August 31, 2008

Self-Defeating Assertions

I sometimes think about "This page intentionally left blank" utterances; assertions that are false because they have been made. Paralipsis is one way it can happen, but unintentionally ironic examples happen a lot in politics.

Like this.

John McCain's campaign manager today accused Barack Obama of practicing politics as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast....

"Look at what happened today — did Barack Obama attack John McCain or Sarah Palin?" Davis asked.

Told Obama had criticized McCain and Palin on the campaign trail over pay equity, Davis continued: "So he attacks us while there's a hurricane going on and John McCain suspends his convention basically. What bigger contrast can you have about putting your country first?"

I don't know, Rick, you could have a contrast in which you don't attack Obama while there's a hurricane going on. Which, in case you didn't notice, you just did.

(You could also have a candidate who didn't endanger lives and waste precious resources by giving a grandstanding speech in an area that people are trying to evacuate before a hurricane hits, but that's not a self-defeating assertion.)

If you were to point out that Obama has often gone negative on people for going negative, you might have a fair point as well.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:00 PM | Comments (1)

August 22, 2008

Epistemic VPossibilities

At a time when we don't know who Obama will pick as his vice-presidential nominee, but we do know that he has made his decision, somebody tells somebody else:

"The source doesn't know who Obama ultimately chose, but confirms Sens. Joe Biden and Evan Bayh, along with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine are all in the running."

The bit about "in the running" strikes me as a very weird thing to say. In some sense they aren't all in the running, since Obama has made his choice.

What the source presumably means to evoke is something like the use of 'might' that DeRose discusses: A test has been performed that either indicates that John does not have cancer or indicates that there is a 50% chance that John has cancer. B says to C, "I don't know whether John might have cancer, but the doctor who has seen the test results knows whether John might have cancer." (And if no one has seen the results, it may be that no one knows whether John might have cancer.)

In this case, the source can't confirm that as far as the journalist knows, those three haven't been eliminated. But the source presumably means something a bit strong than "As far as I know they haven't been eliminated." What is meant is presumably something like, "I know that they hadn't been eliminated as of X time before Obama made his choice." But it still seems odd to describe that as "They are in the running" rather than "They were in the running up till the end."

[I would be remiss not to quote the Talking Points Memo headline that linked to a related post: " Breaking: The Press Does Not Know The Candidates' Veep Picks"]

UPDATE: Maybe the source meant those three haven't/hadn't been called to say it was them.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

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 03:43 PM | Comments (0)