Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Don't Take This Out of Context - Palin Is a Liar

Asked whether he would move U.S. troops out of Iraq to better fight terrorism elsewhere, he brought up Afghanistan and said, "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."

(source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/14/AR2007081400812.html)

This quote has become the subject of a new McCain ad and an oft-repeated line in the Sarah Palin road show. The ad claims that Obama was criticizing the troops in a dishonorable way. Palin takes it a step further, and claims that Obama argued that US troops were intentionally targeting civilians.

Now the easy rebuttal to the McCain camp's claims is that Obama's statement was taken out of context. But is that enough? Why can't we call Palin's statement a flat out lie?

Obama did not say that civilians were being targeted. That is an unreasonable interpretation of the statement.

A discussion of this point with Sidecar led us down a tangential argument about whether Obama's statement was ambiguous. Sidecar claimed that it was ambiguous based on the context given. But he's wrong. Why? Because the context within which the statement must be considered goes beyond the question asked and the full response. Just as individual sentences and parts of sentences shouldn't be viewed in a vacuum, neither should entire speeches. In order to interpret that statement in the way that the ad and Palin interpret it, not only do you have to ignore the whole sentence, but you also have to ignore the history of the war in Afghanistan and all the "collateral damage" discussions that have been going on for years.

I think my issue with the claim that Obama's statement is ambiguous boils down to this: Sidecar knows what Obama was saying. I know what Obama was saying. The McCain camp knows what Obama was saying. To interpret it the way McCain or Palin did would require everyone to suspend all rational thought and ignore every contextual factor that surrounded the statement. Ignoring those factors does not make an otherwise unambiguous statement - everyone knew what Obama was saying - ambiguous. It is disingenuous, at best.

To me, the suspension of rational thought and dismissal of context is the same as a lie. Intentional ignorance and rationalizations do not create ambiguities, and they do not infuse lies with grains of truth. She lied. Nothing ambiguous about it.

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