Political Animal


WORDS MATTER….ESPECIALLY THE LITTLE ONES!….The Washington Post ran a headline today that said, “Sutton Pleads With Senators at Hearing,” and Eugene Volokh was puzzled:

So here’s my question, which I can’t answer myself because I didn’t watch the hearing and haven’t read the hearing transcript — is it quite right to describe Sutton’s conduct as “pleading”?

Probably not, but surely Eugene has noticed that variations on the verb “said” are among the most popular ways of making someone look vaguely foolish without actually saying something that’s overtly untrue or unfair?

As a public service, here’s a list of favorites (mostly used by columnists, which is why it might have seemed so jarring in the news story above):

  • Prattled (“As Hillary prattled on about healthcare, the rest of us….”)

  • Muttered (“‘We need to hear some proof,’ the Democrats muttered helplessly….”)

  • Cackled (“‘Bush’s poll numbers are really slipping,’ Kennedy cackled….”)

  • Whined (“After Daschle finished whining about Rush Limbaugh, the subject turned to….”)

  • Bellowed (“‘The Enrons of the world need to be reined in,’ Wellstone bellowed….”)

  • Sneered (“‘Bush just isn’t telling the truth about tax cuts,’ Pelosi said sneeringly….”)

  • Droned (“As Al Gore droned on about tax policy, the audience seemed restless….”)

  • etc.

The all-time winner, however, is “shrill,” which is the hands down conservative favorite these days for describing any forceful liberal argument. In fact, as near as I can tell, conservatives find it nearly impossible to refrain from talking about Paul Krugman without using the word “shrill” in the next breath. It’s almost like it’s become part of his name.

This kind of language is remarkably effective: it sets an unmistakable tone, but you can hardly complain about the word itself without seeming petty, despite the fact that nine times out of ten the statement was made in a perfectly normal tone of voice. For example:

Eugene Volokh prattled on today about how “well regulated militia” really refers to the entire adult citizenry.

It’s hard to take exception to the factual statement set forth there, but it sure makes him sound like an obsessive crank, doesn’t it?

The lesson, as Newt Gingrich could tell you, is that language matters. But remember, liberals can do this too: if you want to make someone look weak, or silly, or just plain dumb, quote them properly and treat the facts with respect, but always hit the thesaurus to find an appropriately sneering variation of “said.” It’s the newspaper columnist’s secret weapon!

ARI FLEISCHER….Tim Dunlop posts an

ARI FLEISCHER….Tim Dunlop posts an excerpt from a White House press briefing with Ari Fleischer today. Go read it.

Now, I could have picked pretty much any day’s briefing to make this point, but is Ari Fleischer the sorriest son of a bitch in this general vicinity of the Milky Way, or what? As near as I can tell, his job is to get up in front of the press corps every day and stay robotically calm while they rain down abuse on him. His boss never holds press conferences, everyone knows Ari’s not going to tell them anything, and it’s gotten to the point where reporters just sort of vent on him because there’s nothing much more they can do. It’s sort of like being manager of the complaint desk at Sears.

Why would anyone want a job like that? It probably doesn’t even pay all that well.

ROOTS….My mother returned from a

ROOTS….My mother returned from a trip to England a few days ago and brought back this picture of Parsonage Lane in Bath, a stone’s throw from Bath Abbey. This, it turns out, is where my great-great-great-grandfather, William Membry, was born in 1818.

William moved to London as a teenager, where he worked as an apprentice baker, and, in 1839, was married to Mary Drew in the parish church of Islington. The next year, shortly after the birth of my great-great-grandmother, Agnes Membry, the Membry family sailed for America, landing in New York probably in late 1840. They spent eight years there, then moved to Covington, Kentucky for a decade, and finally settled in Marshall, Missouri in 1858.

In Marshall, William became a sign painter and Mary ran a small boardinghouse. The town of Marshall, like the rest of Missouri, was deeply conflicted during the Civil War and William apparently became a well-known Union sympathizer during this time. Well known enough, at any rate, that a history of Marshall records that “Federals preyed upon prominent Confederate sympathizers….while Confederates retaliated upon the households of Judge David Landon, William Membry, Snell, and others.”

After the war ended Agnes Membry married a Civil War veteran and in 1884 they moved to Los Angeles, where she opened a boardinghouse of her own ? named, fittingly, Olive House, after the Mt. Olive Presbyterian Church back in Marshall.

In 1885 William Membry died, leaving behind about $50 in “paints and paint fixtures” and $205 in two savings accounts. His wife Mary followed in 1896 and the two are buried together in the Mt. Olive Cemetery a few miles outside of Marshall. The gravestone reads, “He did unto others as he would they should do unto him.”

NORTH KOREA….It sure has been

NORTH KOREA….It sure has been quiet on the North Korea front, hasn’t it? President Bush spent, oh, 30 seconds on it last night, saying basically that “we’re working on it” and then moving on to weightier dictators.

So what’s the latest? Well, according to CNN, the South Koreans sent an envoy to Pyonyang, but Kim Jong-il snubbed him and refused to meet. The envoy did manage to pass along a letter, however, and claims that Kim “promised to study its warm advice and let us know their opinion later.” Uh huh.

Later in the same story, CNN reported that the snub was deliberate:

“They want to deal directly with George W. Bush and tell them basically you guarantee my security and in exchange I may consider dropping my nuclear weapons program,” Lee Chong-min, from Seoul’s Yonsei University, told CNN.

This is nothing new, really, but it’s hard not to wonder if maybe they’re actually serious about this. The North Koreans have proven so untrustworthy that it seems foolish to take anything they say at face value, but they sure have been consistent about what they want from the U.S.: a nonagression pact and a guarantee of security.

Assuming for a second that we could negotiate a suitable verification regime ? a very big if ? is there really anything wrong with this? I imagine there’s a catch here, but if suitable security guarantees could denuclearize the Korean penninsula, well, that seems like a pretty good tradeoff to me.