Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bush on Scooter: Putting ambiguity to use

On Sept. 30, 2003, George W. Bush said:
There's leaks at the executive branch; there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of.
It turns out, he means this in the only sense Merriam-Webster's gives:
to attend to or provide for the needs, operation, or treatment of
The usual sense here is positive: "She's taking care of her elderly parents" doesn't call to mind euthanasia, at least to me. But there's possible ambiguity in there, for sure, so that in the right context you could can make a wicked (in the old sense) joke.

If you reach for your Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy for the entry on ambiguity (or click here, if, like me, you're not in the room with your hard copy right now — it's by Kent Bach), you can read this:
'pragmatic ambiguity' is an oxymoron. Generally when one uses ambiguous words or sentences, one does not consciously entertain their unintended meanings, although there is psycholinguistic evidence that when one hears ambiguous words one momentarily accesses and then rules out their irrelevant senses. When people use ambiguous language, generally its ambiguity is not intended. Occasionally, however, ambiguity is deliberate, as with an utterance of 'I'd like to see more of you' when intended to be taken in more than one way in the very same context of utterance.
I imagine that back in 2003, I heard this phrase in context (I do remember the quote) in the more marked meaning of "see that he gets punished" without consciously considering the other meaning — I figured it for grandstanding, not deception. Is this a case where Bush chose his words carefully or where the Boy Genius fed him the right line? No, he just got lucky.

Now, I just need to understand why the mavens aren't pecking his eyeballs out over subject-verb agreement.*

*Just kidding. I think I understand.

Image from here. The caption there is: The Judgment of Solomon — putting ambiguity to use (from Iconum Biblicarum, 1627).

Update 1:30 pm: Others are declaring Bush to be Solomonic here, more directly: Talking Points Memo says:
Tony Snow explains Bush's Solomonic decision -- you "need to respect the jury system," you see. It's just judges, apparently, who don't require such respect.


Anonymous said...

What gets me is how brazen these bastards are, Bush and those crying for mercy for Scooter. Read today's NYT editorial "Soft on Crime" if you need a refresher:

"Mr. Bush’s assertion that he respected the verdict but considered the sentence excessive only underscored the way this president is tough on crime when it’s committed by common folk. As governor of Texas, he was infamous for joking about the impending execution of Karla Faye Tucker, a killer who became a born-again Christian on death row. As president, he has repeatedly put himself and those on his team, especially Mr. Cheney, above the law.

Within minutes of the Libby announcement, the same Republican commentators who fulminated when Paris Hilton got a few days knocked off her time in a county lockup were parroting Mr. Bush’s contention that a fine, probation and reputation damage were “harsh punishment” enough for Mr. Libby."

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, this is great. How many people are doing serious time for possessing a few grams of some drug or another. The message is clear, but then it always has been. If you've got the dough and your skin is the right color, you walk.... or in this case, scoot.

Good job, Mr. President. As if we didn't get it before, now we do.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, but come on: possessing a little weed damages our country far worse than lying about working to betray, at the behest of the Veep, the identity of a CIA agent. Wait. That's utterly insane.

Note that Bush used all the arguments that he's always mocked about sentencing, as he pushed draconian prison time for everything.

Wish he'd been busted with a bunch of coke way back when.