Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lies, Damn Lies, And The McCain Campaign

I think it fair enough to make a few points on my claim yesterday that John McCain managed to misrepresent the facts during a sit-down with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register. I also think it fair to put this in the context of a discussion of McCain's "Liar's Paradox" statement that he always tells the 100% absolute truth.

The "Liar's Paradox" is as old as Greek philosophy. Sometimes called the Cretan Paradox, it points out the way in which logic can invalidate certain statements. If the major premise of an argument is "All Cretans are liars", and the minor premise is, "I, a Cretan, am lying to you", what conclusion can be drawn from this? None, in fact. The minor premise is invalidated as meaningful by the major premise. Like the "chicken and egg" business, it presents something that is meaningless in a fashion that appears meaningful.

Now, during the interview, McCain was presented with the opportunity to come clean about some of the many misstatements his campaign has made concerning all manner of things. One question concerned an ad the campaign produced that said Barack Obama supported comprehensive sex education for children in kindergarten. When the questioner made the factual point the bill did no such thing, and that Obama's support for the bill was uncontroversial, rather than backpedal a bit, chuckle and say something like, "Well, you know, politics ain't beanbag, lady. We all stretch the facts a bit in order to make a point," or some such, McCain sat there and said that he had not misrepresented the bill in question. He claimed the questioner's "interpretation" of the bill was wrong, and then he did something that was odd. He said that he "respected" her interpretation but disagreed with it.

First of all, the bill in question is pretty clear. It is quite clear in its language - it offers education on "good touch vs bad touch" for young children, something that I think is welcome and necessary. There is no question of "interpretation" here, as there can be at times about vague legislation. It might be possible to quibble about a law that uses a vague term, such as (for example) a parental consent law for receiving an abortion. For the purposes of the legislation, who constitutes a "parent"? Of what does "consent" consist? These are not minor matters, and are indeed open to interpretation through a definition of the terms involved. The bill that is the focus of the ad in question, however, is very clear.

Furthermore, if it is indeed the case, as McCain claimed in the interview, that the law does, indeed, provide for "comprehensive sex education" for five-year-olds (as the parent of two children who have been through kindergarten in IL schools, I haven't heard of this particular bit of educational legerdemain, so I think I might know a bit about this), how is it possible for him to say that he "respects" the questioner's "interpretation", when in fact he just said the law is clear and is not open to interpretation? Here we have the Liar's Paradox in its contemporary form.

With a Cretin making the argument.

Virtual Tin Cup

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