Posted tagged ‘words’

Can Anyone Tell Me What John McCain Is Saying Here?

September 18, 2008

Further to the thought in this post:

There are plenty of folks taking note of John McCain’s scramble to come up with a rhetorical response to the ongoing adventures on Wall Street — see this for a good rundown on the difficulty Straight Talk John has in remembering what it is he actually believes on a minute-by-minute basis.

But the attention being paid to the implausibility of Commerce Committee Chairman and deregulation stalwart suddenly turning into the Scourge of the Robber Barons is missing another element of the story that in governance terms is more serious.  That is — I think there is a growing consensus that the McCain campaign has a deeply conflicted relationship with the truth (i.e. the candidate lies a lot, as does his Veep selection, as does his campaign as a whole).

But what is only just starting to get noticed is that McCain does not appear to think very well — certainly not on his feet, and maybe not under any circumstances.  And by this I mean he has a hard time assimilating information, analyzing it accurately, and coming to conclusions that he can then express in a clear and coherent fashion.

Now the links above mostly lead to stories about McCain’s difficulties with the location, leadership, and ally-status of Spain — the gaffe du jour.

But as the financial markets continue to play their lethal version of musical chairs, and as McCain hones his populist lines, I thought it would be useful to look at what he had to say when first confronted with the fact that the worldview of his economic stump speech had moved so far into fantasy land that not even the 2008 GOP could maintain the fiction.

Recall that on Monday morning, McCain famously repeated his standard line that whatever turmoil there might be in the markets, “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

With even the White House declining to endorse that view (and ever more Federal action putting ever more tax dollars at risk in the still-uncertain-of-success rescue efforts), it became quickly clear to the candidate and his brain trust (an interesting phrase, don’t you think…) that Sen. McCain had to get back out there, and fast.

So out he duly went, a few hours later, to a town meeting in Florida.  There he made another statement, acknowledging that the fundamentals of the economy were at risk — and much other verbiage, which is where my real concern comes in.

I’ve now listened to the clip of John McCain trying to communicate his views and intentions about this imperiled economy four or five times now, and it’s not that I disagree with what he is saying.

It’s that I cannot make sense of his statement.  It’s astonishingly incoherent, so much so that I transcribed it for all to read.

I’ll post the transcript below in two versions:  one that matches the way it was delivered, just a single almost breathless block of words; and another in a somewhat easier to read and more charitable form, paragraphs and emphases broken up in my guess as to how McCain’s staff might have circulated a text.  I’ll comment a bit, and then post the Youtube for all to judge for themselves.

But my basic question remains:  can this man actually perform the mental operations  required of a president on the time scales that the office of President imposed on its incumbents?

So here goes:

And this is a unique and diverse state and it’s a wonderful state and it’s what America is all about.  And I want to say again I know Americans are hurting now and the fundamentals of our economy are at risk.  They’re at risk.  The great workers, the great innovators because of the greed of Wall Street and the greed and, and the abuse that has taken place which has put our very economy at risk.  Our economy is at risk today.  Have no doubt how serious this problem is.  And we Americans will get through it.  But we have got to reform, we’ve got to reform the way the government does business.  I want to promise you that my whole life I have reached across the aisle, and I’ve worked with Democrats, and I know how to do that and we must do that, because we have got to fix this economy which the fundamentals are at great risk right now.  And those are the American workers and these are the American workers who deserve far better than what they have gotten recently, and I want to promise you that it’s my highest priority:  we’ve got to get our economy going again. We’ve got to create jobs and keep this nation safe.

And again:

And this is a unique and diverse state and it’s a wonderful state and it’s what America is all about.  And I want to say again I know Americans are hurting now and the fundamentals of our economy are at risk.  They’re at risk. The great workers, the great innovators because of the greed of Wall Street and the greed and, and the abuse that has taken place which has put our very economy at risk.

Our economy is at risk today. Have no doubt how serious this problem is.  And we Americans will get through it.

But we have got to reform, we’ve got to reform the way the government does business.  I want to promise you that my whole life I have reached across the aisle, and I’ve worked with Democrats, and I know how to do that and we must do that, because we have got to fix this economy which the fundamentals are at great risk right now.

And those are the American workers and these are the American workers who deserve far better than what they have gotten recently, and I want to promise you that it’s my highest priority:  we’ve got to get our economy going again. We’ve got to create jobs and keep this nation safe.

Hello?  Anyone home?

It is possible to parse this and come up with a somewhat sympathetic reading:  McCain knows there’s a problem; knows that government action is required; and he is willing to work across the aisle for solutions.

But read it — or, given that no spoken remarks have the same quality transcribed as they do uttered, look at the clip below — and tell me that this is the likeliest interpretation.

What you see is a man grasping for some complete thought, and missing.  Listen to each sentence and fragment; try to follow the bouncing ball, and see the connection from one idea to the next.  I can’t.  It’s just: “situation bad; workers good; greed bad; situation bad; things must change; I can change; I promise change;…..”

In the end, this may just be another case of eastern elitist intellectual snobbery.

But the premise of my real fear here is that words uttered are a mirror of the mind behind them — never more so than when someone is under pressure to compose and speak an important thought whilst naked on the island:  no teleprompter, no prepared speech, just what you think at that moment.

If I’m right, then John McCain is an even worse potential President than I had thought (and that’s going some).

Update: It does occur to me that we have already tried a President with difficulties in this direction.  Doesn’t seem to have worked out so well.

But come to your own conclusion.  Here’s McCain’s clip, and as a lagniappe, a much longer video, an (almost)* complete speech from Obama delivered a day later touching on the same issues.

McCain first:

And now Obama:

*The clip I choose cuts off the boilerplate with which Obama begins many speeches — thanks to the local politicians and organizers and so on.  There are other versions easily to be found on Youtube if you want to catch that preamble.

Internet vocabulary question and answer

January 29, 2008

In the comments over at Balloon Juice’s Florida Primary Open Thread I saw the word “pwned” again, for the umpteenth time, in this case, as in

Jonah Goldberg got punked’….

Please. We should be more high minded and serious about our political discourse. Jonah got … PWNED!”

That did it — I finallly broke down and admitted to mysef that I’ve never known how to say the damn word — seemingly so important for contemporary ‘net communication.

So, violating the terms of my Y chromosome, I looked it up here.

The best thing I learned is that there are just two words — count ’em! — in English that use “w” as a vowel. Both are loan words from Welsh, no language for those who fear consonants. They are cwm, rhymes with “tomb”, meaning a cirque — a feature formed at the leading edge of a glacier; and crwth, a Welsh lyre, rhymes with “tooth.”

As the Wikipedia entry solemnly points out, that suggests that the correct pronounciation of pwn is “poon,” as in Jonah just got ‘pooned.

Maybe you all knew that, but I am greatly relieved to have that settled.
Even better — there’s a sort onomotopeia going here. That pronounciation just sounds right for the meaning…and it has a nice echo from the use of the word for all sorts of misbehaviour going on in Neal Stephenson’s ur-Cyberspace text, Snow Crash.

Image: Walfgang Zwischen, “A New England Whaler,” 1856. U.S. Library of Congress. Source: Wikipedia Commons.