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Context:

A while back, Slate's Bushism of the Day started providing links so that readers could see the context surround the quote. Unfortunately, they didn't do it with today's item:

"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law." -- Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 28, 2005

I'm pleased, though, to step in and fill the gap:

America has always been a compassionate nation that values the newcomer and takes great pride in our immigrant heritage; yet we're also a nation built on the rule of law, and those who enter the country illegally violate the law. The American people should not have to choose between a welcoming society and a lawful society. We can have both at the same time. And to keep the promise of America, we will enforce the laws of our country.

Does Bush's statement seem quite so silly / funny / whatever in context as it did out of context? Sure, there's a good deal of redundancy here, but such redundancy is often rhetorically valuable. And that sometimes includes stating the obvious, especially when it's an obvious point that one's adversaries often try to deemphasize. Might it have been helpful to provide the quote in context? Or at least to have linked to the context, for the benefit of readers who want to look further?

Steve:
I think the context does help illustrate how silly it is to claim that "the rule of law" dictates our immigration policy. The President and Congress, last I checked, have a great deal to say about what the law substantively provides. It's not as though the law is handed down from Heaven as something they are obligated to enforce.

If current laws on immigration are good, let's enforce them; if alternatives would be better, let's change the law. Either way, the obligation is on the President to explain his view of what the law should be. Saying "I'm just going to enforce whatever the law happens to be" is a fine position for the county sheriff, but not so much for the President of the United States.
12.6.2005 7:50pm
xx:
I don't understand the significance you're placing on context in this particular case. The "bushism" wasn't particularly funny or remarkable, but it seems about as awkward and redundant put in context as it does taken alone.
12.6.2005 7:52pm
HeScreams (mail):
Although in general context is important to truly understand a quote, in this case quoting out of context isn't a problem. I think the quote sounds exactly the same, and means exactly the same thing, both in and out of context.

Maybe it's just me...
12.6.2005 7:53pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
Personally, I'd say the real context of that is Bush's rather determined refusal to allow those precise laws to be effectively enforced. The statement's hipocracy is glaring! But that's not an aspect of this "Bushism" that a party opposed to immigration law enforcement could highlight, is it?
12.6.2005 8:03pm
Hank:
Bushisms are generally errors Bush makes when he speaks extemporaneously. The paragraph that Eugene quotes is too complex for Bush to have uttered extemporaneously. The Bushism, therefore, is the speechwriter's. Granted, Bush becomes responsible for it when he reads it, but it is not this time an example of his inarticulateness or stupidity.
12.6.2005 8:06pm
Hank:
-- I mean assuming that it deserves to be a Bushism. I am not addressing Eugene's argument that it does not deserve to be one.
12.6.2005 8:08pm
Ken Alfano (mail):
xx and HeScreams,

I think the context does help, because "violate the law" can now have the antecedent of "rule of law," as opposed to "illegally." In other words, it could be as though he said "those who enter the country illegally violate that very rule of law."

What do you think?
12.6.2005 8:09pm
anonymous coward:
Of course they should have provided context, but I don't think the context makes it look much less silly. It's not much of a "Bushism" either way, but it's dreadful speechwriting. Sounds like he's hectoring a bunch of middle schoolers. (Not a sin limited to Bush among politicians, of course.)
12.6.2005 8:10pm
xx:
Ken - It is an interesting thought, but I'm not sure it is any less redundant. There are arguably times when actions that are legal nonetheless violate the rule of law, and pointing out one of those situations might be interesting. But stating that something violates the rule of law because it is illegal is at best mundane.
12.6.2005 8:17pm
Christopher M. (mail):
The sad thing is that Bush and other administration officials say blatantly false things all the time, in ways that could actually deceive people on important topics, yet Weisberg and Slate think the best use of their time and readership is on this juvenile tripe.
12.6.2005 8:20pm
Hank:
Christopher M. is right. Slate should do Bush's lie of the day. Or torture victim of the day. Or person- imprisoned-for-four-years-without-a-trial of the day.
12.6.2005 8:26pm
Christopher M. (mail):
Anyway, so it's a tautology. Big deal. Tautologies can be useful, especially when your point is to remind people of a logically necessary truth that they've forgotten. "Short people are people too!" or what have you. I hold no brief for Bush's immigration policy, but again, the stupid verbal quibbling is a distraction and should be left to the precocious middle-schoolers and the people with MENSA bumper stickers.
12.6.2005 8:29pm
Justin (mail):
I heard it live and thought it was funny, but I'm a lefty, so what do I know?
12.6.2005 8:36pm
Conspiracy Fan:
I don't think context is necessary here, and I'm not convinced it's "juvenile tripe." What the stand-alone quote demonstrates is how vacuuous the talking points have become. "We will stand down when the Iraqis stand up." "I want a jurist who won't legislate from the bench." This is campaign sloganeering; it's not the stuff of leaders who take issues seriously, or even of adult conversation. It's dialogue by sound byte; an appeal to the absolute lowest common denominator. The context adds little: Bush favors immigration laws that are enforced. Does that move the debate? Is that a proposition serious people can agree or disagree with? If the goal of the Bushism is to make the President look silly or even stupid, context certainly explains the redundancy of the quotation. But if, as I imagine, the point of a "Bushism" feature is somewhat more subtle - to demonstrate how unreasoned the President's political dialogue has become - the stand-alone quote is entirely appropriate.
12.6.2005 8:48pm
TomFromMD (mail):

"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law."

