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Texas Politician Uses His Words, Fails

Should ‘probably’ insert foot in mouth

Stephanie Butnick
November 04, 2011
Texas State Rep. Larry Taylor.(Facebook)
Texas State Rep. Larry Taylor.(Facebook)

Do you struggle to find exactly the right word to describe something when speaking publicly? Do you ever wonder if there might be a better—nay, more appropriate—version of the word you are about to use? Not Texas State Rep. Larry Taylor, who displayed his unparalleled eloquence yesterday at a hearing for a legislative committee of which he is chairman:

During a hearing of the Joint Legislative Committee on Windstorm Insurance this afternoon, Chairman Larry Taylor was discussing delivery of quick and fair payments for windstorm victims. Unfortunately, to make his point he said, “Don’t nitpick, don’t try to Jew them down.”

Without pausing he added, “That’s probably a bad term” and then resumed his remarks.

A shockingly vague understatement coming from the articulate chairman, who soon issued a statement apologizing and adding a touch more specificity: “At a legislative oversight committee hearing today, I inadvertently used a phrase that many people find offensive.”

It’s difficult to overlook his unfortunate verb choice, particularly in the context, of Texas politics where anti-Jewish sentiments are not exactly new. Last year Michelle Goldberg examined the motives behind anti-Semitic attacks on Joe Straus, the Republican speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, leading up to the January election (which he won). While she found the attacks to be rooted more in Tea Party cultural ideologies, the underlying anti-Jewish tones remain troubling. Goldberg concluded:

What is clear is this: Texas tea party activists are targeting Straus, a fiscal conservative, as somehow culturally and ideologically alien, and at least some of his enemies are using religion against him. He’s still favored to win the election for House Speaker on January 11 and remains popular with his caucus. But the anti-Straus campaign, which is beginning to draw national attention, is the latest piece of evidence that the Tea Party is simply the Christian right by another name. Straus isn’t under attack because of his position on taxes or deficits. This is about culture war, and it’s a microcosm of current Republican politics, in which populist activists abhor any hint of moderation.

Texas Legislator: “Don’t Try to Jew Them Down” [Mother Jones]
Related: Texas Tea [Tablet Magazine]

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.