say this. I disagree fervently with the people on our side of the aisle who have caved and who say, “Well, I hope he succeeds. We’ve got to give him a chance.” Why? They didn’t give Bush a chance in 2000. Before he was inaugurated the search-and-destroy mission had begun. I’m not talking about search-and-destroy, but I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year-and-a-half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed.

If I wanted Obama to succeed, I’d be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him. Look, what he’s talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the US government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don’t want this to work. So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, “Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.” (interruption) What are you laughing at? See, here’s the point. Everybody thinks it’s outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, “Oh, you can’t do that.” Why not? Why is it any different, what’s new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don’t care what the Drive-By story is. I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: “Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails.” Somebody’s gotta say it.

From the context, it is clear what Limbaugh is on about, specifically, Obama’s “plans […] “as he stated them,” and his desire to see those plans fail.

That Rush made the statement on January 16th, in advance of any of these plans going into effect, makes hypothetical questions (and unscientific polls dedicated to interpreting them) about whether or not Mr Limbaugh wants to see the economy tank and America disintegrate into socialist hell if indeed those plans go into effect moot; Limbaugh speaks on air fifteen hours a week and would almost certainly have something specific to say about what he hopes to happen going forward. Which is why the trick by those in the media — and the cause of the failing of those on the right who have been critical of Rush’s supposed ambiguity — is the idea that Limbaugh’s initial statement is somehow frozen in time, like some verbal mosquito caught in amber. But in truth, his statement is not some fixed artifact incapable of clarification or amplification as new realities arise — and in fact Limbaugh has been at pains to reiterate exactly what he meant on a number of occasions now.

So why worry about those four words — and not address the context in which they were uttered and framed?

One answer we’re hearing from many political pragmatists and conservative realists is that those four words are what most people will hear, given that the media has seized on that formulation and built around it a narrative — at various times both implied and explicit — that Rush Limbaugh wants to see the President fail regardless of what Obama does while in office. ABC News, in fact, cut together a video in which they juxtaposed Rush uttering the words — again, removed from their context — with additional video clips that added a racial dimension to Limbaugh’s statement, a dimension since seized upon by “conservatives” like David Frum but which appear nowhere in Limbaugh’s statements.

The argument by these political realists or “pragmatists” goes something like this: people don’t bother to explore the news past soundbites and headlines, so all they are likely to take away from the media’s reporting on Limbaugh’s statement is that, as George Stephanopoulos among others have framed it, Rush “hopes the President fails,” the suggestion being that Limbaugh is hoping the country fails. And such a statement, in addition to being needlessly provocative, the realists tell us, also suffers from being less clear than it may otherwise have been.

Leaving aside for the moment the impossibly high standard that comes with demanding that a man who speaks mostly extemporaneously for fifteen hours a week need be so careful with his phrasings that they cannot be removed from their context and made to mean what they clearly weren’t intended to mean, except by great effort on the part of those whose aim it is to misrepresent intent, the subtext of such an argument is twofold: 1) by being more judicious with our words, we are providing those who are out to misrepresent us with a smaller target; and 2) that something less provocative will not alienate us with those we are hoping to win over to conservatism by appearing to them ugly or hostile — that as a strategy, being more solicitous about how we phrase things will help make conservatism more appealing, or at least, less revolting to those who remain undecided about their political allegiances.

And in fact, this is precisely the argument Patterico makes in his column here yesterday when he writes:

Some say: conservatives can’t worry about how they say things. They know their arguments will be distorted anyway, so they shouldn’t worry about being misinterpreted. I completely disagree with this argument. I say: when you know people will distort your meaning, you have to be extra careful to express yourself clearly.

Naturally, if what you are after is clarity, there is nothing wrong with expressing yourself in terms that make it difficult to take you out of context. And if we think back, we can remember that Bill Bennett tried that exact thing several years ago, only to have his statement shortened in such a way that the disclaimers he took pains to add were simply excised.

At the time — just as with Limbaugh — several conservative realists chided Bennett, not for being racist (the charge most frequently leveled at him), but rather for being impolitic.

Here’s what I wrote at the time, which applies equally to the Limbaugh dustup:

First, [certain conservatives are making the claim] that it is standard business and political doctrine that communicators be aware of how they are likely to be interpreted, which conflates the idea of practice with rectitude. And the fact is, being aware of how your utterances may be interpreted by those who are looking to maliciously misrepresent them in a soundbite culture is a fool’s errand—one that is shown up by the very issue at hand: Bennett was careful to note that the hypothetical in question was morally reprehensible—and in fact used it to argue against utilitarian rationalizations for moral problems (a stand that implicitly rejects statistics-based racialist arguments)—but that important qualification was left out of many media representations of his quote, which allowed those who wished to embarrass Bennett to call him out. In this case, Bennett clearly was aware of how his words might be used, but that awareness could not prevent misuse. For Bennett to have avoided the “major failing” [some conservatives identified] he would have had to avoid the subject altogether. And to do so is to trade intellectualism for the kind of circumspection that has the practical effect of chilling free speech.

Linguistically speaking, we have but two choices: either insist language be ground in the intentions of its utterers, or else conclude that we must each be responsible, in perpetuity, for whatever might be done with our utterance once it leaves our control. [Some conservatives] it seems to me, [are] choosing the latter—an unfortunate choice, in that it will forever codify a use of language that demands of its users the kind of overly-self-conscious self-censorship that is anathema to the free exchange of ideas. And if our goal is to hash out policy or to discuss potentially controversial issues, we simply must be able to do so without worry that parties invested in maintaining the status quo are allowed to silence us by assuming control over the terms of debate.

