Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The governor's pet ferret

We tend to remember politicians more for their words than their actions. This is because, as a rule, politicians are better suited to talking about things than actually doing something about them. Despite their best efforts to carry on the Websterian tradition of grand oration, many are remembered by but a single word, often uttered in one of their less than shining moments.

Dan Quayle is known as much for the superfluous ‘e’ he insisted on attaching to potato as he is for being no Jack Kennedy. Bill Clinton will forever be known for pondering the precise meaning of the word is. Anytime anyone goes nucular, they’ll think of George W. Bush. And now, we have another to add to the list.

If you follow Illinois politics in the media, answer me this: who is the first person who pops into your head when you hear the word ferret? Governor Blagojevich, right? Not because he resembles a ferret, but because he has grown overly fond of saying it.

Whenever he is faced with questions involving hiring improprieties in his administration, he pipes up with his commitment to “ferret out the wrongdoing.” It’s threatening to become his epitaph.

Although the term ferret out isn’t rare, neither is it common enough to go unnoticed by a blogger desperate for something to make much too big a deal of.

As employed in relation to the hiring scandal, the phrase ferret out has a certain air about it that makes me think that it was specifically selected after much consideration. It is definitely handpicked, perhaps the product of a brain storming session. Further evidence that this isn’t just a favored idiom of descendents of Serbian immigrants is the fact that Abby Ottenhoff has also used it to describe the administration’s number one tactic for dealing with corruption/deflecting negative press.

In general, ferret out is a pleasant enough expression. It has a folksy charm. It’s certainly more colorful than search for and less implicating than sweep out, which often implies not so much out as under the rug. It’s also understandable that they choose to limit the use of the word investigate, as it tends to remind folks of Patrick Fitzgerald.

The problem with ferret out, when spoken by the governor, is that it sounds contrived coming out of his carefully coiffed head, especially after repeated utterances. If Zell Miller or H. Ross Perot tell you that they aim to ferret something out, then it least sounds authentic, especially if they punctuate their intention with a forceful dadgummit. When Blagojevich or Ottenhoff say ferret out, you just want them to stop it already.

The larger issue, however, is that it doesn’t take a trained psychologist - or a zoologist or etymologist for that matter - to hear the cry for help that is subconsciously emanating from the administration every time a ferret is mentioned. It is the muted confession of a people that have grown weary of maintaining a front of innocence when evidence of guilt surrounds them.

The ferret, as you may know, is a member of the Mustelid family and kin to the weasel. Despite the close biological relationship, the phrase weaseling out has a much different meaning than ferreting out. Each time the governor or his minions offer up the latter, they’re really admitting to the former. And that’s just sad.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

total bradley-ism...

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Bill, Omar, or Milton?

Anonymous said...

Brilliant!

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