Denouncing and Renouncing

I've never ben a big fan of Stnaly Fish (from back when he was quite the controverisal Duke English professor while I was there), but I really loved his comments in the Times today.  Speaking on the subject of Wright and Obama, Fish writes:

In politics, and in much of the rest of life, being held responsible
for your own words comes with the territory. Once you?ve opened your
big mouth, others have a perfect right to ask, ?Do you really mean
that?? or ?What did you mean by that?? or ?If you say that, would you
also say??? (a question that usually has you frantically disassociating
yourself from Hitler). But why should you be held responsible for words
spoken by someone else, even if that someone else is a person you work
with or share a bed with? I frequently say things that make my wife
cringe, but whatever blame attaches to my utterances certainly should
not be extended to her, and it would be entirely inappropriate to ask
her to denounce me or to fault her if she didn?t.

I must admit, that above line really grabbed me when I read this.  If Kim felt she had to be accountable for my many questionable utterances, she would have left me long ago.  Fish continues…

Yet this is the position we routinely place our public figures in.
The demand that Barack Obama denounce and renounce his pastor, who
delivered himself of sentiments a million miles from anything Obama has
ever said, is only the latest and most publicized example…

This denouncing and renouncing game is simply not serious. It is a
media-staged theater, produced not in response to genuine concerns ? no
one thinks that Obama is unpatriotic or that Clinton is a racist or
that McCain is a right-wing bigot ? but in response to the needs of a
news cycle. First you do the outrage (did you see what X said?), then
you put the question to the candidate (do you hereby denounce and
renounce?), then you have a debate on the answer (Did he go far enough?
Has she shut her husband up?), and then you do endless polls that
quickly become the basis of a new round.

Meanwhile, the things the candidates themselves are saying about
really important matters ? war, the economy, health care, the
environment ? are put on the back-burner until the side show is over,
though the odds are that a new one will start up immediately.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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