Keyser Can’t Decide Whether to Vomit or Punch Dick Cavett in the Face
We just had a piece on how the once esteemed Nude York Times has turned into some sort of claustrophobic echo chamber in which all the clever people on both coasts can preen about how much smarter they are than hoi polloi in betwixt (oh, and aren’t we cleverest people for knowing that “hoi” is the definite article in Greek, so only rubes from Wasilla or Nebraska or some such place would say “the” hoi polloi). Well, as if we needed confirmation, down the LIE comes the inimitable Dick Cavett. (As an aside, Keyser has to interject that he’d been under the impression that Mr. Cavett had died giving birth to Garrison Keilor, but rumors of his demise appear to have been unfortunately premature.)
Seems the esteemed wordsmith himself is not too fond of Sarah Palin. No! You could have knocked Keyser over with a copy of the Arts section of the Times. But it’s true, as he smirks in his piece entitled “The Wild Wordsmith of Wassilla” (and “wild” really isn’t the right word, is it, Mr. Smartass?):
What will ambitious politicos learn from [the candidacy of Sarah Palin]? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?
And how much more of all that lies in our future if God points her to those open-a-crack doors she refers to? The ones she resolves to splinter and bulldoze her way through upon glimpsing the opportunities, revealed from on high.
What on earth are our underpaid teachers, laboring in the vineyards of education, supposed to tell students about the following sentence, committed by the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High and gleaned by my colleague Maureen Dowd for preservation for those who ask, “How was it she talked?”
My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.
And, she concluded, “never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or a continent, I just don’t know about this issue.”
It’s admittedly a rare gift to produce a paragraph in which whole clumps of words could be removed without noticeably affecting the sense, if any.
First off, this is from an interview. The kind of thing where people speak informally off the cuff. So maybe it doesn’t stand up there with the Gettysburg Address or a Dick Cavett oration as a model of rhetorical skill. But only an imbecile would say that “whole clumps of words could be removed without affecting the sense, if any.” So was there any sense? As far as Keyser can tell, the answer is obviously yes. What she said was that prior to the debate prep in which she is supposed to have made the gaffe of asking whether Africa was a continent or country she’d been concerned about the issue of human rights abuses in Darfur, since the matter was relevant to the investment of all the money that Alaska makes on oil royalties, and she doesn’t know where the issue of whether or not she knew Africa was a country came from, since this didn’t happen.
What’s so hard to understand? Is the syntax or other rules of spoken English violated? Can anyone not in fact understand perfectly clearly what she’s saying?
The answer is obvious. Yes, any normal speaker of English (if not a wordsmith for the NYT) could readily understand exactly what she means. But that’s not the point. Because we members of the elite are entitled to sneer at this mode of expression without any substantial criticism, because it allows us to revel in our self-proclaimed sense of superiority and entitlement. The Estimable Wordsmith of New York notes: “Could the willingness to crown one who seems to have no first language have anything to do with the oft-lamented fact that we seem to be alone among nations in having made the word “intellectual” an insult?” Well, well, well. “No first language” at all, eh? Apparently, saying things that appeal to Mr. Cavett is the sole criterion for membership in that lofty circle of those who (presumably “really”) speak English, and holding any other view of politicians can’t have anything to do with, say, political beliefs. But according to the esteemed Mr. Cavett the only conceivable reason why anyone could like Sarah Palin is that unlike everywhere else on earth, the term “intellectual” is a bad word in the US. Oh, now Keyser gets it. In, say, France, the “intellectuals” are the only people whose opinion counts, and the riffraff should just shut up and do what they’re told by their betters (because if you let them vote on, say, the new European Union constitution, they might have the audacity to think for themselves). Sarah Palin is not one of us, and ipso facto she’s an uneducated hillbilly who can’t even speak English (the manifest evidence to the contrary notwithstanding). Seriously, she say “n” for “ng” all the time at the ends of words, so she’s got to be a halfwit.
In the piece cited in the earlier post about the market that the NYT aims it in its new business strategy it is asserted of the intended readership of nationwide elites that “… what these elites sought nationwide was not so much information as attitude. They wanted confirmation of who they were, not merely news of the day,” and the comments to the Cavett piece absolutely confirm this. Two hundred examples of “Yes, Mr. Cavett, you are so smart and clever, and so am I for reading you. And as for that horrible woman, to think that 26% of the population is cretinous enough to like her! Makes you fear for the future of the Republic.” No, really, they’re mostly like this one: “Bravo. Unfortunately your intellectual style is too complicated for a Sarah-ite to follow. That’s why they they like Sarah, she speaks their adulterated style.”
The Cavett piece is full of all manner of snobbery, but Keyser was also struck by the reference to her claiming that God would reveal to her what door to push through. Keyser’s seen a number of references to this (the first being a headline in the Globe and Mail about God being her co-pilot). Now, attentive Keyser readers know that Keyser is no great fan of religion, but he has to point out that she did not say that God would tell her whether or not to run for president (the question she was answering was about her plans for 2012). What she said was that when she considers important decisions, she prays that she won’t miss an opportunity, that’s all. Check it out yourself (the relevant part starts at 5:55):
It’s not like she’s saying she sees God in the sky waving a sign at her or hears him whispering in her ear or talking in her dreams. The Globe and Mail described this as follows: “Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says she wouldn’t hesitate to run for the presidency in four years if it’s God’s will.” Keyser doesn’t know about you, but he didn’t hear the phrase “God’s will.” All she said was, “Don’t let me miss an open door.” What’s the big deal about that? Unless of course you’re predisposed to hate her, in which case you simply hear what you want to on the basis of your preconceptions and prejudices.
As Keyser has said before, all this self-indulgent sense of superiority manifested as Palin hatred sticks in his craw. Better to be a “wild wordsmith of Wassilla” (as The Dick’s title goes) than an arrogant and effete elitist of the East Village.
Go Sarah! And go to hell, you Dick!
[This stray body part landed here after someone stepped on a land mine over at Keyser's Lair.]