Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Is Romney Really Going to Base His Campaign On An Unclear Prepositional Antecedent?

We're about to get pedantic up in here!

Unlike many (most?) Americans, I generally live a blissfully advertisement-free existence, thanks to a number of miracles of modern technology. In an average week, the only advertising I'm exposed to are the sponsorship spots on NPR and the ads on the DC Metro system.

During the past couple of weeks, however, this is not the case - thanks to the Olympics. In the US, watching any Olympic event means watching tons of commercials on NBC. Nowadays, when I see a commercial, it normally fascinates me in an anthropological kind of way. I wonder to myself, "Does this commercial really make people rush out and buy toothpaste brand X over brand Y?" "Do people really think that buying a new car will make them happy?" "Do people really go to their doctors and say, 'Hey, Doc, I saw this commercial for this drug - they didn't even tell me what it does, but I want to start taking it'?" I just find it all quite baffling.

However, I have also seen some seriously sinister commercials during this brief foray into broadcast television - namely, political ads, from both candidates and SuperPACs. It's times like this that I question the value of completely unfettered free speech - what's the societal benefit in allowing candidates and SuperPACs to fill up TV time with attacks ads that are mostly lies?

Case in point - Mitt Romney seems like he's decided to base his entire campaign on an unclear prepositional antecedent uttered by President Obama. Yes, it's really that silly. See the below summary from the Daily Show for a funny recap of what Romney is making such a fuss over:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Democalypse 2012 - Do We Look Stupid? Don't Answer That Edition
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And a bit more on the same topic:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Democalypse 2012 - Do We Look Stupid? Don't Answer That Edition - Grammatical Gaffes
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Ridiculous, right? Any 2nd grader could tell you that when he said "you didn't build that," Obama was clearly referring to roads and bridges, not businesses.

Romney, however, has apparently decided that basing his campaign on perpetuating a lie about an unclear antecedent is a brilliant strategy. I don't know if it will pay off for him in the long run, but I find these kinds of tactics disgusting - though I can't say I'm surprised, since everyone should already know that Mitt Romney is a serial liar who will literally say anything to get elected.

Not surprisingly, the American media has largely covered this as "he-said, she-said" situation, although the truth is obviously that Romney is intentionally lying about what Obama said. Why do the media do this? Because of false equivalence, and because the American media are, on the whole, a terrible bunch of worthless, spineless jellyfish.

I can't help but think that this will backfire, however - generally, people don't like being lied to, and this lie is pretty transparent. And Romney isn't even doing it well - in his ads, he trots out businessman after businessman who say that "they built their businesses and didn't have any help from anyone while doing it." Not surprisingly, it turns out that every single one of these businessmen have gotten help from the government (sometimes several hundred thousand dollars worth of help) - one wonders how they are able to run businesses if they can't remember the basic facts about how their businesses have grown over time.

So, yes, let's all celebrate the completely "independent" (and utterly fictional) "government-free" businessman:


Finally, though I decided to go with Grammar Hammer as my opening picture above, I also came across a few other absolutely hilarious grammar pictures I figured I'd share with you, since I took the time to find them:

Oh, and Mitt Romney - he apparently cares so much that he's willing to base his entire campaign on an
unclear prepositional antecedent.

But can they save political campaigns?

I concur. What can I say, this blog has a soft spot for kittehs.

[Personal note: I feel like I'm apologizing every few weeks for a slow posting schedule, but work has gotten rather crazy, and much of my free time is taken up by childbirth classes, revamping my wife's and my tiny apartment in anticipation of the arrival of the Babycrat, and other baby-related activities. I'll do my best to continue to post as regularly as life allows, but in the meantime, don't pay much attention to all the stupidity going on in the media - instead, go out and enjoy something.]


  1. "The ultimate proof that humans are stupid, is that advertising makes you buy things." - Cavanna

  2. Distortion in a political ad? I'm shocked, shocked!

    I hope you don't actually believe that both sides don't do this. Case in point: http://factcheck.org/2012/07/twisting-romneys-abortion-stance/
    The side that is behind usually has to attack more to try and change the landscape, and that usually leads to more distortions. Doesn't mean you can trust the leading side either, though.

    Its the job of an informed voter to realize that negative ads are there more to distort than educate, and to sift through the lies that each side is telling. That takes time and effort, though, and its much easier to just fall back on party/tribal loyalties and dismiss 'them' as much worse than 'us' and then take what you're being fed by "your guys" at face value. That's one reason why the country is so polarized today: its easier to pick one side and not have to think critically anymore.

    1. tag1555: You're also engaging in false equivalence here - are you a Romney supporter?

