I don’t know whether Ann Althouse is so angry that her judgment and analytical skills are clouded, or whether she just loves the traffic on her blog so much that she’ll say anything to drive it up. Last time, it was a series of irresponsible assumptions about who was to blame about some Tea Party violence at a D.C. rally. This time, it was NPR — quite a daring target for a right-wing blogger! — that felt her fury. You should read the whole thing (which is her take on linguist Geoff Nunberg’s analysis of the political uses of the word “no), but I’ll pick up at the point where she runs into the ditch. First, she presents this part of the Nunberg piece:
“No” has a great power to bring people together, precisely because it doesn’t have to be pinned down. A child has a much harder time mastering “yes,” which is always the response to a specific prospect — “Do you need to go potty?” Whereas the child’s first “no” comes earlier, as a pure eruption of willful refusal. And the word retains that capacity, even as we learn to intone it to convey despair, anger, defiance, fear, astonishment, disappointment or resignation.
Here’s Althouse’s just plain nutty take:
And that’s how NPR sees you voters: You’re children. You’re resisting potty training. Your Tea Potty Party is mindless emotionalism. You’re — as Andrew Sullivan would put it — intellectually inert brats.
Her primal rant would make sense if the quoted material stopped before the last sentence. But perhaps by then Althouse was too angry to see (let alone read) the text. Nunberg was obviously making a complex point about the power of the word “no”, which can — as the Tea Partiers and others have learned — convey a range of emotions and responses that are (1) a far cry from what kids can express by the word; and (2) cohesive stuff, which those invoking it can then rally around, picking up folks along the way who feel the same (sometimes hard to articulate) sense that things are going wrong. (And Sullivan, for the record, was talking about Sarah Palin; is Althouse really challenging that description, or just trying to gin up her KADs’ support?)
In other words — and as Nunberg himself pointed out in an earlier part of the segment, which Althouse quoted but then left behind — “no” can be invoked by any party or interest group, not just by conservatives. Here’s the quote:
[“No”] usually gets a bad rap in public life; it’s never a compliment to call somebody a naysayer. So Democrats obviously meant to put Republicans on the defensive when they began to call them “the party of no” for opposing the stimulus bill in early 2009. As The New York Times’ Ben Zimmer pointed out, that phrase has often been used by the party in power to label the opposition as obstructionist. Ronald Reagan branded Democrats as the “party of no” in 1988, Bill Clinton did the same thing to Republicans in 1994, and Tom Delay turned the phrase back on Democrats in 2005.
So it’s used by both sides, and for obvious reasons. Oops.
There’s more, though. Here’s the last paragraph from Nunberg’s piece, which really seems to have gotten under her skin (and led to her peroration, the rant quoted below):
That’s what makes these choruses of negativity so hard to read, whether they’re coming from unhappy voters or tired preschoolers in full shutdown. Everybody is sounding the same plaintive note, but it isn’t as if there’s any single juice flavor that will make them all happy again.
His point is that the word isn’t specific when used outside of a clear and limited context. “Hell, no…” but to…what? To everything? Er, no, it’s a call to arms. If it is meant to be global, that is intellectually inert. So “no” is a response, but it only gets you so far; just as polls on what angry voters were reacting to yield an unclear picture. That’s what Nunberg was saying, in addition to providing lots of fascinating information about the whole idea of a “word of the year” and other uses of “no.” (Here‘s the transcript with a link to the five-minute audio, which Althouse proudly states she doesn’t have the patience to listen to. Do not buy this woman a book on CD for the holidays!)
Oh, I almost forgot about the juice flavor comment, which may have triggered that final, barely coherent paragraph which I must now somehow find it in myself to reproduce:
Hard to read?! Is conservatism a foreign language to Nunberg and the NPR slow-listeners stuck in traffic? Juice flavor? It would be a punch line for me to call that a punch line — juice ≈ punch — but why is that a punch line? Maybe Nunberg plied his intellectually inert brats with juice — I’ll get grape, because grape is a little more favorite — but what does that mean about what he (and NPR) think government is supposed to do? It’s supposed to give us yummy things to make us feel good (and compliant). No wonder he can’t read these choruses of negativity.
Relax. It’s a “metaphor.” And really, I have almost no idea what she’s talking about.