Friday, August 30, 2013

A quantum of umbrage: Toward a basic rhetoric for right-wingers

In case you missed it, agents from the Secret Service recently got to sample the delights of small-town Maine:
David Marsters, 68, who is running for selectman, says he told Secret Service agents who questioned him Tuesday that he was not threatening the president when he posted the message at 8:17 p.m. Friday. It appeared above a picture of Obama and a link to a story about how some Republican lawmakers think the president deserves to be impeached.

The message said, "Shoot the ..." and included a racial slur.

"I think it's a lot of hogwash," Marsters said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I did not threaten the president. ... I might have used the wrong words. ... I didn't say I was going to do it."

He said his post was taken out of context.

"What I really meant to say is, 'When are we going to get rid of this (expletive),'" he said. "I should have said, 'I hope the bastard dies.'"

Perhaps wisely, perhaps not, he continued:
“I’m pissed off at the system, OK,” he said in an interview at his house Tuesday night. “We’re about to lose our benefits because of this ass****.”

Actually, that's “Mr. Ass****” to you, pal. But, moving ahead:
Marsters said his wife, Mary, had been in and out of the hospital recently and if they lose spousal benefits, something he fears Obama will suspend, his wife will die.

He said in retrospect that he should have chosen his words more carefully, adding, “I’m a forward man. I say what I mean.”

So here's what we've got to start with: We've got a guy who says his remark “Someone should shoot the n*****” was “taken out of context.”

Mr. Marsters, let me explain something to you. “Taken out of context” doesn't mean “understood perfectly accurately by people who now want to hold me responsible for it and that's a problem for me.”

"Taken out of context" seems to have become the go-to defense whenever some ignorant peckerwood commits a Kinsleyan gaffe (i.e., getting caught inadvertently telling the truth). The examples are legion, but the long march through the evidence would involve linking to pages I'd like to keep out of my beautiful browser history. But you can play the game at home: Try Googling "todd akin taken out of context", or "richard mourdock taken out of context", and you'll see what I mean.

Part of my reaction here is the exasperation of an editor and writer who is tired of not-very-bright people publicly abusing the basics of the American language, so let me first be clear about this: If Marsters had said, “Okay everyone, the next sentence I'm going to say is going to be the exact opposite of what I really mean and intend: Someone should shoot the n*****,” and then the Secret Service investigated him as a potential threat to the president, then yes – that would be an example of taking his remark out of context.

But as it turns out, Marsters doesn't even have that defense, since he claims, “I'm a forward man. I say what I mean.”

All right, that last bit is an exaggeration, and perhaps even a little unfair to Marston. He does seem to be a forward man, but I imagine he only occasionally manages to say what he means. He's an angry old guy whose mind is a Fisher-Price Corn Popper, and each little plastic ball has some bumper sticker-sized FOX News meme on it, like “Obama's a socialist,” or “Get the government out of my Medicare,” or “Cold, dead hands,” or "I say what I mean," or “I'm not a racist, but--.” Whichever ball pops to the top is what comes out of his mouth next. He is not alone in this among his tribe.

Note that when it came time for Marsters to walk back his comment, he didn't say, “I was wrong to advocate the assassination of the President of the United States.” He said, “I should have said, 'I hope the bastard dies.'” And that's his attempt to clarify things. So: Sniper rifle, suicide attack, plague, slip-and-fall in the bathtub – it's all good to Marsters as long as the proper political end is achieved.

And, unfortunately, that's not taking Marsters out context, either.

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