Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I'm sorry if that made sense.

When Monica Goodling testified before the House Judiciary Committee there were representatives that wanted to help her and others that wanted to trip her up. Representative Dan Lungren (R-California) prefaced his first question with an account of his work as the attorney general (elected) of California.

After describing the judgment he was necessarily allowed in order to deliver on his promises, he asks Ms Goodling

Analogously, doesn't a president have a right when he appoints an attorney general to expect him...to make the decisions in terms of priorities that the president wants? And isn't that an appropriate thing, and is that the kind of thing that you did while you were in the department?

He tees it up for her so all she has to do is swing with a Yes and she's safely on base.

The gentlemanly Virginian Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) isn't so kind.


SCOTT: In your testimony, you indicate that you..."may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions." Do you believe that those political considerations were not just in appropriate but in fact illegal?

GOODLING: That's not a conclusion for me to make. I know I was acting...

SCOTT:...What do you believe? Do you believe that they were illegal?

GOODLING: I don't believe I intended to commit a crime.

SCOTT: Did you break the law?...

GOODLING: The best I can say is that I know I took political considerations into account on some occasions.

SCOTT: Was that legal?

GOODLING: Sir, I'm not able to answer that question. I know I crossed the line.

SCOTT: What line? Legal?

GOODLING: I crossed the line of the civil service rules.

SCOTT: Rules? laws? You crossed the line of civil service laws. Is that right?

GOODLING: I believe I crossed the lines, but I didn't mean to. I mean, I...you know, it wasn't...


Mr Scott is also looking for a simple answer. In this passage he asks two wh- questions, but he follows them with a yes/no question -- trying to keep her from giving an explanatory answer.

"What do you believe? Do you believe that they were illegal?"
"What line? Legal?"

Both Lungren and Scott realize that the right simple answer will give a clear message. Lungren is hoping for a 'Yes! We did what we were legally and ethically expected to do.' Scott is hoping for 'Yes. I believe I broke the law.'

Then comes along Ms Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) with a request that doesn't make a lot of sense. Because time is running short she asks Goodling to make her answers "as cryptic and as brief as possible."

I can understand if Jackson Lee wants Goodling to sacrifice comprehensive answers for the sake of simplicity. That has been the order of the day. I can understand if she wants to assure Goodling that a confusing answer is acceptable. I understand if she wants to assure Goodling that her answers don't have to be complete and unproblematic.

But is she really hoping that Goodling's answers will be as cryptic as possible? I'm going to analyse this as a syntactic compression. She probably meant to ask for Goodlings answer to be as cryptic as necessary and as brief as possible. Otherwise she would have to be very pleased if Goodling responded PHHFFFT

I have to wonder if this might just be a misuse of "cryptic." Since the word usually means hidden or secret Jackson Lee might be asking Goodling to leave out as much information as she can. Then "as possible" would have to be followed by the unstated "while still making sense."

Read the entire testimony as transcribed by The New York Times


  1. This is hilarious. "Senator McCarthy, we're running out of time, so make your answers short and cryptic."

    "CCCP boo!"

  2. Perhaps we just misheard. There are other things that could be mistaken for cryptic... such as... um... crypt-like? Yeah, that's the ticket!

    In this case crypt-like meaning an answer self-contained as well as unchanging, complete, finished, or in other words dead.

    "Thanks to his crypt-like answer, there was no need for further questions."

    Which makes more sense than asking for a cryptic reply.

  3. Or perhaps she wanted every answer to be triptych. With a beginning middle and end.

  4. I just imagined congressional committees having people answer their questions by composing trios of paintings... and then naturally having an art critic explain the meaning of each panel.

    I think we just discovered a knew and disturbing, though perhaps entertaining, way to becloud the truth.


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