Rick Santorum: what else could he have been starting to say?

An informal poll on TheHollywoodGossip.com is currently 64.9% sure Rick Santorum did very nearly call President Obama by the “n” word in this recent event. The relevant bit starts at 34 seconds in:

For those who can’t or don’t care to watch the video, the relevant part is: “We know, we know the candidate Barack Obama, what he was like. The anti-war government nig- guh, uh, the, uh – America was… a source for division around…” and the clip ends.

A lot of people are arguing about how the syllable sounds, but that misses the point. It sounds like “nig”, and yes, that’s not conclusive. What you have to do is look at this logically and consider the evidence. I’m going to lay down a step by step argument that makes it very clear Santorum was one syllable into the N word when he stopped himself.

  1. I considered what other words might start out sounding like “nig”, and “negotiator” is the only one I (or anyone I read online) came up with that could even begin to make sense in that sentence. And by “make sense” I mean it would actually seem to contradict his upcoming point about America being a source for division, but Santorum’s not known for being cohesive and sensible.
  2. So I decided to test the theory that he was merely stumbling over the word “negotiator”, or indeed any other word beginning in what sounds like “nig” that I hadn’t considered, by remembering what it sounds like when public speakers stumble over a word.
  3. And in my recollection, public speakers who stumble always back up and repeat what they stumbled over. A word, a phrase – whatever it takes, the meaning of the speech must not be lost to a tongue-tie. Santorum instead obliterates his meaning by skipping whatever word he was about to say. He leaves us with no idea what he meant, and moves onto the next sentence. Why would a coached public speaker do that, if the word he’d been about to say was innocent?
  4. I also asked myself how it sounds when public figures almost say a dirty or swear word in a context where they probably shouldn’t. It sounds a lot like this, and I know, because I do it sometimes myself (being a heavy swearer who tries to consider the feelings of those who don’t want to hear that kind of language). You say something like, “Oh, this fu- uh, this thing isn’t working.” That’s how Santorum sounds here.
  5. Bonus: I’ve just been informed that “government n—–” is a term specifically used to denigrate African Americans on welfare. That gives the N word a sensible context that no other “nig” word anyone’s come up with has in this sentence.

The only logical conclusion is that Santorum was not getting tongue tied over an innocent word, but rather censoring his use of the N word. Some have also argued he gets a “deer in headlights” look when he realizes he just said “nig”, and I personally agree with that, but we don’t have the expertise to debate this one. I’d love to see what Paul Ekman, the man whose scientific work formed the basis of Lie to Me, would make of this clip.

To anyone trying to argue Santorum was not about to say the rest of the N word, you need to present a credible theory of what he was going to say, and also why he didn’t just finish his innocent word. Those are the facts no one has been able to account for, and they are the ones that make it clear Santorum was censoring himself from finishing a word he dared not finish.

Comments

  1. John Magnum says

    One theory that sounded sort of plausible until I actually listened to the clip was that he meant to say “governmentnik”, as in “peacenik” but for someone who is this Big Government advocate. While “governmentnik” isn’t a term I’ve ever heard before, it at least sort of seemed like the sort of thing Santorum might say.

    Of course, when I actually listened to him, it was blatantly obvious that he said “nig” not “nik”, and it’s also a stretch to believe that “nig” was attached to the end of “government” and not the beginning of a new word which he didn’t complete.

    A defender would have to stretch even farther than “blah people” to get Santorum out of this one.

  2. says

    John Magnum,

    OMG “blah people” – whatevs, right? No one could even possibly believe that – it’s just something they might claim to hide their true feelings, which is that of course he was making a massive bullshit generalization about black people, and rightfully so!

    I also heard the “nik” theory, but AFTER I’d watched the clip, at which point it was hard to give it open-minded consideration for more than about five seconds. I’m actually glad you came to the theory first, and still arrived at the conclusion I did – that just solidifies our position even more.

  3. I.A. Scott says

    Sounds like he’s starting on ‘n—–‘ to me (esp. after your pt 5).

