karl_lembke (karl_lembke) wrote,

The dissection of language

Terry Karney (aka pecunium) has just posted his thoughts about a line from today's press conference with President Bush. He wrote:
How gaffes are, and aren't analysed
George Bush just said the troops aren't Americans.

Now, I don't think he meant that, any more than Kerry meant they were stupid, but he said it more clearly than Kerry did.

He's giving a press conference and he said that the first audience (for statements about the war, from the Oval Office, and from Capitol Hill) was the American People, and the second audience was the troops, and their families.

I think I can say no one is going to treat him to the same sort of roasting that Kerry got, or to that Biden got, or that any Democrat gets, when such clumsy locutions get used.

That's probably because we have a liberal media that won't cut the Republicans, esp. the president, any slack.

One of his commenters voiced the hope the remark would be You-Tubed. It took me a couple of minutes of poking around, but I found a transcript, and posted a comment.
There is a transcript available here. The statement in question is about 17% of the way down the page:
BUSH: Oh yeah. The only thing I can tell you is that, when I speak, I'm very conscious about the audiences that are listening to my words.

You know, the first audience, obviously, is the American people. My second audience would be the troops and their families. That's why I appreciate the question about the troops' morale. It gave me a chance to talk to the families and how proud we are of them.

I suppose one could assume Bush is thinking of the two different audiences as disjoint sets (that is, no one who is in one set – "Americans" is in the second set – "the troops and their families". It would be as much of a reach as the famous Groucho Marx line, "what the elephant was doing in my pajamas, I'll never know".

I don't see how anyone can twist the statement into a claim that Bush said the troops weren't Americans without displaying a single-digit IQ. Kerry's "botched joke", on the other hand, is, at best, a lot more ambiguous.

And in fact, it might be worth looking at Kerry's gaffe.

Here's the entry from Snopes:
Origins: On 30 October, 2006, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts touched off a pre-election political firestorm with a comment he made while at a campaign rally for California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides at Pasadena City College.
There, while speaking from prepared remarks to a group of students, he said, "You know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Kerry insists, as most of us know, that it was a botched joke, and that the prepared statement was supposed to read:
"Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.

Now, maybe it's just me, or maybe Kerry just hasn't had the right kind of training in public speaking, but one of the things I've learned about jokes is that every joke has certain ideas that have to be included, otherwise they're not funny.
Candid Camera had a show once where they read a joke to a person, and then filmed his or her attempts to tell the joke to someone else. The ones who made it on TV were the ones who botched the joke, of course.
What was fascinating was the way they botched it. Key elements which were needed for the punch line to make sense were either introduced late – the joke teller had to back and insert these key ideas – or buried in detail not necessary for the joke, or left out altogether.
The joke Kerry's speechwriters gave him had X conceptual elements. These can be presented as a logical argument:
1) If you're [a] stupid [president], you will get your country stuck in a war in Iraq.
2) George Bush got his country stuck in a war in Iraq.
3) Therefore, George Bush is stupid.

The joke he actually told can be reduced to:
1) If you're [a] stupid [person], you'll get stuck in Iraq.
2) Soldiers are stuck in Iraq.
3) Therefore, soldiers are stupid.

Now I've edited these arguments to make them as similar in form as possible, for ease of analysis. I think I've been fair in the analysis, but I'll let the readers judge.
Leaving aside the use of the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent, there is a major difference between the two jokes. In the first one, the stupid person is getting his country stuck in a war. In the second one, the stupid person is getting himself stuck in the particular theater of a war.
Now, it may be unfair to fault Kerry for mixing these concepts up. After all, the difference between Iraq and the war in Iraq may not be enough for him to have ever noticed. But for him to have left out the notion of the country, rather than particular individuals, being "stuck in Iraq" is a pretty big omission. At least enough to land him on Candid Camera.

Tags: politics, tk watch

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