I’m posting as a faux hipster from Williamsburg.
One of the weirder locutions in presidential elections is almost unnoticed by those who rely on it. It’s the running as a… construction, as in: “Gingrich is running as a Washington outsider.” That’s Slate’s John Dickerson. (Link.) But it could have been anyone in the pundit class.
This is a way of talking that converts artifice into nature. It’s not that anyone believes Gingrich actually is a Washington outsider; we know that’s fake, and Dickerson knows its fake. Rather, we are supposed to concede that attempting to reposition yourself this way is the natural thing to do, if you’re an insider running for president.
We’re not supposed to admire it. But we are supposed to recognize the ho-hum predictability of it. “Gingrich is running as a Washington outsider” could be seen as bizarre, absurd, farcical, insulting, disqualifying on its fat, false face. But these are relatively “hot” reactions. In punditry the preferred style is cool, analytic, unshockable: savvy.
The purpose of constructing the sentence that way is to delay or defeat the most logical question we can ask about any candidate, which is not what he’s running as, but what he actually is. That journalists are more comfortable with the “as” than they are with the “is” tells us something about the state of truthtelling in that profession.
Now let’s turn to the profession of politics. Meaning: what politicians profess. The other day Mitt Romney had to explain to the press why one of his aides suggested that there will be an etch-a-sketch moment in the fall when the primary campaign is erased and the candidate can start all over again.
Listen to what Romney says: “The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same. I’m running as a conservative Republican.”
Do you see what he did there? He took the savvy pundit’s view… of himself! He spoke of the artifice that he himself sees in the limo mirror. He said he was a guy running as a conservative Republican, as against: conservative Republican guy running for President. And in that very small slip he showed how alienated he was from his own campaign. For what Romney was supposed to be doing at that moment was putting the etch-a-sketch metaphor to rest with a solid statement about who he actually is.
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