[The political pragmatists’] thesis here is straightforward—and it matches the theses of many of those (including the White House and the Corner’s Ramesh Ponnuru) who’ve taken Bennett to task for his “impolitic” remarks. Bennett, the argument goes, is a seasoned political operative and a professional communicator, and so he should have known that certain people—from the perpetually aggrieved to those in whose interests it is to try to smear what they take it he represents—would use his remarks against him. Which is certainly true.

But why must an awareness of such dictate a surrender to it?

Descriptions about how communication can be made to function are no substitute for the insistence that it be made to function as it should—in a linguistically coherent way that is dependent on appeals to the utterer’s intent, and so therefore refuses to give equal weight to the whims and motivations of interpreters who wish to use their interpretations as a rhetorical cudgel (in this case, quite disingenously) against the utterer. Each time a conservative makes such excuses for linguistic surrender in the guise of world weary linguistic pragmatism (which it is not; it is a feint toward relativism and certain pernicious post-modern ideas of language that undercut its moorings), they cede a bit more control over future debates to their opponents.

I refuse to do so. And while I can understand why many on the left wish me to be cowed by their linguistic presumptuousness, what I can’t understand is why so many on the right allow them to get away with it.

All of which brings us back to those conservative political realists and pragmatists now criticizing Rush over his impolitic (or unclear) remarks: their desire for Limbaugh to be more careful with his phrasings as a way to avoid being misrepresented in a soundbite culture is, frankly, a fool’s game — and, even more frankly, it is indicative of a political strategy that amounts to conceding loss, with the concomitant hope that perhaps we’ll lose more slowly.

— Which is not to say this is a conscious part of the strategy of the realists, just that it is the inevitable effect of backing such a strategy. Because even were Republicans to begin winning elections based on their newly found ability to negotiate a hostile media bent on misrepresenting them, they’d be compelled to maintain the practice of carefully parsing their words, which means they’d always be at the mercy of those looking to attack and discredit. And such has the effect both of chilling speech and of determining in what way a message must necessarily be delivered.

And when your opponents are making the rules, you are necessarily playing their game.

To put it more forcefully, it is a fact of language that once you surrender the grounds for meaning to those who would presume to determine your meaning for you, you are at their mercy. Nowhere is this more clear than with Britain’s new definition of racism, whereby racism is determined not by the actions of those purported to cause it, but rather by the feelings of the person who claims to be its victim. Frighteningly, such is a formulation Ms. Obama seems to share. And this is not a road we should be heading down, because at the end of that road lies meaning as determined by “interpretive communities,” which in political terms equates to particular interest groups. And that way lies totalitarianism and, to borrow from both G.B. Shaw and Jonah Goldberg, “liberal fascism.”

Patterico, in response to the linguistic aspect of my arguments, has offered his own idea about how interpretation should work, namely, that “words should be interpreted the way a reasonable person would interpret them.” But what Patterico doesn’t seem to understand is that a “reasonable” person might “reasonably” interpret, for instance, Curious George in a “reasonable” way, arriving at the conclusion that what we have is a post-colonial text: the man in the big yellow hat captures the native, brings him home and hopes to civilize him, at which point the reluctant captive’s essential Otherness rubs against the conventions of the culture into which he was forcibly assimilated. And mayhem ensues.

Or perhaps the story is homoerotic, with the cute, furry monkey spending time in the pajamas of the man in the big yellow (conical) hat, who by all appearances is a bachelor and someone who likes to spend a lot of time in a long overcoat.

Reasonable, certainly. And in fact, this is what literary critics do all the time. But what we need to do is ask ourselves, if what we are claiming to do is “interpret,” what is it that we think the author(s) were trying to say? What did they mean?

And it is at that point most of us recognize that what they meant to do was write a children’s story about the exploits of a curious monkey.

To say that “words should be interpreted the way a reasonable person would interpret them” is to open texts up to whatever people can reasonably do with an authors marks, which, while this can prove enjoyable and even useful or enlightening in some way, has the dangerous effect of conflating the intentions of those doing the decoding with the intentions of those who did the original encoding. And if what we are trying to do is communicate — to understand a message as it proceeds along the interpretive chain — it is imperative that we work to uncover the meaning as it was designed to be received.

But back to politics: if, as I’ve argued, political realism as a strategy is doomed — not because we can’t be more careful with our words, but rather because it is not always rhetorically effective to do so, nor does such care prevent us from being misrepresented, no matter how precise we try to be — what is the alternative? As many pundits will patiently explain to you, ideological purity and idealism doesn’t win elections, so if not pragmatism, what?

To which I reply, pragmatism is fine. But why not use our idealism pragmatically — which is to say, why not make it our strategy to use idealism as our cudgel against the media and the left in such a way that their tactic of misrepresentation and outrage no longer pays dividends? Why not make it our strategy to destroy their tactics — and in so doing, reaffirm the very principles at the heart of classical liberalism?

The fact of the matter is, for all of Limbaugh’s provocation, his statement, having been carefully and purposely misrepresented by the media as a way to demonize him and drive a divide between conservatives and more moderates within the party, has had the rather happy effect of getting us talking and arguing about what we as a movement should do next. And it was precisely his choice of language that baited the press and the left (and, more frightening even, the White House) to engage him, and to force the ideas of conservatism center stage.

That we are having this debate about how to proceed as a movement is a step in the right direction, I think — and it is a debate I don’t think we’d be having were it not for Rush’s choice of language. And so arguments that more clarity and less provocation are the proper way for conservatives to communicate in the current media culture must be tempered by the realization that sometimes the best defense is a good offense — and that what Rush has done is perhaps fire us up and get us angry enough finally to push back against a dishonest media. And a vital tool for doing so is language — more specifically, by refusing to spend any more time on the defensive, withering prey to a tactic the left has used so successfully to provide the very parameters for acceptable conservative speech.

Now, if only we can convince our elected officials to follow suit, we might be on to something.