      Romney said that he'd "be delighted" to sign a bill that would overturn Roe v. Wade and defund Planned Parenthood, which would indeed deny abortion services (and indeed basic family planning and healthcare services) to many millions of American women. It is perhaps a *slight* exaggeration by the Obama campaign / Obama supporters to say that Romney backs a law outlawing "all" abortions, though I suspect that is what he believes should happen, deep down. But, the reality is that Romney would greatly curtail women's access to abortions (and other family planning and health services) if he could.

      However, it is a completely different level of distortion (read: it's a bold face lie) for the Romney campaign / Romney supporters to say that Obama is eliminating the work requirement for welfare (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/aug/07/mitt-romney/mitt-romney-says-barack-obamas-plan-abandons-tenet/) or that Obama hates business owners (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/jul/26/mitt-romney/putting-mitt-romneys-attacks-you-didnt-build-truth/) - both of those claims are flat-out lies, without any basis in reality.

      Indeed, it's always been par for the course for political players to exaggerate a bit for the sake of making a point. However, the Romney campaign and his supporters are simply lying about what Obama has said and is doing to an extent that is unprecedented, and it's a shame that the American media isn't calling him out on his lies.

      So, no, it's not the same, and it's not just "he-said, he-said" - the level of distortion and lying being perpetrated by the Romney campaign is an entirely different class of dishonesty than the exaggeration of Obama's campaign and its supporters.

      -The Angry Bureaucrat

    2. [My apologies, tag1555 - I accidentally deleted your reply. I'm reposing it here:]

      AB - Thanks for the reply. If you look at WPost's "4 Pinocchios" ratings for the worst distortions, each side has about an even number of those, counting the recent Reid no-taxes-by-Romney claim, which also got the 4P rating: http://www.washingtonpost.com/2011/02/25/ABjfuEJ_category.html?blogId=fact-checker&tag=4%20Pinocchios

      Saying "well, my side isn't nearly as bad" to me suggests you need to reevaluate the level of partisanship that you're filtering information through. Example: Politifact gave what you're calling a "slight exaggeration" their worst rating for distortion, the same rating they did the Romney welfare claim: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/jul/25/barack-obama/romney-abortion-rape-incest/

      Of course they're lying. Both sides are, because going negative works, and negative ads usually require more distortion to paint the other guy in the worst possible light. This isn't "false equivalency," just a realistic appraisal that politicians of both parties will say whatever they have to to win elections, and that's par for the course. The distortion level so far isn't "unprecedented"; look up the Politifact and FactChecker reports from the '08 election for some context. If anything, this one's been surprisingly tame to date compared to past elections, but with the amount of $$$ being raised by both sides, I'm sure they'll each dive deep into the mud soon enough.

    3. tag1555: I never claimed not to be partisan. I'm still not quite sure of your angle - are you defending Romney? Or are you advocating some kind of apolitical 3rd way?

      The WP fact checker doesn't easily let you tally how many blatant lies the various sides have told, so I checked Politifact.com, and as of today, 9% of Romney's statements have turned out to be utter whoppers ("Pants on Fire" lies), according to them, while only 2% of Obama's statements have been "Pants on Fire." It looks even worse when you compare the parties - the Democratic National Committee has told NO "Pants on Fire" lies (and only 7% of its checked statements have been "false," while 7% of the Republican National Committee's statements have been "Pants on Fire" lies, and a further 18% of its statements have been "false."

      So, even according to "objective" fact-checkers, the Republicans tell more outright lies and make more false statements than the Democrats.

      Of course, the fact checkers themselves suffer from the false equivalence bias - a good example is when Politifact designated two Republican lies about Obamacare as the lies of the year in 2009 and 2010, but then turned around and designated the Democratic charge that the Ryan budget plan "ended Medicare" as the 2011 lie of the year. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that Ryan proposed to end Medicare "as we know it," by replacing it with a private system - but it would have still ended the current Medicare system and replaced it with a totally different system, albeit with the same name. So, the fact checkers got caught up in a semantic argument, while missing the broader point. Sort of like the example I gave before; I simply don't see how a slight exaggeration of Romney's position is somehow equivalent to Romney completely lying about what Obama said - those just are not the same things, regardless of how the "objective" fact checkers score it.

      Am I totally happy with the Democrats? Absolutely not - there's a lot that I'd like to see changed about the Democratic Party, the Obama Administration, etc. etc. However, I would argue that my original premise - that Republicans, especially Mitt Romney, lie both more often and more grievously than Democrats / Obama - remains true, and that's even demonstrated by the fact checkers at Politifact.

      And yes, I'm just going to try to avoid watching any broadcast television of any sort for the next three months or so, because I just can't bear to see the depths to which political discourse in this country has fallen.

      -The Angry Bureaucrat