Friday, January 30, 2015

Ambiguity Examples: 2008

SCHIEFFER: Do you think Senator Biden is qualified?
MCCAIN: I think that Joe Biden is qualified in many respects.
-- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), October 15, 2008, during the third presidential debate at Hofstra University, NY, between McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), hosted and moderated by by Bob Schieffer of CBS.

Comment: It's not clear that McCain answers Schieffer's question regarding whether Biden is qualified to be president. Is McCain saying that Biden is qualified to be president, and that there are many reasons he is? Or is he saying that Biden is qualified in some respects to be president, but not in others, and so is therefore not qualified overall? McCain's statement is ambiguous. Unfortunately, he didn't clarify it, nor did Schieffer or Obama ask him to do so.

OBAMA: I am Barack Obama and I approve this message.
NARRATOR: They want us to forget the insults we've put up with,
TEXT: "... stupid and unskilled Mexicans" -- Rush Limbaugh
NARRATOR: The intolerance.
TEXT: "Shut your mouth or get out!" -- Rush Limbaugh
NARRATOR: They made us feel marginalized in this country we love so much. John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces.
TEXT: Caused the failure of immigration reform -- McCain campaign advertisement
NARRATOR: One that lies just to get our vote, and another even worse, continues the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families. John McCain: more of the same old Republican tricks.
-- Ad from Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) presidential campaign, released September 15, 2008. (Both the TV and radio versions were aired in Spanish and appear as translated into English.)

Comment: There are several problems with this assertion. First, it's not clear in what sense -- if any -- Limbaugh and McCain could correctly be called friends. They're both Republicans, and agree on some political issues, such as the war in Iraq. But their acrimonious disagreement on various other political issues -- such as illegal immigration -- is well-known, and they are not friends in the sense of having friendly relations with one another. So, if the Obama campaign is going to call Limbaugh and McCain "friends", then it needs to spell out precisely what is meant by this ambiguous term. Otherwise, how can we tell whether or not the assertion is true? Second, supposing that Limbaugh and McCain are friends, why should that make us think less of McCain (as is the clear implication of Obama's ad)? Is this an attempt to assign guilt by association? Guilt by association is not a straightforward business: just because person A is friends with person B and person B did something bad, it doesn't necessarily follow that we should also think badly of person A.

No comments: