Throwing Sister Souljah Under the Bus
Publius thinks it’s time to ban the phrase “Sister Souljah” moment, not just because it’s hackneyed but because it has been misused.
The more benign interpretation is that a Sister Souljah moment occurs when a candidate criticizes some group or idea nominally aligned with that candidate. In short, it’s criticizing your own coalition — or some idea valued by your coalition — to show independence and courage, etc.
The less benign interpretation is that “Sister Souljah” means distancing oneself from black people. When used in this sense, the Sister Souljah label masks an uglier, racial dimension lurking below the conceptual surface.
Let’s have a little straight talk — Clinton’s original Sister Souljah moment falls squarely within the latter sense. His statement got publicity not because he was speaking out against some interest group or idea, but because he spoke out against a black rapper.
John Cole, independently, agrees. He goes much further, though, listing 21 shopworn phrases he’d like to see banned from punditry and “challenge[s] anyone out there to find ten minutes of any of the various shows with the idiot talking heads without multiple infractions from the list.” Among his pet peeves are “flip-flop,” “Middle America,” “rock star,” and the “-gate” suffix.
Many of these are indeed verbal ticks. Still, they’re intellectual shorthand, which serve a useful function of condensing complex ideas into instantly understood phrases. Conversely, they can also hide a lack of insight or candor, as empty rhetoric that sounds, at first blush, like substantive analysis. Recall this classic scene from Bull Durham:
Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.
Crash Davis: ‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down.
Distinguishing legitimate shorthand from obfuscation can be tricky.