My wife and I are both lawyers, so whenever we argue, it feels like a very intense, very personal cross examination. But the thing is, she’s a practicing lawyer, and much, much better than I ever was at it, and she has this incredible knack for picking up on a word or phrase that I might have carelessly uttered without a thought and redirecting it back at me. I can’t win because no matter what I say or what counter-argument I marshal, she will redirect with my gaffe, and then I will spend the rest of the argument either defending the statement I didn’t mean to make or trying to denounce it. Either way, the argument is almost never about what we’re actually arguing about; it’s about “What did you mean by that?” or “Yeah, but you said this,” and eventually I’ll just concede with what little dignity I have left remaining. This is why she’s very good at her job, and why I am the one who unloads the dishwasher.
This is also what politics has devolved into: It’s never about the issues. It’s about the gaffes. Opposing camps and the media pick up on carelessly worded soundbites and throw them in each other’s face. This is why winning politicians are typically wooden and dull, because it’s not about who can make the better, more charismatic argument, it’s about who can stick their foot in the mouth less frequently. Frankly, it’s kind of boring, and I’m tired of marshaling a head of faux outrage every time a candidate I disagree with says something he doesn’t actually mean, or trying to defend words that I know my candidate didn’t mean.
Intent is rarely taken into account anymore. Politics has become a childish game of, “Yeah, but he said … ” and “Well, he said …” It’s tedious and maddening, and Jon Stewart managed to capture the problem perfectly last night on “The Daily Show” in the opening segment, “A Gaffe is Born.”