Is Jon Kyl a Mensch?

He might be.  Really.  [UPDATED: Unsurprisingly, he’s not.  See below.]

By now, you — and millions of others — have heard about Jon Kyl’s admission that his claim that 90% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes to abortions was a bald-faced lie.  And you have heard this perhaps because Stephen Colbert has ripped Kyl not a new one, but several new ones.

So why might that make him a mensch?

Recall who said that Kyl’s speech “was not intended to be a factual statement.”  It wasn’t Kyl: it was Kyl’s staffer on the phone.  It’s not clear, but it may very well have been some 20-something who didn’t know much and said the first thing that came into his or her mind.  I might be giving Kyl’s office too much credit, but I can’t believe that his office sat down, considered how to respond, and came up with that.  That’s just too stupid, even for Congressional Republicans.

The normal reaction for a lot politicians would have been to fire the staffer, or at least to throw the staffer under the bus, e.g. “that is not the Senator’s position and the staffer erred.  He instead was relying on the analysis of the Heritage Foundation” yadda yadda yadda.  Or even: “we made a mistake, but of course everything we say on the floor is intended to be factual.”  But so far, Kyl hasn’t done that.  Now, perhaps he is now figuring that any attempt to explain would just make the matter worse.  Perhaps, though, he’s just trying to protect the staffer.

I know, I know: too counterintuitive-by-half.  It’s Thursday afternoon: I’m in a generous mood.  Just sayin’.

UPDATE: See?  I try to be generous, but they won’t let me.  As a commenter notes, Kyl just threw his staffer under the bus.  In GOP-land, that’s called “personal responsibility.”

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

13 thoughts on “Is Jon Kyl a Mensch?”

  1. Kyl? Act the mensch? Only if he’s already secure in all of his objectives and appearing to be mensch-y would serve some further purpose.

    Since I heard about this I have been racking my brains to figure why Kyl said it in the first place. Best I can come up with is that, having announced he’s not running for re-election, he’s slipped the psychic leash, and finds himself opening up on the old familiar Senate floor in the language of frank exaggeration that Republicans speak these days.

  2. Sooooooo . . . the mensch part is based on the fact he didn’t fire the staffer? Perhaps its because I’m not one of the chosen, so I don’t understand all the terminological nuances, but I just assumed that a real mensch would’ve (at a minimum) copped to the falsehood and said he was mistaken, or that he mis-spoke . . . and also not fired the staffer. Bonus (bonusch?) mensch-points could be had for going on Colbert. But then maybe the Bush-Cheney years defined mensch-hood down, exerting the same toll they took on many other fine institutions.

  3. Strictly speaking, we don’t know that the staffer hasn’t been fired. It might be menschlichkeit to do so without making it even worse for the poor kid by announcing, but it wouldn’t even be unjustified to do so; if your job is to make quick responses on the Senator’s behalf, it seems that it would be a fair requirement to not come up with something so amazingly stupid.

  4. Afraid you’re too generous by half. He has everything to lose and nothing to gain by acknowledging in any way the stupidity and/or open admission of mendacity that statement encompasses. He would just mainstream it. People who already despise him and his ilk have picked up on it, and of course it’s hilarious, especially in Colbert’s hands. But then, how much play has it gotten on Fox? I can’t bear to watch it much, but “zero” would probably be a safe guess. And how much on AP, NYT, CBS, ABC, NBC?

    Colbert and Maddow and maybe Matthews will have fun with it for maybe another week or so and it’ll live on as kind of a blogger catch phrase. But since he’s not running again, when is it ever going to come up in the wider world? And the answer to that is, if Democrats are smart they’ll do their best to pin it every republican at every chance they get. Any bets whether they will?

    And that’s a non-factual speculation about what his calculations would be.

  5. Sen. Kyl was probably saying whatever he could to get quoted on Limbaugh/Hannity. So, there was no staffer to fire. Like Quaddafy speaking only to his tribe, Sen. Kyl is speaking only to his. And none of them care what % of planned parenthood does abortions as long as his floor speech helps kill their appropriation.

  6. Our local paper, the North County Times in right-wing North San Diego County, prints all letters; one every 2 weeks, max 200 words. Here’s my latest :

    Senator Kyle (R-Nutz), said on the floor of the United States Senate that “abortion is well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does.” Actually, it’s under 3%. Challenged on the lie, Kyl later said that his claim “was not intended to be a factual statement.”
    My recent letter said Republican voters don’t care to know stuff; which leaves them gullible and vulnerable. Was that not an attempt to use ignorant Republican voters?
    One of our two largest political parties is made up of people whose statements are not intended to be factual. Delivered to the people they want to hear it; Republican tools. Do I revel in this? Well, a little bit, but the sad fact is America needs serious political players and the Republican Party has devolved into lunacy. A mythical contemporary Reagan, saddled with his actual record, couldn’t win a Republican primary in today’s insane Republican Party. Neither could Nixon. This inability to face modernity is crippling America.
    The party of personal responsibility and freedom is all over a woman’ womb. Florida Republicans won’t let you say the word “uterus” while discussing it.. Oh, that cold specificity of Science; it’s so scary to a Republican.

  7. This whole thing reminded me of when I used to listen to right-wing radio. Hosts would *routinely* make these kind of distortions or outright lies. The method was to do it with a kind of boisterousness that implied a wink and a nod, that maybe the statement wasn’t perfectly true, but *felt* true. Colbert has targeted just this sort of “politics of feeling” (as opposed to facts) as a main premise of his satire.

    The real joke, of course, is that all of this post-modern, fantasy-land rhetoric has the effect of creating a continual traffic of lies and falsehoods, such that people end up seriously believing it (Obama is a Muslim, Democrats hate America, etc.).

  8. We’re all assuming that this is bad for Kyl. Sure the liberals have been outraged, but he’s still in the same position in the senate as he ever was.

  9. What Eli said.

    I understand what the staffer is trying to say: that Kyl was using a percentage as a metaphor, to indicate that abortion was a core-mission service for Planned Parenthood. But, when one side in partisan competition starts using assertions stripped of factual content as markers of tribal identity and mission enthusiasm — a politics of “feeling”, as Eli says, — the partisan competition begins to take on the character of religious warfare.

    It reminds me a bit of the English Civil War. The Enlightenment began in England, with Hobbes doing his best, in imitation of Thucydides, to sort out what it was “really” all about. But, if you try to sort out the disputes, based on what participants were saying and the alliances they formed, it becomes impossibly confusing. Charles I’s downfall began, when, thoroughly confused himself, he found himself obligated to finance both sides of a war between England and Scotland.

    With sufficient distance, it seems amusing, but the weight of evidence seems to be on the side of human beings, by nature, preferring faith to fact. And, being willing to expend far more energy defending faith, than in proving fact.

    I understand the budget cuts imposed by the Republicans will have the consequence that the Statistical Abstract of the United States will no longer be published. Seriously.

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