Rush Limbaugh speaks for Rush Limbaugh. Which is why the next reporter who asks a prominent Republican figure whether or not he or she agrees with Limbaugh’s “hope” that “the President fails” should be met with a firm reminder that the reporter has left out an important part of the context, one that effectively alters the suggestiveness of the question, and that aside from such fundamental dishonesty, Rush Limbaugh is not the head of the party, nor is he an elected leader, so why on earth would I presume to answer for something he said?

If we are worried about “undecided voters” who get nothing but soundbite news, we must work to change the culture of how news is delivered. For my part, I don’t want to have to measure every word I say with the thought in mind that somebody is going to take me out of context. Instead, I’d like to be free to say what I mean, and when my meaning is obvious, I would like to know that honest people have my back — and will tell dishonest people to stop being dishonest, and uninformed people that they need to smarten up before they presume to join the conversation.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air



Trackback URL


Comment pages: 1 2 3 4

I heart you, ‘feets.

baldilocks on March 9, 2009 at 7:21 PM

Do you actually expect anyone to read a blog post this long? It’s a blog, not a dissertation.

Next time put an executive summary at the top and then you can paste all the gory detail behind.

The Principal Chair on March 9, 2009 at 5:02 PM

I read every word. I had to look 4 or 5 of them up, but I read it.

kahall on March 9, 2009 at 7:21 PM

[Looking in desk drawer….]

Where did I leave that piece of rope?

Lord knows if I read one more blog post about the “four words of Limbaugh” I really think I’m gonna hang myself.

Aye Chihuahua on March 9, 2009 at 7:24 PM

Thanks Jeff.

Your efforts don’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Outlaw indeed.

DWB on March 9, 2009 at 7:24 PM

Aye Chihuahua on March 9, 2009 at 7:24 PM

You didn’t read it. Read it.

katy on March 9, 2009 at 7:30 PM

Who was it that said that he was the leader of the Republican Party again, Hebrew? Who said that he was the standard bearer for conservatives?

Oh, yeah. Begala, Emanuel, Stephanopoulos, Carville, Gibbs & company.

I don’t care who he is, it’s a matter of fundamental human decency that when someone’s slandered, and particularly the target of a cynical attempted hit job hatched among these jackasses and abetted by their credulous media enablers, we damned well should push back. Hard.

Dan Collins on March 9, 2009 at 7:31 PM

I’m having blogogasms reading this post and thread. ;)

katy on March 9, 2009 at 7:39 PM

It’s worth considering that “interpretation” of another’s meaning goes by the title of “deconstructionism” in the groves of academe. This was a fantasy of Michel Foucault, a French academician who told gleefully of coming to this conclusion while sojourning in the bathhouses of pre-AIDS San Francisco.

He was also a stone Leftist (French Communist Party), who instituted a number of courses which included the title “Marxist-Leninist” as the head of the philosophy department at the “Experimental University” Paris VII.

This insanity is the absolute basis of Liberal “interpretation”, and needs to be rejected out of hand by any thinking adult.

In, of course, my opinion.

warbaby on March 9, 2009 at 7:44 PM

Patterico’s point — and Ace’s, mind you — is that he should be aware of that and perhaps exercise a little caution. I think that’s some darn good advice.

Respectfully, I don’t believe you have understood Jeff’s point. Jeff became quite exasperated with Patterico for the same reason. One can never, ever know what words will be twisted by one’s interpretive enemies, nor how they will do so. You’ll be playing against someone constantly moving the finish line.

There is no way I can say I reject absolutely President Waffles’s policies and philosophy without saying… I reject absolutely President Waffles’s policies and philosophy. I can say I want him to fail. That is not the same thing as saying I want the nation to fail, period. The two things are mutually exclusive. To say I want Joe Lowbrow to lose the prizefight is not to say I don’t want the fight to have a winner. I categorically reject Gingrich’s opinion that it is “irrational” to wish a President to fail. What is irrational is to extrapolate “I want Waffles to fail” into anything else other than what is meant. And what is meant was made excruciatingly clear even without a sliver of context. You cannot win a game where your opponent rolls with loaded dice, and you shouldn’t play on their terms.

George Orwell on March 9, 2009 at 7:45 PM

So yeah, I’m all for doing something more than talking, and the ball is already rolling on that. Beyond that, what should I be doing that doesn’t involve “talk” — putting together a “classical liberals against the misuse of language” celebrity soft ball team?

Jeff G on March 9, 2009 at 5:08 PM

It takes all kinds. Some will do more talking; some will give speeches; some will be loud; some quieter; some will muscle up. A team requires many specialists.

Jeff, how does one sign up for your new endeavor?

mikeyboss on March 9, 2009 at 7:48 PM

Jeff Goldstein


Mark Levin just complimented your post and is going to link to it.

FloatingRock on March 9, 2009 at 7:54 PM

HebrewToYou on March 9, 2009 at 7:20 PM

Because it seems like he wants to be the voice of conservatism in America. If he simply wants to grow his audience, by all means he should keep doing what he’s doing. But he’s not going to be our candidate and we have to remember that.

What Dan said, and this: Rush has, for 20 years, been a bulwark against the left’s hateful desires for this country. He’s never going to run for anything (he won’t take the pay cut) but he’s a proven lighthouse for true conservatives (remember his set-to with Huckholio); he forcefully and correctly articulates the thoughts of millions of otherwise quiet Americans; and he’s a lightening rod for those we oppose.

There’s no one who could replace him. Hannity is a pale shadow; Glenn Beck gives mixed signals.

No, he should not change. And conservatives should have his back. I know I do.

You would have him muffled and filtered, obviously. That’s unacceptable.

Serr8d on March 9, 2009 at 7:54 PM

Thanks katy.

I feel better now.

