Brow Beat

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Edited for Television

Rashida Tlaib, surrounded by family members, raises her hand to take the oath of office.
Representative Rashida Tlaib takes the oath of office. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was just sworn in earlier this week, but she’s already making headlines: Her use of the word “motherfucker” to describe President Trump has launched another exciting round of debate about decorum and civility in American politics. The country is divided along predictable lines: Trump followers who were untroubled when the president bragged about grabbing “women by the pussy” have rediscovered their ability to be outraged, centrists are offering extremely sincere advice to left-wing politicians, the president, who famously cheated on his third wife with an adult actress, says Tlaib is dishonoring her family, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling bullshit on the whole news cycle. Lost in all the noise, however, are the people hit hardest by Tlaib’s comments: journalists who have to report on the issue without using the word “motherfucker.” It’s the toughest challenge the fourth estate has faced since Anthony Scaramucci accused Steve Bannon of trying to “suck his own cock.” Here are the Congresswoman’s comments:

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And when your son looks at you and says, “Mama, look, you won. Bullies don’t win,” and I said, “Baby, they don’t,” because we’re gonna go in there and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.

At first glance, the difficulty seems insurmountable: Tlaib lands hard on the word “motherfucker,” and her critics—perhaps because they really don’t want to start talking about the “impeach” part of Tlaib’s statement—are focusing on nothing else. That’s a problem, especially for TV. CNN, for instance, ran a segment headlined “Listen to Rep. Tilaib’s Controversial Comments,” that didn’t let the audience listen to Rep. Tilaib’s controversial comments, opting instead to bleep out the last word. (The same segment saw host Alisyn Camerota use “vim and vigor” as a euphemism for “piss and vinegar,” so this appears to be a systemic issue.) But whenever television closes a door, television opens a window: The people who managed to create a broadcast-friendly version of Casino can surely overdub Tlaib in a way that preserves her original meaning without being vulgar. For example, with only a modest investment in Rashida-Tlaib soundalike actresses, the network could render her statement like this:

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And when your son looks at you and says, “Mama, look, you won. Bullies don’t win,” and I said, “Baby, they don’t,” because we’re gonna go in there and we’re going to impeach the Mickey Fickey.

That’s great news for everyone except for sitting politicians named Mickey Fickey. But why shouldn’t officeholding Mickey Fickeys be welcomed into the Democratic big tent? They’re already in office! If we take things a little further, maybe we can make this a little less offensive (and therefore, more effective as political messaging):

And when Orson looks at you and says, “Mama, look: Clue one: Bullies don’t win,” and I said, “Baby, they don’t,” because we’re Monaco swimwear and we’re going to impeach the monkey fighter.

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Now that’s starting to sound like a message the entire Democratic Party could get behind, but we’re not quite there yet. Turn the knob to eleven:

“And when Orson cooks a shoe and says, ‘Wanna book? Clue one: Pulleys clone twins,’ then I said, ‘Baby, they don’t,’ because we’re Monaco swimwear and we’re going to impeach the melon farmer.”

Yeah! Go back to your melon farm, President Melon Farmer! But as satisfying as that sort of invective is, it could turn off melon farmers and other wealthy centrists in ways that could ultimately be counterproductive. As history shows, fascism can only be defeated by technocratic plutocracy, so let’s kick things into Ludicrous Mode and get rid of the references to melons, and also impeachment:

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Again Orson cooks a shoe and fez. Wanna book? Clue one: Pulleys clone twins. Hentai’s dead, maybe say won’t. See gauze-wear, Monaco swimwear, and weird glowing blue: Beseech the other shucker!

Finally we’ve arrived at a Ship of Theseus version of Tlaib’s statement that won’t offend anyone. Unfortunately, it no longer communicates anything meaningful, which suggests one last edit:

The path back to power for the Democratic Party today, as it was in the 1990s, is unquestionably to move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left, whose policies and ideas have weakened the party. 

Now that’s a version of Tlaib’s remarks we can all enjoy!

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