Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Canary in the Coal Mine

McCain campaign surrogate Nancy Pfotenhauer appeared on Rachel Maddow's show last night (aside: Did you know Rachel Maddow is the only Rhodes scholar among the cable news politics hosts? I thought Sean Hannity too, turns out he went to seminary school). Apparently Ms. Pfotenhauer's appearance was noteworthy because the McCain campaign has been freezing out MSNBC.

I've attached the video below. It's not a revelatory interview, but Ms. Pfotenhauer does say that John McCain heard "the canary singing in the coal mine" in 2005 with regard to the mortage crisis and that he did the right thing by asking for better regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I don't take real issue with that claim, it seems to be (sort of) true. But I do object to her slander of the noble canary. Canaries didn't sing to warn of danger, they died.

Canaries were used in coal mines as an early warning system for miners. The canary, more sensitive to toxic methane and carbon monoxide, would stop singing and die if gas levels became dangerous. A canary's death would signal the miners to get out. I know what Ms. Pfotenhauer meant and I realize it's less elegant to say McCain saw a dead canary in the coal mine. But people keep making this mistake, and someone has to stand up for canaries. It's bad enough that their reputation has been besmirched with the "sing like a canary" line.