« back in the day, when men and women were free, but you had to pay shipping and handling. | Main | Book Report: A Man without a Country »

Two words, four meanings

So. Your Humble Blogger wrote last week about the way that John McCain misinterprets the word precondition in Barack Obama’s foreign policy statements. In short, Sen. Obama uses the word to mean a meaningful concession made before a negotiation can even begin. Sen. McCain pretends to understand Sen. Obama to mean any conditions or terms whatsoever.

Then, last night, there was the following exchange:

BIDEN: Yes, well, you know, until two weeks ago—it was two Mondays ago John McCain said at 9 o’clock in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Two weeks before that, he said George—we’ve made great economic progress under George Bush’s policies. Nine o’clock, the economy was strong. Eleven o’clock that same day, two Mondays ago, John McCain said that we have an economic crisis. That doesn’t make John McCain a bad guy, but it does point out he’s out of touch. Those folks on the sidelines knew that two months ago.

IFILL: Gov. Palin, you may respond.

PALIN: John McCain, in referring to the fundamental of our economy being strong, he was talking to and he was talking about the American workforce. And the American workforce is the greatest in this world, with the ingenuity and the work ethic that is just entrenched in our workforce. That’s a positive. That’s encouragement. And that’s what John McCain meant.

Now, is the disagreement about fundamentals the same as the one about preconditions? In both cases, the candidate said something that was widely understood to be a gaffe, or at least a statement worth mocking. In both cases, the candidate now claims that the word he used is now being misunderstood by the mockers. So is it the same?

I honestly don’t know. I am inclined to think that they aren’t. I have a sense that the term precondition in the context of diplomacy did have the meaning that Barack Obama now claims. The other interpretation requires the interpreter to believe that Barack Obama is has a policy that doesn’t jibe with his written policies, nor with common sense. But perhaps that interpretation only requires it to have been a misstatement, or perhaps the sort of slip that reveals a deeper disorientation with the topic. Certainly, my interpretation of his meaning is going to be charitable. I like the man.

On the other side, I don’t actually know what the fundamentals of the economy are. The GDP? The labor market? Productivity? Per capita savings and debt? I don’t think there’s any wide agreement about the term. So in that sense, when John McCain said the fundamentals of the economy were strong, he wasn’t really committing himself to any actual meaning that could be empirically checked. Maybe he did mean what Sarah Palin says he meant. Certainly, my interpretation of his meaning is going to be uncharitable. I don’t like the man.

See, I think there’s a difference, and here’s what I think it is: If you accept Barack Obama’s explanation after the fact, it means something. It’s a policy you can agree with or disagree with, and it is connected with his other foreign policy positions. If you accept John McCain’s explanation (via his running mate) after the fact, it means nothing.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


well. haven't we all been hearing those same declarations of fundamental strength and thinking, "yes, thank heaven, there are people living in this country, and they are not all elderly or stricken with debilitating disease." what else could we have thought? with the attacks the same speakers make on the state of our education system, they can't even have been talking about our knowledge.

look how they've focused on the borrowers' role, holding them responsible. i think this another tinkerbell attack. "vietnam, iraq, afghanistan, the housing collapse ... why didn't the liberals clap like we said they should?"

The tinkerbell thing is definitely a possibility, although I really think that Sen. McCain just heard the line get applause when other people used it last year or the year before, and kept using it because it kept getting applause, and then when liberals started attacking him for saying it, he said it because it pissed off the liberals, and it got applause because of that. I don't think he ever meant anything by it at all, or put any more thought into it than that.


Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.