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Those Fulsome Misprision Blues
At this site, on St. Patrick’s Day, I posted a piece -- “Barack Obama And What It Means Not To Know What 'Fulsome' Means” which I reproduce below:
"The statements that were the source of controversy from Rev. Wright were wrong and I strongly condemn them," the Illinois senator reiterated today. However, Obama added, "I think the caricature that is being painted of him is not accurate. And so part of what I'll do tomorrow is to talk a little bit about how some of these issues are perceived from within the black church community, for example, which I think views this very differently."
When a reporter asked the Democratic candidate whether the Wright controversy had damaged him politically, Obama responded, "You guys are in a better chance to assess that than I am." He refused to discuss the issue any further.[update: the word "chance" has now been changed to the word "position"]
"This is why I'm giving a speech tomorrow that will be a lot more fulsome than a press conference," he said. – Barack Obama in today's Washington Post
That Obama has managed to get where he is, was even made (by that time it was an elective office, and personality, not academic merit, was the main consideration) president of the Harvard law Review, and has nearly reached the age of fifty without knowing what the word “fulsome” means – he apparently thinks it means “more complete” – is an indictment, but not only of him. Of the education he supposedly received, as a graduate of Columbia (after transferring from Occidental) and of Harvard Law School. Of all those who, surrounding him, heard him mis-use the word, and either were unclear of it themselves, or didn’t think it mattered, and never set him straight.
I'll pass over without comment Obama's eyebrow-raising use of English, in an impromptu moment, when he is not carefully following a rehearsed axelrodian script (when he assumes, as he so often does, that careful mien of furrowed-brow thoughtfulness and judiciousness), as he tells members of the press that "You guys are in a better chance [sic] to assess that than I am." This is Bush-speak.
No, I'd like to direct your attention to that last phrase about a speech that he promises will be "a lot more fulsome than a press conference." “Fulsome” does not mean “full” or “fuller.” “Fulsome” means too copious, too elaborate, too everything. “Fulsome praise” is a bad thing, for it mean “praise that is too excessive, too full” as to become nauseating, and renders suspect both the one who offers that “fulsome praise” and, often, the object of that “fulsome praise.”
An error so egregious in the use of language calls Barack Obama’s supposedly superior education into question. And it reminds us again of his lack of curiosity about all kinds of things. For just as he was never curious enough to look the word "fulsome" up in order to get it right, he has exhibited an apparent lack of curiosity about all kinds of other, even more important things. For example, about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose rants he had witnessed over many years (for that kind of thing cannot be hidden, or compartmentalized), and about the views, on all kinds of matters, and the accomplishments or lack of such accomplishments, of those whom he has listed as his “foreign policy advisers.” It's all of a piece. And just how curious is he, Barack Obama, about Islam – a subject which, one might have thought, given his time in Indonesia as a child, possibly have read about, but one can be sure that he is as little up on the contents of Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira as are any of those who have run, or are running, against him.
Had he been curious he might well, in the last year, even asked to have Ayaan Hirsi Ali in for a little discussion. The two most celebrated people, with an East African connection, in Washington. But he never did ask her in for a talk, despite her being down the street in Washington, and despite her book "Infidel" and despite her amazing appearances on television and what she had to say about Islam. He might have taken a special interest in what she had to say. But he didn't. It never occurred to him.
He’s incurious. And that lack of curiosity, combined with a lack of outrage, has gotten him into trouble. And he apparently thinks that he can now get away with initiating, as a way of dealing with the Rev. Wright business, a “discussion about race” and apparently wants us to forget, or overlook, that we have been here before with that treacly and forgettable "National Conversation About Race" that a certain Bill Clinton, along with Christopher Edley, the self-satisfied and amiable law school dean and plagiarist à ses heures, , attempted to get going a while back, complete with town-halls and forums and all the rest of it. He, Obama, and his calculating advisers, are no doubt hoping to put Obama's little problem into a larger context, a context that suggests we all need to just sit down and have another of these "national conversations" about race, and that will somehow make the Jeremiah-Wright thing come right. No it won't. The tinsel, once off, can't be pasted back on the idol. He's now running on empty. And that tank can't be filled up again.
A few weeks later, when Obama chose to campaign rather than to appear in Memphis, as Clinton and McCain did, on the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, he said this:
“I spoke at Dr. Kings’ church on his birthday, was with the King family then. I obviously gave a fairly fulsome speech on the state of race relations just two weeks ago. And I think it’s important to spread the message that Dr. King’s work is unfinished in places like Indiana and North Dakota,” he explained. The candidate will also campaign today in North Dakota and Montana.
