First Read, a reliable purveyor of Beltway conventional wisdom, tries out the passive voice: "As for the media, we've allowed this story over race [to] bury one of the more consequential weeks of Obama's presidency thus far (the financial reform legislation becoming law, Senate passage of the jobless benefits, and Kagan clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee). Whether it's Sherrod, Gates, or Jeremiah Wright, the topic of race pushes the media's buttons like no other issue."
The facts: there are seven verbs between the quotation marks, and not a single one of them figures in a passive construction. Yes, zero for 7 (following zero for 4 here and zero for 5 here). If passives were UFOs, the country would be frantic over all the sightings, but the Air Force wouldn't be scrambling any jets.
The full details, lest anyone down here on planet Earth cares, which apparently they don't:
- 've = have: auxiliary verb used to form an active perfect tense construction with allowed.
- allowed: past participle, but used in active perfect tense clause.
- bury: plain form, used in an active infinitival complement clause.
- becoming: gerund-participle, active clause.
- clearing: gerund-participle, active clause.
- 's = is: copular verb be, but used to introduce a predicative complement NP, not in a passive construction.
- pushes: active transitive present-tense verb.
I know some of our commentariat think this issue is done to death in Language Log's pages, but I make no apology. I think it truly is extraordinary. A plague of UFO sightings when there is nothing in the sky. Why are people so unalarmed at this outbreak of mass insanity in the news media and the political blogosphere?
As usual, the sentences complained about not only don't have passives, they don't have evasions of blame or agency either. Look at the data: "we've allowed this story…" makes it explicit who has done the allowing; "this story … bury one of the more consequential weeks…" says the story has done the burying (the bury clause is an active transitive); "the financial reform legislation becoming law" says what the legislation did; "Kagan clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee" says who cleared the Judiciary Committee"; "race pushes the media's buttons" says what pushes the media's buttons.
What on earth do these political commentators think they are doing when they whip out the grammatical snowclone of the passive voice allegation? It really does need some explanation. Which I'm sure no one will give; instead they will whine about me being uncharitably picky about metaphorical use of terminology or some such blithering idiocy. Of course I'm charitable! I let these people go on writing their slop, don't I!! I don't go to their homes and smash their keyboards!!! I'm a very charitable, tolerant guy!!!! I'm not working myself into a fury!!!!! Really I'm not!!!!!! Those veins in my neck are always like that!!!!!!!