Aye Chihuahua on March 9, 2009 at 7:55 PM

College Prof:

“Unfortunately, I agree. As much as I concede that Goldstein had some great points to make, they were lost in a jumble of run-on sentences and overly long support to his subject sentences.”

A run-on sentence is two independent clauses that are joined through a comma-splice, it is not the type of sentence that Jeff uses, this sentence however is.

What you mean is that Jeff uses LONG sentences with lots of parenthetical phrases, etc. All that means is that you need to have a greater attention span than that of a gnat to make it through a single sentence. Grammatically speaking, his sentences are perfectly fine. Complex thought processes tend to yield complex sentences.

Complaining about his writing style says more about you than it does about Jeff. Maybe he was mistaken in thinking that the Hot Air readership had the intellectual chops to deal with this type of essay. Obviously, some do. But not all.

Smarten up, folks. We can’t be bringing a knife to a gun fight. Most of our ideological opponents know this stuff cold. It behooves you to know it, too.

dicentra63 on March 9, 2009 at 7:57 PM

Great stuff as always, Jeff, and even greater to see it at an additional venue, here at Hot Air. It’s my sincere hope that great things come from this confluence of two of the best hopes for Classic Liberalism!

docob on March 9, 2009 at 7:58 PM

Aye Chihuahua on March 9, 2009 at 7:55 PM

Seeee… momma knows best.

katy on March 9, 2009 at 7:58 PM

dicentra63 on March 9, 2009 at 7:57 PM


warbaby on March 9, 2009 at 7:59 PM

I heart you, ‘feets.

Everyone hearts ‘feets. ‘Feets is eminently heartable.

dicentra63 on March 9, 2009 at 7:59 PM

Because it seems like he wants to be the voice of conservatism in America. If he simply wants to grow his audience, by all means he should keep doing what he’s doing. But he’s not going to be our candidate and we have to remember that.

HebrewToYou on March 9, 2009 at 7:20 PM

How do we remember that unless we refuse to defend him as if he is? Don’t play their game.

mugged by squirrels on March 9, 2009 at 8:06 PM

Because it seems like he wants to be the voice of conservatism in America.

HebrewToYou on March 9, 2009 at 7:20 PM

Kowtowing to the language nazi’s of the left is NOT a way to become the voice of conservatism.

Thus Rush should never, ever be forced to ‘coddle every word out of his mouth.’

And remember, even if he did…

…it wouldn’t matter because they would STILL find something to complain about.

Religious_Zealot on March 9, 2009 at 8:18 PM

mikeyboss —

Just shoot me an email: jeff -at- proteinwisdom -dot-com.

I’ll add you to the list, and soon we’ll be working on spreading the word I hope.

Jeff G on March 9, 2009 at 8:19 PM

Let me begin by noting that this post is not about Rush Limbaugh.

You are a lying despicable lying liar, Jeff. I for one, in my infinite wisdom as your intellectual and ideological better clearly see this as a ruse, as you mention Rush Limbaugh’s name less than a scant 20 words later.


Our ideological opponents are intellectually dishonesty by design, not fluke. How else do you think the water receder/planet healer in chief got elected?

Political realists in the context you are using is an oxymoron. They are neither realist nor pragmatic (conservative is completely out). They are whores and the status quo is their pimp. He puts them out on the street and they beggar people’s better nature until those people realize the cost of their transaction is a form of intellectual venereal disease. A mental herpes that breaks out wherever there is dissent from their modern day savior, his messiahship, Barack Obama.

BKennedy on March 9, 2009 at 8:36 PM

Mark Levin mentioned this today I believe. Said something about posting a link on his site.

Yakko77 on March 9, 2009 at 8:40 PM

Thank you HA for having Jeff’s essay.

I have posted these thoughts before, but repetition is the meta thought:

When a conservative goes on a MSM program (and they should, every chance they get), they need to take over the interview. If the reporter asks about X, the conservative goes into a diatribe about O’s bankrupting the country (or whatever), and ignore topic X.

That’s how the Left got out their message that W was evil, etc.

mockmook on March 9, 2009 at 8:45 PM

baldilocks on March 9, 2009 at 6:08 PM

That little skidmark isn’t up on anything except daddy’s lap.

MadisonConservative on March 9, 2009 at 8:57 PM

This is nothing new. I thought we already understood that the media will latch on to a few words out of an entire statement and run with it. They’ve been doing this for a LONG time and their little followers in the public do it as well in every day, normal conversations.

I am not going to “choose my words carefully” just because some little schmuck might take two words out of a paragraph and twist it around in to something it never was. (Nor should anyone else for that matter.) If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to say more than two words at a time…and frankly, they would STILL spin those words.

If there is a way for them to take something completely out of context to feign horror and shock, tossing out a victim card in the process, they will. People pull this kind of crap day in and day out. And we act surprised about it every time it happens.

I say what I mean and I mean what I say. It doesn’t matter if the far left and LSM know that, they won’t admit it, ever, if it doesn’t fit their agenda. They are not interested in facts.

SerenityFL on March 9, 2009 at 9:00 PM

Fabulous post Jeff. I have now added your site to my favorites and will check back in daily. Good of you to come here and participate in the discussion we have been having for far too long.

The MSM will always figure out a method to single out, divide, and destroy the opposition. Dan Rather taught us that, but so many have already forgotten.

Keemo on March 9, 2009 at 9:04 PM

Was just reading a little upthread and noticed someone mentioned Mark Levin, The Great One, has given Jeff Goldstein kudos for his work on his show. Will have to look up Levin’s radio archive manana. Wonderful. You have now been baptized by fire, Jeff. lol. Thanks very much for your thoughtful, mind-engaging article. Bigger thanks for keeping the gonads intact. Proceed!

RepubChica on March 9, 2009 at 9:14 PM

Good on ya, Jeff! And good on the Hot Air team for recognizing Jeff’s vital contribution to the conversation.

