If She Can Stand It, I Can: Play It
It's time once more for a post rooted entirely in political hopelessness. Here, try this:
July 24,2007 | WASHINGTON -- The White House said Tuesday that there was nothing improper about Bush administration political advisers briefing top diplomats about key congressional and gubernatorial races and President Bush's re-election goals.
"You've got political appointees getting political briefings," White House press secretary Tony Snow said Tuesday with a dose of sarcasm. "I'm shocked. Shocked."
Mr. Snow is not the first political speaker to quote Casablanca in recent days. Indeed, from constantly-running mouths both right and left, you'll hear "shocked, shocked" as a presumably clever dismissal of an opponent's arguments. It's perhaps instructive, not to say "illuminating" but who knows, to remember the phrase's original context.
It is spoken by Captain Renault, played by the immortal Claude Rains. Captain Renault is a corrupt Vichy official on the take. When he closes down Rick's Cafe Americain, he states loudly that he's "shocked, shocked" to learn that gambling is going on there. The punch line of the scene is that as soon as Renault has delivered the line, a croupier hands him a wad of cash: "Your winnings, sir."
The ongoing simplification of this nifty little exchange - to dumb it down so that it means "well, duh!" - is perhaps not surprising, but something kinda awesome happens in the process. We now have the President's press secretary using the words of a corrupt Nazi-sympathizing police captain - fictional, to be sure, but drawn from real life - as a way of rebuffing allegations of impropriety within the administration. It is as if the speaker were chastising the press for not taking administrative corruption as a given, like the sun rising in the east. This is one of those situations where the irony seems both subtle and too broad to be true. Last Plane to Jakarta will personally reimburse the journalist brave enough to holler "your winnings, sir," while throwing a handful of cash at the next spokesman, politician or pundit whose idea of a role model is the lovable but amoral Captain Renault.
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