What is wrong with this sentence from the June 3 issue of The Nation?
In her introduction to the catalog [of Infinite Jest, a show about political cartoons at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art two years ago], curator Constance McPhee proposed that the pieces in the exhibiton were hardly related to contemporary cartooning and caricature because they were "usually conceived with greater seriousness of purpose" -- as if cutting down to size Napoleon, Louis-Philippe and Boss Tweed was a more noble calling than eviscerating Hitler, Nixon, Kissinger, Thatcher, and sundry other modern despots and miscreants.
What is wrong with this sentence? In a word -- the commas.
Orwell, who had no patience for cant on either side of the political divide, would have, well, eviscerated the conclusion of this sentence for its cheap use of Hitler comma Nixon comma Kissinger comma Thatcher, each name linking the name before it and the one following it, in a feat of rhetorical guilt by association, such that the extraordinary distance between the first and the last in the series gets erased. But, then, any list beginning with Hitler should make us skeptical..
"Rhetoric," as Professor Austerlitz used to say, "is magic, and when the conjuror lets you see the trick, you know you're in mountebank country."
Orwell would have addressed the relation of dishonesty to rhetoric in this sentence before castigating it on moral grounds. He might have noted that, in the matter of caricatures, some figures are more equal than others. But moral grounds and "value judgments" are suspect categories these days, and the cunning linguist may find, in an ugly quote, a useful guide to the opinions that right-minded people are expected to hold.
-- Jeremiah West