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How Dare He Eat Food With Adjectives!

Obviously, Barack Obama shouldn't be laughing about gay protesters who are demanding that he keep his campaign promises. If he thinks the political realities are such that he has to delay action on civil equality for gay Americans, that's something he should feel bad about. It's not a hilarious quip to liven up a fundraising dinner.

Andrew Sullivan is rightly pissed. He goes on to quote a report that says the guests "ate a dinner of roasted tenderloin, grilled organic chicken and sun choke rosemary mashed potatoes." That, he says, is "why I'm not a Democrat."

You see this sort of thing all the time. But it's misguided. Another way of writing that sentence is that they had a dinner of pork, chicken, and tuber. One of the tricks of food writing is that a single modifier makes something sound fancier. If I say I had onions with my meal last night, you don't assume they were uncooked. But add "caramelized" and suddenly you're thinking of considerably fancier food.

Similarly, there's a difference between saying I had pork, I had roasted pork, and I had roasted pork tenderloin. Each addition makes the dish -- cooked pig part -- sound more impressive. Similarly, "sun choke rosemary mashed potatoes" sounds like something you'd eat at Chez Panisse. And maybe it is. But it basically denotes two types of tuber mixed with leaves from an extremely common herb. The rosemary added exactly zero dollars onto the cost of that dish.

By Ezra Klein  |  May 29, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Food  
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Did you catch Sullivan's update with the video, showing the remarks in context? Apparently there were several groups of protesters there, and the way I read the comment, it was about Obama not knowing which promise across several groups of protesters was being referred to, not as specific dig at the gay rights protesters.

Still, he should cut the off the cuff jokes that could be misinterpreted. He's done this before and should know better.

Posted by: MFLC | May 29, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

(Why didn't this link post?)

Posted by: MFLC | May 29, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

I bet they even peeled the potatoes before mashing them and adding the rosemary (in my view, "add rosemary" is almost always a bad suggestion) and the sun chokes.

Posted by: bdballard | May 29, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I think you're being a little unfair to Sullivan in the latter part of your post. As I read his comment, his "why I'm not a Democrat" has to do with the fact that the guests laughed at Obama's inappropriate joke, not with what they were eating at the time.

Posted by: jmc1232 | May 29, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Jeez. The guy makes a joke that in four months you can't change quite the whole world and EVERYONE gets offended.

Note to Obama: don't make jokes because people are jerks and have exactly zero sense of humor. Also, they won't even line up the facts before they get indignant.

Seriously the guy got offended by a comment he hadn't even heard. He is a Democrat.

Posted by: dugmartsch | May 29, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Gosh because we all know Republicans never laugh at inappropriate jokes or eat fancy dishes off of fine china.

This is an old, old story. Republicans believe in maximizing ones own self-interest. And don't believe they have any fundamental responsibilities beyond any personal charitable impulses they have. Democrats believe (or did) in maximizing public welfare on a greatest good for greatest number. Republicans concede the point and then turn it around. Gosh if we are so compassionate why don't we all pull our own St. Francis and give all goods to the poor? Why if we are so compassionate are we spending our money on Volvos and lattes and arugula? Why that makes us all hypocrites. Of course them driving Mercedes and drinking $20 martinis and $150 porterhouse steaks at Mortons is just being true to their philosophy.

Its a cheap trick but it seems to work. But in reality it confuses American liberalism with that kind of mystical primitive socialism that prevailed before Marx and briefly after the Summer of Love (and in some nooks and crannies of Mendocino today). But modern liberalism was despite urban legend never fundamentally been dominated by Kumbaya-ism. It recognizes that you can never really eliminate the Will to Power nor should you and that somebody is going to end up with the prime rib and somebody else with the flank steak and that is going to have an inevitable relation to relative power. What we do reject is the idea of a narrow self-selected group hogging the whole steer expecting everyone else to be happy to have the opportunity of picking the carcass.

But Republicans will never abandon the sleight of hand that insists that equality of opportunity implies liberals demand equality of outcomes. It didn't bother anyone on the Democratic side that Roosevelt and Kennedy lived in big mansions and never had to use bread to extend their meatloaf to feed a family of six. Nor would it have bothered us to know that on occassion their plates include some Belgian Endive. Which will not stop Republcans from snickering because Obama wanted some brown mustard on his hamburger and made the mistake of naming a French brand.

Sullivan just layers this with a level of Brit class conscious, it is hard not to expect that he sees these Democrats as just living above their proper station, how dare they wear tuxedos instead of sackcloth?

Posted by: BruceWebb | May 29, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm with jmc1232 -- I think it's less about the adjectives and more about the laughing.

The $15K per plate laughing.

Posted by: bowseat93 | May 29, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, do you have an independent source that identifies the tenderloin as pork? Nothing in the quoted story does that, and animals other than swine have tenderloins too--steers and lambs, for example.

Posted by: thehersch | May 29, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

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