Language is vital to liberty, and liberty cannot stand without a fierce defense of meaning.

Joan of Argghh on March 9, 2009 at 9:36 PM

A little goodwill goes a long way.

Loved your contribution, Jeff.

SheofTwoMinds on March 9, 2009 at 10:37 PM

Excellent points sir; well made as well as eloquently and clearly articulated…

I especially liked the examples using “Curious George”.

The use of the childrens book was especially brilliant in that it demonstrated clearly the extent to which something with a payently obvious meaning can be subhect to ideological contortions at will…

Keep up the good work!


RocketmanBob on March 9, 2009 at 10:47 PM

An amazingly thoughtful and well written article. Thank you Jeff Goldstein, I’ve never heard of you until now but you can be sure I’ll add ProteinWisdom to my daily round of blogs.

Kronos on March 9, 2009 at 10:55 PM

The fatal flaw in Patterico’s “reasonable interpretation” argument is that those people who have tried to make hay with Rush’s comments were FAR from reasonable.

Not to mention that their comments were NOT a ‘reasonable’ conclusion to come to.

What Jeff (appears) to be saying here is that one can not be held down by unreasonable ‘interpretations’ of one’s words.

Also, that the onus on understanding what was meant is on the listener not the person talking.

Religious_Zealot on March 9, 2009 at 10:57 PM

Excellent post, Mr. Goldstein! Thanks a ton!

Fat Jolly Penguin on March 9, 2009 at 11:15 PM

Jeff, Welcome to Hot Air!

Thank you for your post. We loved your visit. I have read you before at PW, and I think you are quite good.

(OK, I’ll stop buttering you up. I know we who comment around here can be a brutal bunch!)

newton on March 9, 2009 at 11:27 PM

Question: Why do all other posts by Ed and AP and Michelle have pictures associated to them on the front page but not this one? Did Jeff post this himself, or send the text to be posted?

Montana on March 9, 2009 at 11:32 PM

Great post, Jeff.

zombyboy on March 9, 2009 at 11:35 PM

Goldstein is right.

Purple Fury on March 9, 2009 at 11:57 PM

Awesome, Jeff!

Darleen on March 10, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Wonderful. The best practical defense against post-modernism I’ve ever read.

Laura on March 10, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Funny that “Curious George” was mentioned. Here’s one called “I Don’t Like Curious George” about a two year old boy who has already wisdom beyond his years. It’s not what you think but funny considering.

Kokonut on March 10, 2009 at 12:02 AM

Excellent job, Jeff. Keep up the good work.


David Block on March 10, 2009 at 12:18 AM

Thanks, Jeff.

Tennman on March 10, 2009 at 1:00 AM

THIS is what I always used to read PW for. Nobody writes as clearly and precisely as Jeff.


Impressive as always, pal.

Aristomenes on March 10, 2009 at 1:08 AM

Unfortunately, I agree. As much as I concede that Goldstein had some great points to make, they were lost in a jumble of run-on sentences and overly long support to his subject sentences. Bullet points around a main theme of “tell it like it is” boldly and without fear might have been much more effective. I’m never impressed when my students try to impress me with their vocabulary or rhetorical dexterity if they can’t make their point in a concise manner.

Another one succumbs to the Powerpointification of the langauge.

So sad.

RTO Trainer on March 10, 2009 at 1:14 AM

Another one succumbs to the Powerpointification of the langauge. So sad. – RTO Trainer

What?? You don’t think everything should be dumbed-down for the Cliff’s Notes crowd?

Think of the advantages though – for example, if you wrote reviews of Shakespeare, “Romeo And Juliet” would just be one sentence: “Boy meets girl and then they commit suicide”. Of course even that length might be problematic for the “there’s too many big words” kids.

whatcat on March 10, 2009 at 3:11 AM

I can read anything that I want to read. However, sometimes I run across articles that just flat wear me out. This is one that is just flat tedious. There is probably a pay off but I have decided that I don’t have the energy to “go for it”…

sabbott on March 10, 2009 at 5:27 AM

Oh the delicious irony of people complaining that Limbaugh needed to explain his words more carefully lest he be taken out of context and then those very same people complaining about the lenght and complextiy of Jeff’s post.

Spoon feed — it’s not just for infants anymore.

Tomblvd on March 10, 2009 at 6:51 AM

sabbot, I salute you. I, for one, wouldn’t have the guts to admit I lack the energy to read something.

More cheetos?

Tomblvd on March 10, 2009 at 6:53 AM

The points that Jeff brings up on the excising of a few words or a sentence out of context are two things that should not happen on the internet and should never be a worry: you have the capability to have full quotations and links to material so you can check the veracity of the interpretation of a quote. ‘Sound bites’ are things created to meet scarce air time in the televised and audio media, and have been fully abused in politics to misrepresent individuals and their stances on subjects.

The concept that a post should be ‘brief’ to be easily read is one of intellectual dishonesty in caring about the material: either read it or not, do not complain about its length since, if you can write it better, go do so. No one is stopping *you* from stating more clearly, concisely and accurately a position and fully backing it up in a very short span of words. Please! That will help you to form your thoughts, help others to order theirs and otherwise give added insight in your ability to create such documents. If you *can’t* do that, then where is the criticism? We don’t have the time constraints of tv or radio, and if your attention span wanes, then leave the piece, do something else and come back to it fresh if it is interesting and important to you.

