Friday, January 30, 2015

Ambiguity Examples: 2012

ROMNEY: And then the president began what I've called an apology tour of going to -- to various nations in the Middle East and -- and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness.

OBAMA: Bob, let me just respond. Nothing Governor Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign, and every fact-checker and every reporter who's looked at it, Governor, has said this is not true.

ROMNEY: Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to -- to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to -- to Turkey and Iraq. And -- and by way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations and on Arabic TV you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
-- Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), October 22, 2012, during the third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL, between Romney and President Barack Obama.

Comment: This exchange -- regarding the claim that Obama went on an "apology tour" -- deserves much more detailed treatment. Here, suffice to say that most of the problem comes down to an ambiguity regarding what constitutes an apology, the result being that it's vague as to whether Obama really apologized for anything.

ROMNEY: And one thing that the -- the president said which I want to make sure that we understand -- he -- he said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt, and -- and that’s right. My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy’s and -- and -- and Continental Airlines and come out stronger. And -- and I know he keeps saying, you wanted to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. And -- and I think it’s important to know that that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet, so they could start hiring more people. That was precisely what I recommend and ultimately what happened.

OBAMA: Candy, what Governor Romney said just isn’t true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open, and we would have lost a million jobs.And that -- don’t take my word for it; take the executives at GM and Chrysler, some of whom are Republicans, may even support Governor Romney. But they’ll tell you his prescription wasn’t going to work.
-- President Barack Obama, October 16, 2012, during the second presidential debate in Hempstead, NY, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: Partly, what's going on here is an ambiguity in the meaning of "bankrupt". If "bankrupt" means the legal process of bankruptcy, then Romney supported GM and Chrysler going bankrupt, and so did Obama (because, in fact, GM and Chrysler went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations). On the other hand, if "bankrupt" means the companies going out of business, then that's not what Romney called for. He wanted them to go through the legal process of bankruptcy without government bailouts, which doesn't necessarily mean the companies would have gone out of business (as Romney mentioned: 7-Eleven, Macy’s and Continental Airlines). Obama's point is that he doesn't believe GM and Chrysler could have stayed in business after the legal process of bankruptcy without government aid. That's a complicated empirical matter about which people can disagree. But, even if GM and Chrysler had gone out of business, they're not the whole auto industry, which runs contrary to what Obama says when he states that Romney wanted to "let Detroit go bankrupt".

"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."
-- President Barack Obama, July 13, 2012.

Comment: Obama has been widely criticized for asserting that successful Americans didn't build their business. But there is an ambiguity in the reference of the word "that": is it referring to the successful Americans' business, or the bridges and roads and the American system with its teachers? In context, it seems more like the latter than the former.

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