Sunday, February 18, 2007

A LINGUISTIC TRIUMPH. One thing most of us have in common with sitcom characters is a catchphrase -- something we say reflexively under even slight pressure, or to fill space. As Robert Barone said, "Raymond, Raymond, Raymond," and Archie Bunker said, "Stifle yourself, Edith," for example, I invariably find myself saying things like "You can't fire me, I quit," and "Fuck you." Among the cognoscenti these have become my signatures.

The Ole Perfesser, heretofore known for "heh" and "indeed" (for which, please God, may he be remembered in Bartlett's Quotations, that future archeologists may have a ready-made thumbnail sketch of our intellectual disintegration), has been working up to a more substantive catchphrase that reflects his darker nature. For a few years, "Not anti-war, just on the other side" was the best he could do -- all that law-perfessin' and bloggin' left him little time for personal growth -- but I think he's onto something here:
To some people, Vietnam wasn't a defeat, but a victory. To them, the right side won. And lost. Naturally, they're happy to repeat the experience.
That is brilliant, and not just because the inspiration is -- are you sitting down? -- Charles fucking Schumer.

No, it dazzles because it packs so much stupid into such a small package. True, it's longer than "Raymond, Raymond, Raymond," but it is amazingly brief for all that it conveys: not only a rat-brained misreading of history, but also of the present, and of human nature as well. And it is not much longer than "I'm goin' back to the wagon, boys, these shoes are killin' me," the catchphrase of another great Tennesseean.

It is a great improvement on the Perfesser's former slurs. While "Not anti-war...," for example, did clearly impute treason to the millions of Americans against whom the Professor used it, it was too quick, too slashing to completely override the impression that the speaker was unserious -- that this was not an earnest accusation of grave crimes, but mere name-calling. The new catchphrase lingers enough to change the tone completely, as a long, fixed stare can add to a street bum's rambling obscenities an air of menace.

And it perfectly suits the interesting phase we seem to have entered. "Treason," cried the New York Post headline over which this classic Ralph Peters disgorgement appeared, and the right-wing bloggers all echo the cry. Suddenly treason is the new black. And all because Congressional Democrats made a (typically feeble) show of acknowledging the anti-war sentiment of the voters -- which, you may remember, put them in the majority in the first place.

I expect the Perfesser will be working this one hard. He may try to condense it -- being essentially conservative, he may not want to tamper much with classical forms -- but I like it at the present length. With proper training, one can get it all out in a single breath, which would accentuate its incantatory quality, always a good thing for a piece of nonsense.

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