I have so detested the brief post that offers little in the way of insight and much in the way of misdirection that I take up the ‘long form’ in my personal posts and responses. I refuse to excerpt just a sentence here or there, but present the complete idea as best as I possibly can and examine how that idea and its information fits with other pieces of information and other ideas. I can’t do that in a low word output system. I have often gone past the original length of many posts in response because the amount left out to make such posts brief can make them inaccurate and conflate ideas that are separated by vast gulfs and those connections are not made in the original. Complaining to others about your lack of attention span is your problem, not theirs. I do my best not to abuse that and comment infrequently as a result. My blog posts tend to be very long and yet densely packed with ideas as I must show the transition from one idea to another and explore why such transitions are happening so I am faithful to my readers. Those handful who actually read my posts understand this – that I am trying to formulate my thoughts in a way they can understand and ensure that I do no violence to anyone’s ideas…

By accepting the ‘do you agree with [insert pruned choice of words here] that [insert target du jour here]?’ as a valid question by anyone in elected office should require more than just a ‘snap’ answer… and yet the intellectual laziness of those we elect now feeds back into the very media that caused the problem in the first place. It is an acceptance of a biased system that does not entertain other areas to explore what was said, only want a ‘sound bite’. Listen to any hearing in the House or Senate and you can tell when a Congresscritter is making a ‘sound bite’: they are asking a complex and loaded question in a few words that cannot be easily responded to and then they cut off the time of the responder. ‘Sound bite’ garnered, evening news coup scored, and no one looks to see if the original question was fair or if the responder had adequate time to respond.

In an era in which quite lengthy responses can and should be on record, to require a minimum excerpt to be representative of a greater idea or concept is absurd and destructive in and of itself.

Building a Nation requires that *you* do more than complain, but that *you* take an active part in building the Nation. Do complain, please, but then turn around and offer something better, explain it better, go into detail on *why* it is better and then try to keep to your own limits and problems with lengthy works. That is constructive complaining and helps all involved, but it requires more than just criticizing but examining your ideas and thoughts and if your initial response to a work is valid. Try reading Spengler, Sam Adams, Emmerich de Vattel, Grotius, or even HP Lovecraft with that short attention span theater syndrome and see if you can get through more than a page or two… they each took time to go into detail in their works and if you are bored with detail you miss the importance of addressing it. Simplistic ideas are everywhere and very glib, simple ideas that can change the course of humanity are few and hard to say. The price of admittance to fair criticism is self-criticism in the realm of a republic where we are all created equal and agree form a more perfect Union with our fellow Citizens. To be more perfect in our Union, you must be more perfect, too… we need more than just criticism, we need your help. Because that is what we all agree to in the Preamble which clearly states who is saying it. That is the price of being a citizen.

ajacksonian on March 10, 2009 at 8:24 AM

Finding Jeff posting here was like my experience at a Dodgers Cactus League game the other day. It was a great game in a beautiful new park, and I was totally engrossed in the game until I noticed that Maury Wills was sitting right across the aisle from us.

For the rest of the game I was delighted in the incongruity of two baseball worlds colliding, and Maury couldn’t have been more gracious to the fans, signing hundreds of autographs.

A lot like Jeff, I imagine, except Maury was wearing pants.

Scott P on March 10, 2009 at 9:08 AM

Bravo, Jeff. Thanks for the post.

cyrano on March 10, 2009 at 9:10 AM

Same old tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
The same old cant, whining that you can’t get your message out because of the malevolent media…..when the truth is….you have no message.
Right, the “principles of the Founders” and “classic liberalism”.
Classic liberalism as I understand it is basically incompatible with social tyrranny.
Until conservatives can plausibly articulate why economic liberty is good but social liberty is bad conservatism will be a no-sale, no matter how you frame it.
Also….the schizophrenic break that is Sarah Palin….how about just acknowledging that Jacksonian populism is an epic fail in the 21st century?
Like Brooks said, Joe Sixpack aint got teh substrate.
And like Ruffini and Douthat both said, the grassroots need the elites and the elites need the grassroots. Could you possibly admit that?
Instead what I hear from you is more dogwhistle IQ-baiting, Goldstein, and an impassioned defense of Palin blaming the media for misrepresenting her when the simple truth was she failed the job description….to be ready to be President on Day One.
The problem isn’t message discipline or message interpretation…..the problem is lack of message.
As for the media, if you don’t want them painting clown makeup on you, quit wearing clown shoes.

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 9:30 AM

OK, let’s get to work on a more accessible version.

Pablo on March 10, 2009 at 9:51 AM

I always enjoy reading you, Jeff, wherever you post.

Bob's Kid on March 10, 2009 at 10:41 AM

There are some who claim that we conservatives have an obligation to weigh everything we say or write, with the idea that if our utterances are somehow inartfull, that will enable the media take it out of context, or otherwise lie about it.

The futility of such efforts is that they set up an impossible standard. No matter what we say, the media will try to twist and distort it. If they are unsuccessfull, they will just lie and make things up.

Those who are castigating Rush because the media distorted what he said, are doing so because they to wish to bring Rush down.

MarkTheGreat on March 10, 2009 at 12:01 PM

Look nubsauce.
The whole OUTLAW thingy is a crapload of chaff tossed up to disguise the cold hard facts that the last election was the political equivalent of the extinction event at the K-T boundary for republicans.
Scapegoating the “elite” media for your epic failures is just more conspiracy-theory persecution-complex IQ-baiting.
Those media elites are keeping you down, lol.
But the media doesn’t “distort” your message……you have no message.
Your “message” was actually mob rule.
But guess what? The demographic timer is running out.
You aren’t the biggest mob anymore.
And what mob you have left, Goldstein, simply doesn’t have the substrate to get semiotics.
Please answer one question for me, Mistah “Outlaw”…….what good is to take back language if you have nothing intelligent to say in it?
You can’t be a “classic liberal” and support social tyranny and mob rule.
I’ll take back some language here…..”traditional values” is just code for legislated social mores imposed by the biggest mob. Your tortured efforts to paint mob rule as classical liberalism make me throw up a little in the back of my mouth.
Social conservatism is simply illiberal.

