Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stupid or dishonest?

The silly debate over Barack Obama's comments about learning a second language, referred to below, keeps dragging on. The oddest comment I found was from Jonah Goldberg, who called what Obama said "either staggeringly dishonest or stupendously dumb." What makes that otherwise unremarkable observation odd is that in the very next paragraph, Goldberg acknowledges that Obama was essentially correct: "I agree that students should learn a second language whenever possible," he writes. Now, I understand that it can sometimes be dumb to say true things, but how can it be dishonest?

Goldberg answers by inventing an alternate quote for Obama. He writes that the dishonesty would be clear if Obama had said this: "Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they'll learn English — you need to make sure your child is a lot better at math."

Only problem is, that would also be true. Just as it would be true if Obama hadn't said Spanish or math but computer science, history or art appreciation. Any of those would involve discussing something that actually matters rather than something that doesn't. So Obama deflected an inconsequential question and tried to turn it into a statement about something that might really be useful. I think that's called politics.

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