James Taranto's Best of the Web Today column on Friday referred to Kerry as a "'But'-head" for qualifying so many of his statements at the first debate with a "but." Yesterday, he quoted a the insight of a reader, Ruth Papazian, which seems to have been based on her experience as a parent. I wish I had noticed what she did. Here's what she said, according to Taranto:
An excellent point.
Kerry is trying to have it both ways: to reserve "the right to pre-empt in any way necessary" while also insisting on "the global test." Reader Ruth Papazian offers some insight on what this really means:
It's the placement of the conditional but that is most revealing of Kerry's true inclinations regarding pre-emptive use of force against countries harboring terrorists.
Consider these two statements:
(a) I will let you go to the concert, but I want you to clean your room.
(b) I want you to clean your room, but I will let you go to the concert.
In statement (a), permission to go to the concert is conditional upon cleaning your room. In statement (b), permission to go to the concert is not conditional upon cleaning your room.
Consider Kerry's "global test" statement with the phrases before and after the conditional "but" flipped:
You've got to do it in a way that passes the global test, but no president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to pre-empt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America.
The first statement suggests that the historical right of pre-emptive action by a U.S. president is conditional upon first convincing the rest of the world that our actions are justified. The second statement suggests that while global considerations are important, the right of pre-emptive action by a U.S. president will never be conditioned upon whether the rest of the world thinks our reasons are legitimate. The man who would utter the second statement will not hesitate to pull the trigger. The man who uttered the first statement will.
Think about other statements one might make before a "but" clause: "I love you, but . . ." "You're doing good work, but . . ." "I have nothing against black people, but . . ." In all these cases, you know that what comes next is going to be a statement that belies the introductory clause and that represents what the speaker really means to say. Kerry said a lot of things that made him sound strong, but they were only a way of diverting attention from his advocacy of American weakness.