While not nearly as bombastic as the Letterman-Palin mess, Canada had a far less banal crisis of misinterpretation involving politicians this past week. Aside from how the ideological positions are reversed in this example - rather than the liberal Letterman being taken to task for something he didn't say by the conservative Palin, it's a Conservative being burned at the stake by Liberals - there are eerie similarities.
The controversy surrounds newish MP Lisa Raitt, the Natural Resources minister, who is recorded - on a private tape that was left in a washroom - saying that she would love to have the Health minister's job. The problem, it seems, is that she's heard to say that the Health portfolio's issue-of-the-moment, a shortage of nuclear-istopes used in cancer treatments, is "sexy".
Like the Letterman joke, I'd like to believe that only someone who is incredibly dense would think that Raitt was literally calling cancer "sexy". And yet that's exactly how NGOs, cancer survivors, and Raitt's political opponents are choosing to interpret it. As someone who generally despises the Conservative government, I'd love to see Raitt resign and the party go down in shame. As someone who would like to pretend that representative democracies can work, I'd rather they admit that it's just not that big a deal.
The thing is, cancer is a sexy topic - in the same, desexualized way that terrorism is sexy - by virtue of its ubiquity and importance within Canadians' popular consciousness, and the same politicians castigating Raitt know this better than most. (I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't occur to many of them that a political gaffe of this sort presents a particularly sexy opening for some opportunistic attacks.) If Raitt made a mistake, it was not unlike Letterman's - her choice of words could be too easily misappropriated. (Which is not to say that the phantasmic meaning of sexy=sexual isn't implicit or subtextual, even when the word is being used in a particularly desexualized way as it is here. But, again, that's a different blog entry right there...)