Huckabee and libido: If meaning can be so easily misinterpreted, how far must we go to avoid controversy?

The consensus seems to be that public figures of Huckabee’s experience should know better. As a matter of practical politics, I can’t disagree. For better or for worse, we live now in the world of UpWorthy and Twitter — in a culture of soundbites and of instant communication. Our political life keeps pace with the lightning. Since the days of the first newspapers, headlines have been screamed in 36-point font and corrections whispered in diminutive and unsaluted fashion. But in the age of short attention spans and instantly replicated misinformation, this has become all the more important, rendering truer than ever the old maxim that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its boots on” and meaning that, in 2014, context and argument are not as important as avoiding certain words. Day in, day out, teams of busybodies occupy themselves by scanning each and every sentence for verboten and controversial terms and then, smugly, they pounce: “Can you believe what that guy just said?!”

So, I’ll say it, as I am expected to do. Yes, it was unwise for Huckabee to have used the words he did. Yes, given that they’ll inevitably be twisted, it’s foolish for politicians to talk about certain topics at all. Yes, if one wishes to “win the news cycle,” one shouldn’t use words that crackle with potential charge. Still, one has to ask whether the fact that words will be twisted in any way excuses that twisting. One rarely hears added to the observation that politicians should be careful an explanation of why they need to be careful — which, in this case at least, is because their opponents are happy to lie shamelessly about them in the pursuit of a narrative that has been manufactured from whole cloth.