Friday, 19 October 2012

US politics

This post, I hope, is read as an example of the kind of funny things people often say, without intending to be funny. This is not meant as political commentary, though it is extracted from the US vice-presidential debates. I thought it was so funny when I first heard it that I expected it to be all over the news. Instead, it hasn't been commented on at all to my knowledge. So, since I think it is too good to let go, here it is:
During the vice-presidential debate, Paul Ryan and Joseph Biden were asked about their position on abortion. After Ryan's answer, Biden put on his straight face and announced that:
"I accept the Catholic church's teachings on abortion, but I refuse to impose it on equally devout other Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and all those other people."
Admittedly, he did include "all those other people", which can be understood to mean "everyone", but he said it at the end, tagged on and weakly said, as if he hadn't originally intended to mention them. His answer looks as if he interpreted the question to be a matter of religious tolerance. That is, tolerance of other faiths. However, it was on the subject of abortion, and all three of the religions he mentioned agree on this subject. According to them, abortion is wrong. So, as a "practicing Catholic", Biden doesn't want to "impose" the Catholic position on abortion, that it is wrong, on other religious people who agree it is wrong.
The reason I found this funny is that Biden clearly identified the wrong people when he was telling us who he wouldn't "impose" his beliefs on. If he had said, "I accept the Catholic position on abortion in my private life, but cannot in good conscience impose that on all those other people who disagree", he'd be in the clear. The mistake is a classic one for politicians. How do you get your message across without alienating half of the audience? He can't afford to alienate religious voters, but he also can't afford to alienate non-religious voters (or religious voters who disagree with the Pope on abortion.)So what does he do? What politicians have been doing for centuries: he ties his shoelaces together, takes a step, and says something that makes no sense while falling flat on his face.
The other thing about his statement that was interesting to me is that the naivete it revealed makes sense if Biden is not "a devout Catholic" but is instead one of "all those other people." He can't say it of course, but was this the same thing?

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