Kevin McCarthy and the English language

When Kevin McCarthy cited the creation of the Benghazi committee as an example of House Republican political aggressiveness, his colleagues were alarmed.  But the astonishing incoherence of his subsequent attempt to explain himself in an interview with Bret Baier should have alarmed them even more.

McCarthy could scarcely utter a sentence without mangling the English language.  Here is a choice example: “I did not intend to imply in any way that that work is political[.] ... Look at the way they have carried themselves out.”

They carried themselves out?  That would be rather difficult.  He is jumbling two different idioms: “they carried out their duties” and “they comported themselves.”  An occasional stumble into a mixed metaphor can be forgiven, but McCarthy’s interview was a steady stream of ill-formed language.  Take this: “Let’s find the truth, whatever that takes us.”  (He means “wherever.”)  Or this: “When it happened within the truth, they have been applauded by all sides of the aisle.”  This is sheer gobbledygook, but the one thing that is clear about it is the mixing up of two ideas: “both sides of the aisle” (there are only two) and “on all sides.”  Or try this: “Sometimes the truth comes out in other manners.”  It was never clear what this referred to.

Often he descended into complete incoherence.  For example: “I was saying some truth came out of this committee, is where you found the server, where you went forward, you can always improve.”

McCarthy seemed unable to make it clear what he was trying to explain or apologize for.  He kept repeating the phrase “it was never my intent,” but that only made the listener ask, “Intent to do what, exactly?”  But when finally McCarthy supplied a phrase to amplify “intent,” all we got was “it was never my intention to imply anything”...which doesn’t get us any farther forward.  It was hard to figure out what he was apologizing for.  And when he tried again, we were still no wiser: “It was never my intention, it wasn’t what I in my mind was saying out there.”   

What he needed to say was very simple.  Try this: “I was speaking not about the fundamental purpose of the committee, but only about how one thing it happened to find (the home-brew server) had a devastating impact on the Clinton campaign.”

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?  McCarthy has a staff, he’s been in politics a long time, he’s majority leader, he wants to be speaker – and he can’t figure out how to say something as simple as this?

But we don’t get a realistic perspective on this incident until we understand that McCarthy has been speaking this way for a long time, and that his House colleagues have always known that.  In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan questioned whether, in light of what he said about the Benghazi committee, McCarthy really has the brains to be speaker.  Right enough.  But it’s also hard to avoid wondering about the brains of the congressional Republicans who elected him majority leader, and who were about to elect him speaker.  This incident may mean that McCarthy will not be speaker, but it will still leave in place all the congressmen who, knowing from long experience exactly what he was capable of, saw no problem in his being the speaker.  We may get relief from the one problem, but what about the other?