If You Say "Crucify," Prepare to Lose Your Job Two Years Later

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 30 2012 12:43 PM

If You Say "Crucify," Prepare to Lose Your Job Two Years Later

Pop quiz, hot shot: You're an environmentalist academic who scores a regulatory job in the Obama administration. A few months before one investigation in Texas you tell a local, supportive crowd that regulators need to "crucify" violators, to "make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law."

Two years pass. The Texas investigation goes pear-shaped. Sen. James Inhofe's office finds the video of your "crucify" speech. TV news discusses it out of context. What do you do?

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It's sort of obvious, isn't it?

The Obama administration's top environmental official in the oil-rich South and Southwest region has resigned after Republicans targeted him over remarks made two years ago when he used the word "crucify" to describe his approach to enforcement.

And another Globetrotters-vs.-Generals game comes to an end. Al Armendariz throws himself to the lions (continuing the Early Christian metaphors, here). Critics will go on claiming that "crucify" was something other than an analogy for making examples out of crooks. (Imagine if a district attorney had used the analogy to describe a crack-down on car thieves, or something similar.) After all, how can you expect government to work efficiently if people are allowed to make analogies that some other people find offensive?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.