Ace, surprisingly, chalks it up to ignorance of the context: the (mis-)quote in question belongs to Nathan Bedford Forrest, who, in addition to being a terrorist and a moral monster, was an almost universally recognized military genius. (If you’ve seen Ken Burns’s documentary on the Civil War, you’ll remember Shelby Foote talking about him.) “Git thar fustest with the mostest” is his most famous military aphorism. Ted Poe, the congressman, was quoting him on a basic point of strategy, not a point of morals. Ace seems to believe the left doesn’t know that … but of course they do. It’s all readily available on Wikipedia and Google. They simply choose to ignore it, much like when Think Progress — which is leading the outrage parade on this story — demanded an explanation from Tony Snow last year after he used the phrase “hug the tar baby” even though they admitted they knew he didn’t mean it in a racist sense. The point isn’t to prove that Ted Poe is racist, it’s to float a facially credible charge of racism against Republicans in hopes of getting it into the wider media where most people will glance at it without checking to see if it has merit. Olbermann will probably pick it up tonight for his “Worst Person in the World” segment, where he conveniently allots himself only a few seconds to explain the charge without offering context.
This is a useful example of why it’s pointless to engage the left. Not only do they act in bad faith, they justify it by attributing bad faith to their target. Some of them, I promise you, would tell you that even if Poe didn’t intend anything racist by what he said, he intended it unconsciously by choosing Forrest for his point of reference, as some sort of code or semiotic secret handshake or whatever among members of the nefarious Republican secret society. Which is also why, incidentally, I think Jeff Goldstein’s wide of the mark when he rips on them (as in the post linked above) for not being intentionalist in their textual interpretations. They are intentionalists; they have to be in order to prove the proper level of criminal culpability in their perpetual trial of conservatism. But they allow themselves a fudge in the form of unconscious intent when the facts aren’t there to prove intent otherwise. That’s why being pro-life is really about “controlling women’s bodies,” why opposing affirmative action is a backdoor attempt to reinstate Jim Crow, etc. etc. There’s always a malign motive or an evil conspiracy to be found if you squint hard enough. Why do you think so many Truthers skew left?
Anyway, riddle me this. If quoting moral monsters for the occasional truth of their observations is wrong, how is it that this little jewel‘s been shown off on so many “reality-based” sites over the past four (or six) years? In fact, in my googling travels this afternoon, I found it buried in the archives of a certain nutroots blog that’s making one of the biggest stinks about Ted Poe. But I’ll leave you to find that for yourselves, as a sort of hypocrisy easter-egg hunt. Like I say, it’s usually not worth the time to engage the left, even to make fun of them.
Update: Captain Ed reminds the left that their tolerance for Klansmen seems to be a bit selective.
Update: Goldstein corrects me in the comments below:
Actually, I argue that they are proceeding from an intentionalist argument, but their fudge is that they posit that someone somewhere who is less astute than they might “misinterpret” the use of tar-baby as racial and become offended, which is why Snow should have avoided using it.
All interpretation is intentionalist, is my argument. The question is, whose intention are we privileging when we say we are interpreting, the utterer’s or the receiver’s?