The Gaffe Patrol, that brave and courageous squadron of the media that sets out to seek and destroy politicians and others who inadvertently say something to offend the code of political correctness, has had a remarkably good week here in the Lower 48.
It’s not often that a juicy target like a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court flits across the radar screen of the Gaffe Patrol. But there she was, reaching for the clouds without a wingman, inviting a stream of tracers over her unprotected bow.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg keeps forgetting the difference between who she is and who she wishes she were. A mere lawyer might do anything and be forgiven, but more is expected, perhaps foolishly, of a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Such a justice is expected to stay off the stump during a political campaign, however difficult to restrain the urge to share so much rectitude, piety and wisdom. Such a justice should particularly avoid public campaigning in behalf of a party to a law suit before the court.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Justice Ginsburg couldn’t restrain herself in behalf of the love that once upon a time dared not speak its name and now shouts it from every housetop in town. The same-sex marriage case was before the court, and perhaps to buck up the courage of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who would eventually write the decision liberating the two little men atop the wedding cake, Mrs. Ginsburg performed the legal wedding ceremony of two gay caballeros with the itch to hitch.
Then last week she, as if auditioning to be Hillary’s attack dog, went after Donald Trump, first saying she couldn’t imagine how she would abide the Donald in the White House (she hinted that she might have to move to New Zealand to escape shame, chagrin and mortification) and then, as if she hadn’t made it clear that she didn’t approve of him, called the Donald a faker — or perhaps fakir, a Hindu holy man who promises much and produces nothing. Her stump speech was so fierce that she finally was driven to apology, but the damage to herself was done.
The Gaffe Patrol, if it needs further work, could find rich targets across the sea, where our cousins in Old Blighty have just installed a new government to preside over Britain’s exit from the European Union. But our cousins are more tolerant of outrageous bon mots, japeries and even insults the size of a certain politician’s ego.
Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and the man who led Britain to the exits, is the new government’s foreign secretary, as our cousins call what we call the secretary of State. He slipped a subtle but sharp needle into Barack Obama, who had warned Britain that if it voted to leave the EU it must expect to go to the “end of the queue,” by inviting Mr. Obama and the United States to resume their place at “the head of the queue” in London.
If Hillary Clinton prevails in November, Mr. Johnson can look forward to an interesting meeting with the woman he once called, as a columnist for the London Daily Telegraph, a woman “with dyed blonde hair and pouty lips and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.”
He once accused Barack Obama of “an ancestral dislike of the British Empire because he’s part-Kenyan.” He taunted the president of Turkey with a bawdy limerick: “There was a young fellow from Ankara/Who was a terrific wankera/’til he sowed his wild oats/With the help of a goat/But he didn’t even stop to thankara.”
He once silenced a television interviewer who scolded him for ethnic disrespect. “I’m down with ethnics,” he told his interlocutor. “You can’t out-ethnic me. My children are a quarter-Indian, so put that in your pipe and smoke it.” But he still might have awkward moments in certain foreign ministries. He wrote in 2002, in the Daily Telegraph, that “the queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving picaninnies.”
This amply demonstrates the risks of appointing a newspaper columnist, particularly an entertaining one, to responsible office. But Mr. Johnson’s quick wit and sharp tongue — Donald Trump with an Oxford education, you might say — are often employed in saying what everybody thinks and few are courageous enough to say. Islam, he wrote in the Spectator magazine, “is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness toward unbelievers.”
The Gaffe Patrol couldn’t miss, shooting at such a target, but unlike Mrs. Ginsburg, Mr. Johnson and their like, the Gaffe Patrol shoots mostly blanks. But fire away, laddies.
• Wesley Pruden is editor-in-chief emeritus of The Times.