The Worst Talking Point Ever: The Comma

Republicans have had some brilliant talking points in the past. "He voted for it, before he voted against it" might have won them an election. Even the maddeningly irrational "if we don't fight them over there, we'll have to fight them over here" has worked for a ridiculously long time with a ridiculously large percentage of Americans.

But now they've run up against a wall. The comma? What the hell is that? Desperate times call for desperate measures but this is beyond desperate, it's downright perplexing.

"I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma."
George W. Bush September 24, 2006

"When this chapter of history will be written . . . it's going to be a comma -- the Iraqis voted, comma, and the United States of America understood that Iraq was a central front in the war on terror and helped this young democracy flourish."
George W. Bush October 3, 2006

What?! Seriously, what does that mean? When he said it the first time I thought he must have been confused. Normally, he almost never ad libs. He is taught to regurgitate whatever Karl Rove told him was the talking point of the day. He usually does it robotically, sometimes nonsensically, but he generally follows the script. I figured the comma couldn't be in the script. That's awful.

And if it was in the script, then someone screwed up because that dog won't hunt. It won't even make it out of the front yard.

But now it's back. The comma is back!

There are two different theories. One is that the Republicans have decided that since Iraq is unwinnable for them politically, they are going to try to minimize it. That's why in the same week both Trent Lott and Bill O'Reilly said they don't care about Iraq. That's curious enough if just one of them had said something so offensive and off the wall. But two of them saying it at the same time is usually not a coincidence, it's a talking point.

Then Bush starts talking about how Iraq is a comma. That might reinforce the idea that Iraq is not that important. It's just a comma, no big deal.

Of course, the president can't say he doesn't care about Iraq. This might be as close as he can get to brushing it off.

The other theory is that it is a veiled reference to a religious quote: Never place a period where God has placed a comma.

There are three problems with that. First of all, that's not in the Bible (I know, so what's new, neither is abortion). It's a quote by a comedian, Gracie Allen. Second, it is a quote adopted by progressive churches more than evangelicals. Third, what the hell does that have anything to do with Iraq?

Does that mean that we should never end Iraq by putting a period on it? Instead we should stay there permanently as a comma? Jesus, what are these people talking about?

Some people are justifiably furious over this talking point, including my co-host Ben Mankiewicz and the perpetually furious Jack Cafferty (bless his soul). They say that characterizing the deaths of over 2,700 US troops, the maiming of tens of thousands of American fighting men and women, and the deaths of possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis cannot be derided as a simple comma. That is an insult to all who have died fighting for your war. You told them, and all of us, that this was a noble cause. Please tell us they didn't all die for a comma.

Having said that, I am more befuddled than angry. This has got to be the worst talking point in the history of man.

Look at Bush's second quote again. "[T]he Iraqis voted, comma, and the United States of America understood that Iraq was a central front in the war on terror and helped this young democracy flourish." I can't say it enough - what???

I know Bush isn't known for being an intellectual giant and he has thrown some weighty non sequiturs around before, but this tops them all by a mile. I challenge anyone to tell me how the three parts of that sentence logically follow one another.

This guy is dangerously stupid. Somebody send in a relief pitcher, get him out of there. This is a slow motion train wreck. It's painful to watch. Somebody, for the love of God, pull him already.

What we need here is period, not a comma. Our president rides the short bus into work. Bring in James Baker, John Danforth, Colin Powell, even George H.W. Bush, anybody. Get Cheney and Bush out of there before they do any more damage, period.