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 12:26 PM

Bullshit, strangelet.

What we are trying to do is set it up so that you and the rest of the liars are no longer permitted to define what “conservatism” means. For instance — thanks to you and the rest of the soundbyteing lying self-described “progressives”, it’s the Conventional Wisdom that conservatives oppose immigration. That’s a flat, Universe-defying, bald-faced lie. Conservatives are in favor of immigration, the more the better — what we are opposed to is the importation of the cultural, social, and economic structures that caused the immigrants to leave their home countries in the first place. You, on the other hand, are firmly committed to the Balkanization of American culture, because you think you can be King Frog if the pond is small enough. As is now being established in the southwestern US, you ain’t got the chops — the existing power structures being imported with your explicit approval are already in place and ‘way more effective than you will ever be. Result: we both lose.

We’re confident that if we can communicate to the American people what we are for (and against), at least some of our proposals will resonate. At the moment we’re trying to find ways to get past you and the rest of the liars who presume to define us.


warlocketx on March 10, 2009 at 1:02 PM

Too bad Jeff did not think of this first. Those guys at Ace’s place are soooo smart:

Well, how you respond to bear attacks is a guide on how you should respond to criticism from the mainstream media.

If you’re a conservative, then you can be 99.7% sure that the media is made up of Polar bears. You’re nothing more than meat to them, and they’ll keep coming until one of you is dead.

If you’re a moderate Republican who thinks that bipartisanship is the best thing since sliced bread, then the media is a Brown bear. They’ll mess you up bad, and they might even eat you if they need a meal, but they won’t actively stalk you unless you do something to provoke them… running for President or voting against the Porkulus package.

If you’re a Democrat or a liberal Republican, then the media is a Black bear. Attacks will be rare, but when they DO happen they’ll be fatal. Gov. Blago knows what a Black bear attack feels like.

discuss amongst yourselves

Russ schools us all.

Mr. Joe on March 10, 2009 at 1:09 PM

I agree with Russ’ analogy (and like it) but the post has a Biden quality to it.

Mr. Joe on March 10, 2009 at 1:10 PM

The whole OUTLAW thingy is a crapload of chaff tossed up to disguise the cold hard facts that the last election was the political equivalent of the extinction event at the K-T boundary for republicans.

Ah, there’s your problem. You don’t know the difference between classical liberalism and John McCain, or first principles and the reach around across.

Pablo on March 10, 2009 at 1:12 PM

strangelet = nishi, folks.

Just press her buttons and she’ll quickly slide into eugenic fantasies of killing off all the religious folks, the Down’s babies, etc.

She’s a blight. If you feel the need to engage her, fine. But she’s nothing more than a griefer. And one who, not too long ago, was sending me unsolicited pics.

Back then I guess I wasn’t such a yawn, eh nishi / kate / quelcrist falconer / other name pulled from sci-fi or anime?

Jeff G on March 10, 2009 at 1:14 PM

Oh. And of course, where classical liberalism breaks with certain types of conservatism is over the state meddling in the social arena. Where we are consonant, however, is in our belief that if the system works as it should, states can settle these questions that should, Constitutionally, fall outside the purview of the feds and the courts.

Which is to say, there is a strong libertarian element to classical liberalism. As nishi knows. Which is why she always has to change her moniker. To argue the same things again and again as if she’s someone new, because in her previous guises she’s been humiliated and forced to slink off like the girl at the prom with the big spaghetti stain on her dress.

Jeff G on March 10, 2009 at 1:22 PM

Wow, Nishi, get some spine. Stop hiding your beliefs behind new names. Hint: if you have to hide in such a way, your beliefs might not be good.

Jeff G: Again, thanks for your post. I agree with what you wrote. Best of luck to you and yours. I’ll be doing my part in my little world.

Montana on March 10, 2009 at 1:29 PM

Lissen poseur.
Quit tryin to pretend the “elitist media” stole the election from you and is distorting what you stand for.
You failed.
Bush and Greenspan buggered the prime down from 9% to 0.5% in 8 years.
You failed on Jacksonian populism, and you failed on free market capitalism.
You have no comprehension of what classic liberalism is if you think it means mob rule over citizens in a republic.
To cynically pretend that the media is distorting the platform of the GOP is just escapist blamesmanship.
Own it.
Palin was a horrorshow and you sukk.

Yup, I sent u a pic….i also paid for my bandwidth even after you turned into a partisan whore.
/ghetto snap @ Mistah Outlaw

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 1:33 PM

Ah, the twisterella, jinderella, matoko chan/Kusanagi nishizonoshinji/nishi jenkins? Grow up, child. Good grief.

Pablo on March 10, 2009 at 1:39 PM

states can settle these questions that should, Constitutionally, fall outside the purview of the feds and the courts.

Oh that is just locallized mob rule.
I kinda believe citizens should have certain unalienable rights under the constitution of the Republic, whether they live in appalachia or not.
You aren’t just a partisan whore, you are an intellectual whore.

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 1:40 PM

I actually this was a sign of life in the conservative movement….healthy debate.
But Mistah Outlaw is gonna push all the blame off on the Eevul Elitist MSM brainwashing the electorate.
The truth is your message is not distorted….your message is we are a centerright nation so we do what we want, without a consistant logical rationale.
That is why conservatives can justify economic liberalism with social illiberalism, justify the need for elites with despising and excoriating elites.
But guess what?
You aren’t the biggest mob anymore.

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 1:53 PM

You have no comprehension of what classic liberalism is if you think it means mob rule over citizens in a republic.

Which I don’t.

Oh that is just locallized mob rule.

Uh, no. That’s what the Constitution helps protect against.

Your problem is that the Constitution doesn’t include provisions for putting what you want into place by fiat. There are certain inalienable rights. The rest have to be agreed upon.

