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It's a flashback scene from episode seven, "The Trail." In it, Cyrus Beene is arguing with the then not yet President, Fitzgerald Grant, about Olivia Pope. Beene had just hired Pope, and Grant, having just met her, didn't like what she had to say and wanted Beene to fire her. Trying to persuade Grant not to fire Pope, Beene said (and then Grant responded) as follows:

Beene: Let's be clear about something, I run a sausage factory.

Grant: Which makes me, "sausage"?

Beene then launched into a diatribe about why he needs Olivia, which wasn't particularly relevant to the usage of "sausage factory." It could have been, but it wasn't.

My question is this: What did Beene mean by "sausage factory"?

I have two theories:

  1. "Sausage factory" refers to the reputedly disgusting practices involved in making sausage and Beene is referring to the fact that he needs Olivia because she's a white hat.

  2. "Sausage factory" refers to the fact that Grant's a man, Beene's a man, pretty much everyone that works for them is a man, and the predominantly male campaign needs to avoid the optics of firing a woman.

The second definition cited above gives, aside from being a gathering with no women present, a political definition, which would make sense given the show, but it doesn't seem to fit; I say "seem" because maybe it does and I don't see it.

What was meant by this reference? Can anyone suss it out?

3

"It's not rocket science." 'Sausage factory' refers to this sense:

An unpleasant process, especially one that is hidden from public view.

(From Urban Dictionary.)

Beene needs Olivia and Oliva's crisis management firm to help him hide the unpleasant, troubling process (of a presidential campaign, of getting a president elected) from public view. When Grant asks

Which makes me, "sausage"?

Beene's not-on-point evasion after Grant's question avoids the straightforward response, which would be "yes". Grant is the "sausage", the product created by the unpleasant process.

  • 1
    So, to be clear, you don't think he could be referring to running a sexist campaign? The reference you cited is the same one that I did in the question. I put another reference that gives it an entirely different meaning, meaning a gathering without women (men being the proverbial sausages). I'm not arguing with you--I'm just trying to ascertain a reason that it could not or does not mean that. – Benjamin Harman Jan 12 '16 at 5:32
  • Also, while I did find the "rocket science" comment somewhat unnecessarily condescending, I couldn't help but appreciate how it stroked phallic allusions of punniness with "sausages." – Benjamin Harman Jan 12 '16 at 5:51
  • Maybe I should've linked the rocket science quote. – JEL Jan 12 '16 at 5:54
  • To be clear, I think that the writers of that scene would accept any vague sexual connotations they could dredge up. The straightforward denotational meaning doesn't include those, though. – JEL Jan 12 '16 at 5:55
  • (Re: rocket science) Touché! I shall retreat to my corner now. – Benjamin Harman Jan 12 '16 at 5:56
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As JEL's answer indicates, the point of the reference to a "sausage factory" is that the process of making sausage isn't pretty—and that learning how it's done may spoil your appetite for the stuff.

The similarity between sausage making and politics (or "law making") has been recognized for many decades. The Yale Book of Quotations (2006) has this entry for a famous remark attributed [in English translation] to Otto von Bismarck (who died in 1898):

To retain respect for laws and sausages, one must not watch them in the making.

Attributed in Southern Reporter, 2d Series 104: 18 (1958). Today usually credited to Bismarck, but much earlier evidence appears in the McKean Miner (Smethport, P[ennsylvani]a), 22 Apr. 1869: "Saxe says in his new lecture: 'Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.'" "Saxe" here may refer to lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe.

The TV character's remark that he runs a sausage factory is thus a warning to the other character not to inquire too closely or with too much fastidiousness into how the sausage gets made.

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