Goons, ginks and political finks

Sunday, September 15, 2002

KENNETT, Mo. -- Perhaps when we're all grown up, we who proudly call ourselves Americans will be able to observe our country, our society and, most importantly, ourselves and declare, then and there, once and for all, our allegiance to the ideals of the only good revolution in our dictionary, the one launched in Philadelphia more than two centuries ago by our Founding Fathers.

Until that happens, and God only knows it may be a long time off, we are stuck with descriptions that range from immature to hyper-aggressive to appalling. Perhaps this last word best fits today's citizenry, particularly its leaders who use this description on an almost daily basis during election campaigns and beyond.

I still recall the theatrical expressions of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore during a televised debate several years ago. "It is nothing short of appalling," declared the native son of Tennessee who grew up in Washington, "that five of the six Republican candidates have expressed reservations -- or outright opposition -- to the treaty."

"I was appalled, Tom," said the Republican candidate George H.W. Bush to moderator Tom Brokaw several moments later, "at the Democrats' answer -- absolutely appalled at their concept that everything is wrong ... ."

Toward the end of the same broadcast, the then-Vice President Bush responded to a charge that the Reagan administration had not done enough to combat AIDS:

"I was appalled again at the Democrats. We're spending a billion dollars of federal money on AIDS research ... ."

Not to be outdone in this absurd theater of appall, Gore said sternly, "I was appalled at the treatment of AIDS as a joke."

Spectators evidently had two men aspiring to the Oval Office who possessed unique capacities of being appalled, or who had an all too common affinity for this past participle.

The term -- often accompanied by a smacking of the palm on the forehead and an expression of pained disbelief or feigned outrage -- is much in vogue in the American political theater. In truth, our appallingly theatrical political leaders use this and other words throughout the campaigns that have occurred in the United States at least since the end of World War II.

The technique, if one can call it that, is to place the critically important business of governing into a kind of theatrical dialogue that precludes any serious discussion of polity and how it can best be carried out.

The presidential campaign two years ago was almost a classic example of feigned moments when Sen. John McCain would speak with a clarity that placed his opponents in an immediate nervous state.

This trend has become so much a part of national campaigns that it has already started to infect those at the state level.

Two years ago, as Bob Holden and Jim Talent traveled around Missouri in search of votes, there were frequent outbursts of one or both candidates infected with the dreaded disease of being appalled. These two often identified their appalling disbelief that Missouri highways were not in better condition, that Missouri eighth graders could not read without moving their lips, that Jefferson City had not accomplished the desired results in fields that ranged as widely as higher education and crime in the streets.

Both men confessed to being appalled, which when placed under a literary microscope literally meant that the candidate, if elected, would not only support greater efficiency in the delivery of state services but would accomplish it effortlessly.

Both were so busily engaged in being appalled that most of us forgot to ask any details they could supply to accomplish their promises of administrative equanimity.

Another word that in recent years was part and parcel of political dialogue is the word, both noun and verb, "fink," which was much in vogue in the early 1800s, rumored to refer to a Mike Fink, a legendary and mythical riverboat gambler who was considered treacherous. The modern-day substitution is now "soft on," which implies an opponent is hiding his true feelings on such issues as taxation, abortion, civil rights and at least a hundred other touch subjects.

Thank heavens candidates have abandoned "fink" in favor of "soft on" which serves at least to soften the bitterness attached to today's political marketplace.

As for "gink, first introduced to America in 1910 through the cartoon strip "Popeye," it is considered a synonym for "jerk," which is alleged to have originated from carnival usage. Whether one prefers "fink" or "gink," neither is considered proper for modern usage, although personal animosity is always present even if the vernacular has been modified.

What does all this have to do with governing in the current millennium?

As the Founding Fathers first noted, the privilege of serving in high office is not to be taken lightly, and, hopefully, those who seek it for personal gain will be discouraged, if not by conscientious reflection than by public recognition of an opponent's superior intellect and integrity.

Unfortunately in today's world, candidates are able to hide not only their true political purposes but even their political pasts, as we saw in the primary victory of a convicted felon seeking the office of state auditor. His opponents were restrained by today's ersatz environment from publishing his record, while considering it impossible for him to win state public office.

Consider the state's decade-long highway development problem, which both candidates promised to resolve. Frankly, the average Missourian is appalled ... appalled by the goons and ginks and company finks who have given us only broken concrete and promises.

United we stand , divided by appalling highways.

Jack Stapleton is the editor of Missouri News & Editorial Service.

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