Don’t like it? Kill off enough of the “bad kind of voters” with eugenics.

As for the suggestion that I’m a partisan whore, I’m sure the GOP would be surprised to hear that.

An intellectual whore? I haven’t sold my beliefs to anyone. Whereas your propensity for role playing has you wandering around the web giving it away like some cheap Tijuana donkey show slut.

You’re a monster.

Jeff G on March 10, 2009 at 1:57 PM

I thought you were banned from this place, too.

Maybe they let you back on as a designated sniper.

Jeff G on March 10, 2009 at 1:59 PM

And you’ve never been a yawn.
You are an extremely bright guy, you write exquisitely and you are one of the rare people i know that is capable of genuine guerilla thought.
It just seems you are not very honest anymore.

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 2:04 PM

The Creator of Worlds bans me periodically.
Alas, he is expecting me to learn manners or something.
Hope springs eternal an’ all that.
A banning is prolly wending its way to me right now.
He isn’t going to like that Palin comment.

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 2:10 PM

For the unfamiliar, this is the creature you see before you. On a good day.

Pablo on March 10, 2009 at 2:13 PM

Excellent post, Jeff. I’m impressed that one sentence is its own lengthy paragraph, too! Them’s skillz.

Anyway, I hope someone forwarded this to Ace. His acceptance of the Left’s framing of this issue has caused me considerable heartache. Well that, and his acceptance (and approval) of the original “bailout”.

There are altogether too many conservatives taking it up the a** these days.

Redhead Infidel on March 10, 2009 at 3:00 PM

It just seems you are not very honest anymore.

I’ve never been anything but honest. It was no secret I couldn’t particularly stomach McCain.

I am far from a GOP cheerleader.

And I try to approach every issue fairly, and argue my points in such a way that (to those who can be bothered to read longer pieces and sometimes complicated sentences) I leave little doubt as to where I stand — even if my conclusion is that I’m not quite sure yet where I stand.

That, too, is a principled position.

Jeff G on March 10, 2009 at 3:10 PM

Another excellent piece, Jeff. I’ve been reading you for years, and I see in you a much needed and articulate force for “taking back the paradigm” from the disciples of PoMo-type nonsense.

It’s great to see the terrific reception the piece has had here. A couple of “It’s too long, it’s too complicated,” whines are to be expected, even from people complaining that Rush should have explained himself better.

I hope Michelle takes note of the receptive response here (the number of commenters who say they intend to read it at least a second time to fully digest the ideas – has that ever happened before?), and makes you an offer to take up the Citizen Journalist Report once again, or something. You need a bigger platform, and history needs you to get one.

Oh, and I also [heart] ‘feets, of course. A ray of sunshine, that boy is.

From an Outlaw! in Siam

Agam on March 10, 2009 at 4:41 PM

Uh, no. That’s what the Constitution helps protect against.
Your problem is that the Constitution doesn’t include provisions for putting what you want into place by fiat. There are certain inalienable rights. The rest have to be agreed upon.

Then why aren’t we still a slave nation that outlaws miscegenation?
Brown vs Board, Loving vs Virginia is why.
Judicial fiat is why.
The imposition by legislation of socio-religious mores on unwilling citizens in a republic is illiberal.
The Founders saw Kylon and the Democrats you comin’ from more than 300 years away.

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 6:43 PM

We’re confident that if we can communicate to the American people what we are for (and against), at least some of our proposals will resonate. At the moment we’re trying to find ways to get past you and the rest of the liars who presume to define us.

warlocketx on March 10, 2009 at 1:02 PM

Definitely a destruction warlock.
You have defined yourself perfectly with Prop 8 in Cali and with the Nebraska Hand Maid’s Tale bill.
You want to impose your socio-religious mores on minority citizens in a republic.
Actions speak louder than words, and by your actions, you are illiberal, and not very bright.

strangelet on March 10, 2009 at 6:57 PM

Geez, and he did all that from Texas.

Grow up, child.

Pablo on March 10, 2009 at 9:30 PM

The imposition by legislation of socio-religious mores on unwilling citizens in a republic is illiberal.

I know a guy who wants to bring his goat wife on my son’s school bus as part of a purification ritual who has that very same complaint.

Grow up.

We have an amendment process. Plessy is what you should bitch about.

Yes, we’ve passed bad law in this country. Your type once managed to have epileptics sterilized. Now they’ve given us hate crime legislation and run roughshod over property rights in Kelo. Goes with the territory.

Jeff G on March 10, 2009 at 11:21 PM

Yes, we’ve passed bad law in this country.

LOL! Which law? Brown vs Board or Loving vs Virginia? Those were my two cites.
Niiice one Jeff.

Your type once managed to have epileptics sterilized.

My type? I’m a transhumanist….I want to repair genetic disease with science.
I know, I know, to the crypto-neanderthal substrate-challenged conservative base transhumanism is the same as……eugenics! (teh horror)
Haha, and of course ToE and actually all biotech scientific research is just creeping eugenics, lol, after all, Darwin==Hiltler to that crowd.

strangelet on March 11, 2009 at 12:43 PM

I know a guy who wants to bring his goat wife on my son’s school bus as part of a purification ritual who has that very same complaint.

lol, you cant bring livestock on school buses in Colorado.
Is that a “distortion of language to make a point” or just an actual lie?

strangelet on March 11, 2009 at 12:46 PM

Fine job of beclowning yourself, nishi.

Spiny Norman on March 11, 2009 at 4:01 PM

Dude, i’m not the one in the clown shoes here.

strangelet on March 11, 2009 at 4:14 PM

My type? I’m a transhumanist…

Dude, i’m not the one in the clown shoes here.

Now that’s funny. When do we get to see the midgets on unicycles?

Pablo on March 12, 2009 at 9:40 AM

Comment pages: 1 2 3 4