18 January 2008

But what if it’s true?

Some time ago Chris Matthews claimed that the only reason Senator Clinton was elected to the Senate is that she is the most cheated-on woman in the world. Now he has apologized for saying so; and he has apologized because it was mean to say so.

This is another example of just how concerned with truth we aren’t. Note that he didn’t apologize for saying something that is untrue, only for saying something that is mean-spirited It could still be true that the only reason Senator Clinton is a senator is that she is the most cheated-on woman in the world and the voters in New York felt sorry for her.

Maybe that’s true. But whether true or not, it is irrelevant to any question or issue. Is Mrs. Clinton unfit to hold senatorial office because the voters of New York elected her because they felt sorry for her? I can’t see how. Perhaps that’s why they voted for her. The logic of an argument that she is therefore unqualified to be a senator would look something like this, I think:

1. If one is elected to office because voters pitied her then she is unqualified for office.
2. Mrs. Clinton is only a senator because the voters pitied her.
3. Therefore, Mrs. Clinton is unqualified for office.

For it to matter that voters pitied here there must be some relation between being pitied and being qualified for office such that being pitied disqualifies one from holding office. For now, anyway, I can’t see that relation. One can be pitied and still be otherwise qualified for office. It could be the case both that (1) voters elected Mrs. Clinton because they pitied her and (2) Mrs. Clinton is qualified for the office (whatever the qualifications may be).

Matthews should have apologized for stating an irrelevancy.

Perhaps he should also have apologized for making an assertion he may not have known to be true at the time he uttered it. Think about it. What Matthews said is that the voters elected Mrs. Clinton because they pitied her. How can he have known that to be the case? Well, he might have access to a poll which reflects that, in which case he should have cited that information.

But, of course, that information would still be irrelevant to the question of Mrs. Clinton’s qualifications for office, even the office of President of the United States.

There is a way for it to be relevant that Mrs. Clinton was elected because of pity. It could be the case that the voters were absolutely unconcerned about qualifications and elected her to office out of pity. This might be relevant if she is laboring under the assumption that she was elected because the voters thought highly of her qualification and this assumption forms a part of her thinking that she might be qualified for the highest office in the land. This situation would not be unlike a man who thinks his wife married him because she was madly in love with him when in fact she married him for the security involved. He might do things under the assumption that his wife is in love with him, which he might not do if he knew the truth of things.

But I doubt Matthews spends a whole lot of time thinking along such lines. So it’s probably just as well that he apologized. If you say something which is irrelevant and untrue, then you might owe someone an apology.

By the same token, if it’s true and relevant then you may not owe an apology – unless you’re not prepared to offer justification for your claim.

Besides, the people Matthews really insulted were the people who voted for Mrs. Clinton.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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