Friday, September 19, 2008

Sloppy Language

Am I the only person who notices how much the Obama campaign abuses language? They may get the parts right, but ultimately the language doesn't make any sense. Let me review a couple of recent examples.


Freddoso asks Barack, "How many unrepentant Communist terrorists do you have as friends?" [p. 126] This question is so ridiculous it refutes itself. Barack might as well ask Freddoso how many leprechauns he’s friends with. - Obama Action Wire [Emphasis added.]
Even if Freddoso's question is ridiculous, that doesn't make it self-refuting. Neither the presence of unrepentant Communist terrorists nor the presence of leprechauns (in the Obama campaign's rejoinder) makes either question internally inconsistent. Both questions ask for the number of a certain class of objects - the questions as phrased don't even allow for internal inconsistency.

The trick here is obvious: Obama wants for everyone to assume the answer is "ZERO", but more importantly he wants everyone to dismiss the question. By equating "unrepentant Communist terrorists" with "Leprechauns", the issue has been transformed from one of quantity (How many?) to one of existence (Do lollipop-and-rainbow-farting unicorns exist?), thus dodging the question completely. Pay no attention to the unrepentant Communist terrorist behind the curtain! (1)

The second example helpfully provides an example of something that does contradict itself:

"I'm not making this up, you can't make this up. It's like a 'Saturday Night Live' routine." - Obama in Las Vegas

The first sentence makes the blanket assertion "[one] can't make this up." The second sentence asserts that "this" is just like something someone else has made up. Both statements can't be true. (The reader can ponder the semantic differences between "refute" and "contradict" on his own time.)

Earlier this week the Obama campaign provided a third example when they angrily stated that a New York Post article was essentially a pack of lies. However, their statement confirmed the New York Post's version of events.

Obama's campaign (and frequently Obama himself) never seems to miss a chance to misuse the language. It appears that they have read Orwell closely, and have decided that polluting the discourse helps their cause. Lies and distortions are understandable - these are common political tactics, to be expected from a common politician. But the Obama campaign goes beyond that, contorting the language so that all meaning is lost. And if they can just "angrily deny" loudly enough, and "denounce" strenuously enough, and "stand up to Swift Boat politics" resolutely enough, no one will pay attention to the factual and logical content of their statements.

(1) Kim and I discussed this paragraph at some length. She pointed out that I missed something. While the original question does start with "how many", it's really a question about who Obama calls "friend". So it's really a question of type masquerading as a question of quantity, which gets transformed into a question of existence. I'm still thinking about what this means.

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