It’s happened to all of us. We try to seem a little smarter than we are by opining on something we haven’t actually read.
Take David Foster Wallace’s massive, notoriously difficult novel “Infinite Jest.” I’ve read it, because I’m a lit geek/masochist and apparently have nothing better to do than read 1,079-page dystopian books with intertwining plots involving tennis, Québécois extremists and the selling of naming rights for calendar years to major corporations.
Plenty of people pretend to have read it — which, in retrospect, probably would have been a more efficient use of my time if I just wanted to seem intelligent to others. People will talk about the themes of the novel in sweeping generalities, but when you mention specifics, you realize they haven’t actually read a single page of it. You smile, nod and indulge them until you can change the subject.
This is fine for “Infinite Jest.” There’s no real-world consequences if someone has an opinion on a massive postmodern tome when the longest piece of text they’ve read in the past few years is a way-too-long Twitter thread about how stupid the Popeyes/Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich war is.
The stakes are a bit higher, however, when it’s a legislator condemning Donald Trump for what was revealed in the transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when they haven’t actually read the transcript. The stakes increase by several orders of magnitude when the legislator in question is the speaker of the House of Representatives.
On Wednesday, Nancy Pelosi spoke to reporters about the transcript — which is 1,074 pages shorter than “Infinite Jest,” for the curious — and how it proved that President Trump worked with a foreign government to get dirt on Joe Biden.
She hadn’t actually seen the document, mind you, but she knew it was damning:
“I haven’t seen it, so I’ve just come from our own meeting,” Pelosi said.
“But the transcript is, uh — the fact is that the president of the United States, in breach of his constitutional responsibilities, has asked a foreign government to help him in his political campaign at the expense of our national security as well as undermining the integrity of our elections.
“That cannot stand. He will be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
I’ll say this much: Nobody I know who’s pretended to have read “Infinite Jest” has delivered their opinions on it with as much force as Pelosi. You don’t get to be speaker of the House without learning to fake it until you make it like that.
Fox News’ John Roberts put it rather succinctly: “She says she hasn’t seen the transcript and then proceeds to condemn the president based on a transcript that she hasn’t read.
“The point of this transcript is — the big thing that everybody was talking about was that there was a quid pro quo: Was the president withholding some $391 million in military and other aid to the Ukraine with the condition that Zelensky had to open an investigation into Biden?
“That language, or even that suggestion, exists nowhere in this document.”
But that’s not the Democrat line. Even if there’s no quid pro quo, they’ll do with just the quid; even asking about a potential investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden’s adventures in the Ukraine qualifies as “ask[ing] a foreign government to help him in his political campaign at the expense of our national security as well as undermining the integrity of our elections.”
That’s not going to get Democrats a conviction in the Senate, not with the evidence we have right now. And, if they think they’re going to score points for the 2020 election by impeaching the president, they can roll the dice and take their chances.
The numbers on how popular impeaching Trump is at the moment have been inconclusive. A Morning Consult poll has a jump in support for impeachment while a Quinnipiac poll shows voters generally opposed to it. Generally speaking, impeaching Trump has always been an unpopular proposition and without further evidence that Trump was deliberately withholding aid to try and force an investigation, it’s likely to remain unpopular.
But that’s not even the problem. Pelosi came to the conclusion that Trump had endangered the United States in his call with Ukrainian President Zelensky without actually having read the transcript of the call. Talk about a credibility-destroying statement.
Speaker Pelosi, nobody’s asking you to read “Infinite Jest.” Instead, I’m asking you to read a five-page phone conversation before you pass judgment on the president. I don’t think that’s too much.
Instead, this sounds a lot like Obamacare all over again: You have to impeach the president to find out what’s in the call.
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