Thursday, September 4, 2014

New York notes: Performativity

"Mr. Mayor, you may now kiss the candidate." Photo by Chang W. Lee, New York Times.
Woke up this morning to the alarming sound of Mayor Bill De Blasio endorsing the unspeakable immigrant-hating Kathy Hochul in New York's lieutenant governor primary over her rival candidate Tim Wu, who unlike Hochul is known to believe many of the same things as the mayor:
on Wednesday she received her biggest and most unlikely endorsement yet: from Mayor Bill de Blasio, the liberal leader of New York City, who pronounced her “a true progressive.”

“I’m proud to support Kathy,” Mr. de Blasio said, as Ms. Hochul stood by his side.
I was really taken aback for a moment, and then I realized, "Oh! He's only lying," and went back to sleep, completely reassured.

Only that was actually too cynical. He wasn't really lying, in any proper semiotic sense, because he was not asserting a proposition, but performing an action, making what is called (in analytic philosophy and the semiotic disciplines) a performative utterance (like "With this ring I thee wed" or "I christen thee H.M.S. Zephyr"), the political endorsement. It isn't to be understood in terms of its locutionary force, the propositional content it expresses, but its illocutionary force, the social work it does, which is in this case a lot like the old-fashioned idea of marriage, to "make an honest woman" of the candidate, to formalize her status. De Blasio is literally turning Hochul into a progressive, as if with a magic wand, as the priest or justice of the peace turns a couple of fuckers into spouses.

This can represent a real thing, too. That's the important point. I really don't want to be too cynical about this.

I remember being all upset about the Upstate gun nut Congresslady Kirsten Gillebrand getting dumped on us by Governor Patterson as Senator after Senator Clinton (remember her?) got posted to the State Department, and nevertheless she has been a pretty reliable Democrat in the Senate, on firearms issues in particular, and even a real feminist.

Doesn't mean I'm ready to vote for Hochul on Tuesday. But as you all know I don't care a lot for her running mate, incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo, whatever Bill De Blasio may think, and then to me De Blasio cannot just wash away the things Hochul is heard saying on that video:
I don't think that many people know that I've always had the Conservative Party endorsement every time I've run for office.
I did not support Obamacare 100 percent, of course. I voted many times to repeal it, so you just need to look at my record.
I led the fight against giving illegal immigrant drivers' licenses.
I voted with Speaker Boehner against the President's policy on Libya .... I'm one of 20 Democrats in the entire country who supported the energy bill.
I support the Keystone Pipeline, unlike the President and his administration.
I'm one of the few Democrats to receive the NRA endorsement.
I've become very conservative in my voting record.
I've talked to hundreds of people—many, many conservatives and Republicans, and they are with me on the issues.
Perhaps one could say those were a series of performative utterances too, but I'm not interested. I'll talk to you in November.

New York candidates Teachout and Wu, discussing, of all things, Andrew Cuomo's $188-thousand book advance for his sure-to-be-devoured tome coming out in—what? Cuomo gets an almost $200K advance for a book entitled All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and in Life to appear in October, i.e., a couple of weeks before the election and right after all the debates he's refusing to have would have been over, as if the publisher (Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins) really believes the book will make some money? And if you love irony you'll be delighted to hear that Teachout's got a book coming out too, in September, for a more conventional $1000 advance, and it's called Corruption in Politics.

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