When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to
meanneither more nor less.
Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in
"It's up to God now."
That's what Arnold Schwarzenegger said after casting his vote last
Tuesday. And it set me to wondering. I know things are supposed to be
different in California, but still I had questions. To wit:
What was up to God last Tuesday? The outcome of the election? It
wasn't up to the voters? Did God take away their free will for a little
whilelong enough to make them vote for Arnold? Does that make it a
Less than a year ago, Gray Davis was re-elected as governor. Was
that outcome also up to God? If so, what made Him change His Omniscient
Mind about Gray? Was it that he turned out to be a lousy governor? But
wouldn't God, with His Divine Foreknowledge, already know that Gray would
turn out that way? And what would it say about God if He was the Cause of
the election of an incompetent? And if He caused one, did He just cause
But those are all metaphysical questions, and there's hardly
anything metaphysical about politics. When Arnold said "It's up to God
now," it meant just what Arnold chose it to mean, neither more nor less.
Probably something like "Hey, it doesn't really matter if I once expressed
admiration for Hitler, or if more than once I played around with women who
didn't want to be played around with. What matters is that now I'm
signaling smarmy religiosity and even in California, smarmy religiosity
can pick up votes."
Arnold later said he was looking forward to working with George
Bushand I understood why. Like Arnold, the President reminds me of
Humpty Dumpty in Wonderland as he goes through his day leaving a trail of
mutilated language that means just what he chooses it to mean.
Here's a prolonged example:
The Journal Star on Oct. 4 ran a nifty little box contrasting what
the President said pre-war about Iraqi weaponry and what U.S. weapons
inspector David Kay said post-war about what his team's search didn't turn
up. For the verbatim text, see the Oct. 4 LJS. In the interest of
brevity, I'm paraphrasing here.
Dubya on Mar. 17, 2003: The Iraqis possess and conceal "some of
the most lethal weapons ever devised." Kay this month: Haven't found any
Dubya on Jan. 28, 2003: Iraq has "several mobile biological
designed to produce germ warfare agents." Kay: Haven't
found any yet.
Dubya on Sep. 12, 2002: Iraq has "scud-type missiles with ranges
beyond the 150 kilometers permitted by the U.N." Kay: One guy said there
were a few, then changed his mind and said there weren't any. Haven't
found any yet.
The Truth, Mainly
Dubya on Sep. 12, 2002: If it gets "fissile material," Iraq can
build nukes within a year. Kay: No evidence after 1998 of any attempts
to build nukes.
Dubya on Nov. 3, 2002: Saddam has chemical weapons and he's used
them on his neighbors. Kay: No sign of chemical weapons since 1991.
Kay also said "no conclusive proof" has been found to support the
President's assertion in his State of the Union speech that Iraq tried to
buy uranium from Niger. And Kay estimated that Iraq had been five to
seven years away from reconstituting a nuclear weapons program which Vice
President Cheney had said was already up and running.
In each instance, Kay's report, while it doesn't disprove the
administration's charges, stops far short of confirming them.
But get this:
The President maintains the Kay report justifies our invasion of
George Will, no enemy of the President, raises the right question:
"So why is it so difficult for the Bush administration to candidly
acknowledge and discuss what Americans are not unnerved to learnthat
much prewar intelligence about weapons of mass destruction was wrong?"
At least a part of the answer, I think. is that this President
doesn't value language very much. Like Humpty Dumpty and Arnold
Schwarzenegger in Wonderland, the President believes his words mean just
what he chooses them to mean, neither more nor less.
But the really scary thing is that he takes a quantum leap beyond
that. In his effort to make his pre-emptive war of choice seem to be a
reactive war of necessity, he not only assigns arbitrary meaning to his
own words, he assigns arbitrary meaning to the words of others.
That's a level of linguistic anarchy that would leave even Humpty
Dumptyand maybe Arnold Schwarzeneggershaking their heads.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail