Reading between the lines

Sometimes dishonesty isn’t as simple as directly saying something false.

For example, there’s this.

Then there’s the following, from a Chicago Reader report (by our always excellent local journalism gems, Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky) about local political reluctance to decriminalize marijuana:

The mayor said he was considering policy changes but had concerns about decriminalization. “Other cities that have done this have then had to go back and do corrections because it’s created its own set of problems,” Emanuel said.

A reporter asked him what sort of problems he was talking about. The mayor declined to detail them.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals,” he said.

(Emphasis mine.)  Note his first statement, wherein he offers a direct, unambiguously defined reason for his “concerns” (‘concerns,’ a word used by the reporters, here connotes reluctance).  Emanuel mentions “cities,” and he mentions “problems” that required “corrections”; these are common nouns that denote more specific, detailed definitions.  When asked to add such details to his clearly defined construction, the mayor characterizes such specifics as “hypotheticals.”

Now, if you’ve read more than one or two posts of this humble blog, and you’re reasonably fluent in English, and you’ve never been married to me, then chances are you’re going to accept that I’m not completely stupid.  I’m going to give you, dear reader, that same benefit of the doubt.  I’m also going to accept that Rahm Emanuel is not so ignorant of the English language that he can’t tell the difference between hypothesizing and providing specifics to a clearly defined evidential construction. 

If you ask me if I think the sun will rise tomorrow, based on my observation of the sun’s behavior on previous days, then you’re asking for a hypothesis.  If I tell you I know of some days in the past where the sun rose but it was obscured by cloud cover, and you tell me provide a list of such days, you are requesting specifics to a clearly defined evidential construction.  See the difference?

Mayor Emanuel signals his reluctance and offers a clear reason, one that is lacking in specific details.  He declines to give those details, citing a wish to avoid “hypotheticals.”  So that leaves us with three possibilities here: 1) a smart, educated man and skillful politician displayed ignorance or laziness with his use of a very specific noun; 2) he’s skipping a rhetorical step, assuming that listing the problems he’s vaguely cited would lead to a ‘hypothetical’ discussion which he would rather avoid; and 3) he’s being evasive.  I’m leaning toward 3 while recognizing that it’s not mutually exclusive of 2.

Is the mayor’s veracity important here?  If you read the rest of the article, and keep in mind that Emanuel is a highly skilled and seasoned politician who’s worked directly with two of our nation’s most beloved presidential dissemblers, maybe you’ll agree that it is.  Why would Emanuel trouble himself to make a public statement about an important political issue if he weren’t going to actually do anything substantial?

Why, indeed.

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