Friday, May 23, 2008

If Hillary Clinton offended anyone

It's not likely that in her meeting with the Argus-Leader Hillary Clinton was making a statement like anything can happen. That would be sick.

We all remember: Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. She puts stress on June and I take the point to be an entailment: It occurred in June therefore the campaign was still going in June.

Her point is that previous campaigns have gone into June. A horribly chosen juxtaposition of points for evidence. Speaking of juxtaposition...

You should be willing to campaign for every vote. You should be willing to debate anytime anywhere. I think it's an interesting juxtaposition where we find ourselves. And you know, I have been willing to do all of that during the entire process and people have been trying to push me out of this ever since Iowa.

YouTube provides a few clips of her statement but none that I could find with this passage. View the fuller Yahoo! News video here

Her use of juxtaposition is very close to position. There's a fuzzy line here. A juxtaposition is the relative position of two or more items -- especially in proximity. So an interesting position is almost by definition because of a juxtaposition with something. I say her use is passable. Tho notable.

Back to her unfortunate example. Tho I've given my understanding of her reason for using the example (≅ of course we remember it was in June because something horrible happened) I agree that an apology was necessary. And she almost gave one. But it's the typical hedge.

(I use the slashes as 'uh' pauses)
Clarification isn't always necessary or helpful because it can come across as a defense of the statement. She offers this:
I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nomination / primary contests that go into June. / That's a historic fact.
That's okay so far. She doesn't excuse the statement.

She gets a little eely right after that statement:
The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last / days because of Senator Kennedy.
This acts partly as an explanation (excuse?) for why she would bring up RFK's assassination. In that role it's weak.

It works better as another part of an apology. The reassurance. Statements of regret will often make clear what is valued and what is respected just as a reminder that no ill intent would be compatible with such a stance. It's the Don't worry. I do love you bit. And there's nothing wrong with it when it's honest. I believe Clinton's statement of respect for the Kennedys is honest.

Then we get to the I'm sorry part. I'd rather see I'm sorry than I regret but the language of apologies in public statements is changing to the latter. I'm not yet convinced that this is a matter of honest language change. I don't believe regret is the same statement of remorse. And it is too often followed by a conditional clause. I've seen Clinton's apology transcribed two ways:

1. I regret that if my referencing...was offensive (here)
2. I regret if my referencing...was offensive (here)

I transcribe it thus:
I, you know, regret that if / my referencing / that moment of trauma for our entire nation and particularly for the Kennedy family / was in any way offensive. / I certainly had no / intention of that whatsoever. / My view is that / we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and / give us / a lot to live up to / and I'm honored to hold Senator Kennedy's seat in the United States senate from the state of New York / and have the highest regard / for / the entire Kennedy family.

In text it's difficult to tell if she said that as a demonstrative or a complementizer. In the video it's clearly a complementizer. A demonstrative in 'I regret {that/this/those} if...' would almost certainly be followed by a slight pause and wouldn't be reduced to the weak form of that in 'that if' such as we hear: [ðəɾ.ɪf]. Only the complementizer is pronounced that way. It's not grammatical but it's not rare in speech to have this type of blend.

I regret that my referencing was offensive.
I regret if my referencing was offensive.

(If can also be used as a complementiser in sentences like I doubt if I'll make it but for now I'll forgo any argument for why Clinton's statement isn't such a case.)

But while the grammar isn't disheartening the lack of a true apology is. The first statement regrets the quality of the statement -- necessarily defined by a reaction -- but not the choice to make it. The second statement only regrets conditionally. It's a favourite of public figures. What is most disingenuous is the implication that the statement might not have been offensive. Clinton knows that it offended some. She knows it was offensive. How would the same apology sound for another type of offense.

I'm sorry if I totaled your car.
I'm sorry if I broke your arm.
I'm sorry if I don't know your name.

Once the fact has been established every one of these sounds ridiculous.

1 comment:

  1. At least she said "my referencing" ... But it's a standard non-apology.


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