Stupid, Not Sinister

Don’t Fire Sean Spicer!

Firing him for what was obviously a horrible mistake—not an act of maliciousness—would be yet another mistake to add to this administration’s ever-growing list.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

After Tuesday’s unforced Hitler error and then a series of clumsy “corrections” about “Holocaust centers,” Wednesday was full of calls for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to be fired.

To be sure, the timing of his gaffe during Passover made it even worse, but Spicer’s sin was being in over his head—not some sort of deliberate maliciousness. He’s not even the first person to have bumbled into this trap.

As I noted on CNN Tuesday night, Chris Matthews embroiled himself in a similar controversy back in 2013, when he said that even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons. In that case, it was primarily conservatives who corrected him. In this more recent instance, liberals have speculated that Spicer’s line was derived from reading articles in conservative outlets. Conservative media gives—and conservative media takes.

My guess is that both Spicer and Matthews were thinking about how Hitler (who had been the victim of mustard gas while fighting in World War I) did not employ these horrible weapons against the Allied forces in World War II—probably because he feared retribution.

Spicer ceded the ability to make that particular argument, however, when, in the process of explaining his remarks, he noted that Hitler “was not using gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”

Some critics took the phrase “his own people” as a Kinsley gaffe that inadvertently revealed a deep-seated and pernicious, if unexamined, worldview—one in which German Jews were not his “his own people.” Which is an interesting but terribly uncharitable theory. Nobody called Chris Matthews an anti-Semite for the stupid thing he said in 2013, and that same grace should be extended to Sean Spicer.

I think the outrage over what Spicer said is at least partially a phony, ginned-up story meant to fuel the outrage machine that helps pay my salary. If Spicer wasn’t dog whistling or accidentally exposing his soul, you’re left with a story about a guy who said something stupid, and then—in a desperate and even pathetic attempt to stammer his way out of it—kept compounding the problem.

It is perversely fun to watch the video of Spicer’s original statement (trust me, I’ve seen it many times), and a certain amount of schadenfreude is probably because of the uncharitable things he and his boss have said about the press—but, at some point, you start to feel sorry for the guy.

Yes, Spicer has made numerous gaffes during his short tenure as press secretary—ones that have been compounded by his inability to earn the trust and confidence of the press corps. In recent days, he seemed to suggest that barrel bombs are a red line in Syria. And in an attempt to apologize for his Hitler remarks, he mistakenly told Wolf Blitzer that Trump was trying to “destabilize” the region.

We don’t need to invent Freudian reasons to explain his propensity for saying stupid things. To paraphrase Thank You for Smoking, “Michael Jordan plays ball, Charles Manson kills people, and Sean Spicer spouts nonsense.”

One certainly could argue that Spicer is not suited for this job—that he’s in over his head—and that his general incompetence is grounds for dismissal. If Donald Trump wants to fire Sean Spicer for the cumulative mistakes he has made, then that’s his prerogative. But removing him for what was obviously a horrible mistake—not an act of maliciousness—would be yet another mistake to add to this administration’s ever-growing list.

If the boss does decide to “re-accomodate” Spicer, don’t expect it to happen anytime soon as this would be a tacit admission of Mr. Trump having made a mistake.

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Revenge is a dish best served cold—and so are pink slips.