    Not many options in English for alternatives, really.
    Could be niggler or niggard, but the former might not be used in US English and the latter is really quite archaic. Plus, US Republicans seem to want niggardly governments as a rule. Also probably not words for a politician, due to easy confusion with ‘n—–‘.

    It would certainly be cool to see some hard analysis on the word he had ready to say.

  4. says

    Everyone please note: there’s a reason I use “the N word” rather than spelling the word out, and any comment using the word will be edited to “n—–.” Reason? That word has what is best described as a triggering effect on some African American individuals I have known. I learned this in high school, when we had to read Huckleberry Finn aloud. Many of us white kids refused to say the word because we never had done so in our lives, and our white teacher argued that it’s different when you’re reading literature with the intent of analyzing racist attitudes and the wrongness thereof. While her argument was true insofar as it goes, we discovered it was also born of white privilege insulation when an African American student explained that she couldn’t bear to hear or see the word in any context without getting horrifically angry/depressed. She wasn’t the only one. Besides, those lovely discussions amongst white people trying to end racism can function just fine with references to “the N word”.

    So, we’re not using that word here. I know this will seem odd to many of you, particularly those who didn’t grow up in the US. But over the years, that word has been imbued with tremendous power to hurt, and this is a safe space. Thank you for understanding.

    I.A. Scott, I’m not familiar with niggler. Niggardly is almost completely out of use because so few people realize it has no relation to the N word – it’s just not worth the hassle when you can say stingy or cheap or any of a dozen synonyms. It would be very odd for a politician to use it unless he had the intent of starting a shit-storm to get noticed or something like that.

    It’s also occurred to me that it would be very odd for him to have written the N word into his speech, for obvious reasons. But people have suggested he was working from bullet point notes rather than a fully prepared speech, which means he would be fleshing out the phrases as he went along – with whatever popped into his head.

  5. SunlessNick says

    I’d wondered about “-nik” and “negotiator” as well, but see Jennifer’s point 3. Would either of those words have set off a flusterbomb that left Santorum trying to abort not only the word but the entire paragraph?

  6. LarrydaLaptop says

    Maybe it’s because I read the comments before I watched the video, but I don’t think he tripped over the word as badly as described. Still, it’s hard to deny that it sure sounded like the N word.

  7. says

    LarrydaLaptop,

    What do you mean by this? I didn’t describe how hard he tripped, I just transcribed what he said (including the nonsense syllables). But now that you bring it up, I’d be curious to know what’s your idea of a worse stumble than completely giving up on a word and moving onto another sentence. Choking on your own spit mid-word and having a coughing fit for three minutes? I mean, completely failing to say whatever you were going to say is a pretty big stumble, so I’m just not seeing your point here.

  8. LarrydaLaptop says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Sorry, that was meant to be a reply to Sunless Nick above. He tripped all over the sentence, but not an entire paragraph. I didn’t see the reply button until after posting. (Curse my inexperience!) Again, sorry for the confusion. It just seemed a little too exaggerated to me.

    • Maria says

      @Larry

      I think the thing to keep in mind about public racists like SAntorum is that you’re SUPPOSED TO KNOW that he’s fake stumbling. It’s wink-wink-nudge-nudge racism, where the people who agree/know the “code” get what he’s saying and presumably agree, but have plausible deniability based on the norms of politeness.

  9. Danathan says

    Hugely torn on this one. On the one hand, Rick Santorum is a total idiot. But on the other hand, surely even he wouldn’t be so stupid as to use the N word in a public speech. But on the other other hand, try as I might to think the best of him, I can’t think of anything else he could have meant to say. “Government-nik” just isn’t an expression. Admittedly, I’m British, but it just isn’t. Please prove me wrong. I am struggling so hard here.

  10. says

    Maria, this is actually a really great point that didn’t occur to me.

    Danathan, read the comment above you if you haven’t already. It hadn’t occurred to me that maybe the stumbling was staged, but Maria presents a good argument. It’s along the same lines as sexual harrassers saying “Have a nice day”, only they’re saying it to your breasts – it’s too subtle to prove, but those who are meant to get the point get it.

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