“A fairly fulsome speech.” I’ll bet.
A few days ago, I happened to read an article by Doug Kmiec. As a former adviser to Reagan, with what are formulaically described as “solid pro-life credentials,” it stunned some “among his fellow conservatives” when he came out for Barack Obama some months ago, before those tapes of Rev. Wright, and Rev. Pfleger appeared on the Internet (and before Barack Obama’s worshippers, having touched their idol and expecting to feel solid gold, came away with only glitter-dust in their hands). Kmiec had been so impressed at the healing message of hope, the inspirational message of Change We Can Believe In, the post-racial promise of Good Universal Nutrition and World Peace, summed up in the Obama slogan of “Post Nabisco” that he had this to say about this new bridge-builder, a pontifex fairly maximus:
“As the likely nominee of his party, Senator Obama can afford to start building the bridges his inspirational messages have described. To my mind, there is no better time than now to announce a fulsome initiative, among other things, to promote adoption as an abortion alternative.”
“A fulsome intiative.”
Now Doug Kmiec is not a schoolboy. He is, I’ve just discovered, “the former Dean and St. Thomas More Professor of the law school at Catholic University of America and before that, for nineteen years, was on the faculty at the law school at Notre Dame. Not one, then, but wo Jesuit institutions. Well, I thought, this is not as bad as the law school dean whom I know, a semi-literate who spells the word “Jurisprudence” consistently as “Juris Prudence” (apparently he thinks it’s a Latin phrase that one can look up in Black’s Law Dictionary, and the faculty members, who mostly despise him, do not want to set him straight, because they are having too much fun mocking him behind his back). But it’s bad.
So Professor Kmiec wants “a fulsome initiative” – chock-full, brim-full, of things. Well, he better find another epithet if he wants the audience of the educated to understand.
Then, just yesterday, while reading about the back-and-forth between McCain and Obama on foreign policy, I noticed this:
"We had a fulsome debate on this in the Senate," the Obama campaign's senior foreign policy director, Denis McDonough, said on a conference call with reporters, referring to the Kyl-Lieberman resolution. "Obama continued to support this position though. The debate last fall was about the broader implications and other parts of that amendment, giving the soldiers an additional mission in Iraq."
Barack Obama promised reporters to deliver “a speech tomorrow that will be a lot more fulsome than a press conference.”
He later explained that he wasn’t in Memphis because there was no need, for he “obviously gave a fairly fulsome speech on the state of race relations” in his first attempt to deal with the Rev.-Wright business.
And Doug Kmiec, a much-publicized because “conservative” defector to the camp of Barack Obama, claimed that “there is no better time than now to announce a fulsome initiative, among other things, to promote adoption as an abortion alternative.”
And just yesterday, the Obama campaign's senior foreign policy director, Denis McDonough, said on a conference call with reporters -- referring to the Kyl-Lieberman resolution – that "[w]e had a fulsome debate on this in the Senate."
What, you will tell me, does it matter? Who cares if Citizen Obama repeatedly and grossly misues a word, and so does his famous conservative backer Kmiec and his “senior foreign policy director, Denis McDonough”? Arent’ these “just words”?
No. What this pattern of misuse puts on display, betrays, bespeaks, is a certain kind of mental carelessness, or laziness. For it would have taken nothing, a ten-second click on a computer, or a 30-second visit to a dictionary, to set Obama, and Kmiec, and McDonough straight.
We have just been suffering through the colossal folly of Iraq. That folly is very largely the result of people in high places who couldn’t be bothered to study Islam, who couldn’t be bothered to find out a bit more about Iraq. They “knew.” George Bush “knew” that Islam was good because, you see, he had been saved from drunk-drowning by getting that old-time religion, and if it worked for him, then Religion – any religion – had to be a Good Thing. And he was ill-inclined to find out if there might just be something about Islam that distinguished it from other faiths we like to list as “world religions” or, more misleadingly, as “great religions.” And he knew there was no insuperable barrier to the transplanting, like a blue hydrangea plant bought from White Flower Farms, of democracy to the stony soil of Mesopotamia.
And he never bothered, neither he nor any of his retinue appears to have bothered, to find out, and in great detail, about the various ethnic and sectarian divisioins in Iraq, and how long they had endured, and what their causes were, and therefore, how long they were likely to endure.
He was careless. Rice was careless. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz were all careless.
It’s about words, all right. But not “just words.”
And now I’ve got a real headache from all this. Time to go on in and set a spell, on the old rocking chair. Yes, that’s right, and fetch me that gin, son. Just what I need. I’ve got, you see, those Fulsome Misprision Blues. I’ve got them bad, and that ain’t good.