August 18, 2008

Discourse Reports in Politics

In the previous post I said that the problem of how to report speech was an important problem in politics. Here's a nice example.

McCain, asked to define what income level made you "rich," said:

How about $5 million? No, but seriously, I don’t think you can, I don’t think seriously that the point is I’m trying to make, seriously, and I’m sure that comment will be distorted but the point is…that we want to keep people’s taxes low, and increase revenues. … So, it doesn’t matter really what my definition of rich is because I don’t want to raise anybody’s taxes. I really don’t.

Obama's response:

“Maybe he was joking,” Obama said at the town hall this morning in a library, joking that by McCain’s standards, making $3 million must mean you’re "middle class."

Obama continued that McCain’s skewed idea of wealth "is reflected in his policies.”

From Team McCain:

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds responds: "As was immediately predicted by John McCain after he made the remark, Barack Obama is already distorting his comment about the definition of 'rich' in America. Remember when Barack Obama said he was 'tired of distortion, name-calling, and sound bite solutions to complicated problems?' Neither do we."

Bounds said McCain never said $3 million was middle class, but declined to elaborate on what McCain meant.

Never mind that Bounds doesn't say what the distortion was -- it seems to me that the uses of the words "joking" and "but seriously" are doing a lot of work here -- did Obama say McCain said that $3 million was middle class? Discuss.

Posted by Matt Weiner at August 18, 2008 03:43 PM