Via Sadly No and Atrios, a sad illustration of the costs of social promotion: one Jake Tapper. Tapper ought to be failing his second grade Language Arts class for the thirty-fourth consecutive year, but thanks to the soft bigotry of low expectations, he ended up as ABC's Senior National Correspondent instead. If he had gotten out of school without the ability to do basic math and had ended up as a NASA engineer, his ignorance would harm people in direct and obvious ways. The fact that he's a journalist without basic reading comprehension skills means that the damage he can do is less obvious than a rocket flaming out in mid-descent. But it does not make that damage less real.
Here's the passage Mr. Tapper took it upon himself to interpret:
"“Everybody knows that global warming is real,” Mr. Clinton said, giving a shout-out to Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, “but we cannot solve it alone.”
“And maybe America, and Europe, and Japan, and Canada — the rich counties — would say, ‘OK, we just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ’cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.’ We could do that.
“But if we did that, you know as well as I do, China and India and Indonesia and Vietnam and Mexico and Brazil and the Ukraine, and all the other countries will never agree to stay poor to save the planet for our grandchildren. The only way we can do this is if we get back in the world’s fight against global warming and prove it is good economics that we will create more jobs to build a sustainable economy that saves the planet for our children and grandchildren. It is the only way it will work."
This is not an unusual way to frame a point: (a) here's a problem; (b) some might say that we should do Dumb Response X in response; (c) but in fact, we should do Smart Response Y. How dumb do you have to be to imagine that when someone says this, they are in fact advocating Dumb Response X? Answer: As dumb as Jake Tapper. Here's his take on it:
"Former President Bill Clinton was in Denver, Colorado, stumping for his wife yesterday.
In a long, and interesting speech, he characterized what the U.S. and other industrialized nations need to do to combat global warming this way: “We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ’cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.” At a time that the nation is worried about a recession is that really the characterization his wife would want him making? “Slow down our economy”? I don’t really think there’s much debate that, at least initially, a full commitment to reduce greenhouse gases would slow down the economy….So was this a moment of candor?
He went on to say that his the U.S. — and those countries that have committed to reducing greenhouse gases — could ultimately increase jobs and raise wages with a good energy plan. So there was something of a contradiction there. Or perhaps he mis-spoke. Or perhaps this characterization was a description of what would happen if there isn’t a worldwide effort…I’m not quite certain."
Wow: a novel interpretive principle. Let's try it on some other texts. Here, for instance, is Barack Obama:
"I know it is tempting - after another presidency by a man named George Bush - to simply turn back the clock, and to build a bridge back to the 20th Century. There are those will tell us that our Party should nominate someone who is more practiced in the art of pursuing power; that's it's not yet our turn or our time. There was also a time when Caroline Kennedy's father was counseled by a former President to “be patient,” and to step aside for “someone with greater experience.” But John F. Kennedy responded by saying, “The world is changing. The old ways will not do…It is time for a new generation of leadership.”"
In this speech, Barack Obama somewhat surprisingly comes out in favor of "turning back the clock" and "building a bridge back to the 20th Century". Yet he goes on to say that "the world is changing". Likewise, first he says that "it's not yet our turn", but then he says that "it is time for a new generation of leadership." There is a contradiction here. Or perhaps he misspoke. I'm not quite certain.
Here comes another glaring contradiction. this time from the President himself:
"Now, I know some people doubt the universal appeal of liberty, or worry that the Middle East isn't ready for it. Others believe that America's presence is destabilizing, and that if the United States would just leave a place like Iraq those who kill our troops or target civilians would no longer threaten us. Today I'm going to address these arguments. I'm going to describe why helping the young democracies of the Middle East stand up to violent Islamic extremists is the only realistic path to a safer world for the American people. I'm going to try to provide some historical perspective to show there is a precedent for the hard and necessary work we're doing, and why I have such confidence in the fact we'll be successful."
So here, by Tapper Rules of Interpretation™, we have the President making the following claims: Liberty has no universal appeal; the Middle East is not ready for liberty; America's presence there, is destabilizing; if we just left, our enemies would no longer threaten us; and yet, despite all this, "helping the young democracies of the Middle East stand up to violent Islamic extremists is the only realistic path to a safer world for the American people."
Pretty strange that no one picked up on the fact that Bush disavowed so many of his basic beliefs in this speech, and then contradicted himself just a few lines later. Or, well, whatever.
Interpreting texts a la Tapper is kind of fun, once you get the hang of it. And when anyone calls you on it, you can just pout and say: Wow, I hardly know how to take this. All I'm trying to do is to understand...
Feel free to leave your own examples of the Tapper Rules™ in action in comments.