Is it good journalism to take one part of a sentence and present it as an entire sentence?

At a minimum, Slate should have said

". . . those who enter the country illegally violate the law."

or

"[T]hose who enter the country illegally violate the law."

so that you would know that it wasn't a complete sentence. I mean, taking a single sentence out of context is bad, but taking a phrase out of context is worse.
12.6.2005 9:18pm
James of England:
Without the context, the joke is the simplistic and brutal approach to the quote. They showed the same quote on the Daily Show, and then had an interview about how Bush's immigration policy was all about keeping Mexicans out. Indeed, John Stewart talked about the tension being between abusing them enough to keep the right happy, but not so much that they started having hispanics voting like blacks (from memory).

With the context, it's clearer that Bush's rhetoric is a good deal more humane, and that his issue is that he wants to be considerably more permissive than most of the country does. As with many Bushisms, this one isn't so much about suggesting that the President is stupid (which it does, by suggesting he believes that the issue is so simple) as misleading us about his views and the direction the country is taking. Weisberg is one of the viler toxins in the media today, significantly worse than Moore, his most similar colleague.
12.6.2005 9:23pm
SuperChimp:
Lighten up, Eugene...it wasn't all that funny of a 'Bushism', but it's just a piece of comedy.
12.6.2005 9:25pm
PersonFromPorlock:
What's most striking about this particular context is how vapid it is. Not only does Bush say nothing, he says it blandly.
12.6.2005 9:30pm
ZS (mail) (www):
Jon Stewart (Daily Show) did a somewhat amusing takeoff on the redundancy ... see: http://tinyurl.com/7wod9
12.6.2005 9:42pm
Christopher M. (mail):
Conspiracy Fan--

But if, as I imagine, the point of a "Bushism" feature is somewhat more subtle - to demonstrate how unreasoned the President's political dialogue has become...

That's a great idea for a column, but it's just not what Bushisms is about. The self-declared purpose is to expose "[t]he president's accidental wit and wisdom," and both the list of past Bushisms and Weisberg's associated book leave no doubt that the point is to make fun of Bush's crappy syntax.

And I don't even mind that, when it's genuinely (if only modestly) amusing, as this one is: "If you're sick and tired of the politics of cynicism and polls and principles, come and join this campaign." You can put that in as much context as you want, and it doesn't help -- Bush just screwed up and said something kind of funny. But most of the Bushisms these days aren't like that. Instead, they're just inelegant phrasings, but nothing worse than we all say ten or twenty times a day. It was a cute little feature for a while, but it's way outlived its amusement value, and like I said, there are way more important things to call the president out on these days.

All that said, I haven't the slightest idea why James of England above thinks Weisberg is "one of the viler toxins in the media today." Slate's a great magazine and the guy edits it, so you know, chill out.
12.6.2005 9:44pm
Seamus (mail):

The statement's hipocracy is glaring!



Etymologically, I suppose that "hipocracy" [sic; probably should be "hippocracy"} = "rule by horses"
12.6.2005 9:59pm
Seamus (mail):

Lighten up, Eugene...it wasn't all that funny of a 'Bushism', but it's just a piece of comedy.



But the whole point is that "Bushisms" strains to find quotes that make GWB sound like Yogi Berra (the verbal equivalent of Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford), yet it rarely succeeds. Slate did no better when they tried to provide "equal time" for theother side during the last presidential campaign by running "Kerryisms."
12.6.2005 10:03pm
Eddie Thomas (mail) (www):
Bush is employing an enthymeme:

We are a nation built on the rule of law.
Illegal immigration violates the rule of law.

Implied conclusion-
Thus, illegal immigration violates what this country is built on.

Bush isn't simply stating the obvious. He is putting forth the explicit terms of a syllogism in order for the listener to be led forcefully to the implied conclusion. This is a staple figure from classical rhetoric.
12.6.2005 10:14pm
DK:
I thought Bush's statement in this case made perfect sense and was neither silly nor vapid or ungrammatical.

It is a fact that many people do not view "illegal immigrants" as lawbreakers, and many cities have actually forbidden their police forces to treat illegal immigration as a crime. Many people on the right have been using words similar to Bush's here in order to complain that Bush's previous immigration proposal was an amnesty that did not sufficiently treat illegal immigrants as criminals. In that context, IMHO, Bush was sending a crisp, precise signal to the base that he has heard their concerns and will address them.

I'm not part of Bush's base, and if I were I wouldn't believe him on this issue. But when I heard this sentence it was 100% clear to me both what he meant and who he was addressing it to. It was just as clear as when he said "I will appoint Supreme Court Justices like Thomas and Scalia" or "Jesus is my favorite Philosopher." Who here doubts to whome those messages were addressed?
12.6.2005 10:14pm
civil truth (mail):
Eugene, I agree with you in this instance. "Bushisms" are designed to make the President sound vacuous or stupid, taking advantage of his less than stellar oral skills.

In isolation, this statement sounds like a worthless tautology.

In context, however, this statement is a logical step (somewhat redundant perhaps) in an interesting line of argument that no one here seems yet to have identified, which I would elaborate on as follows:

American has two visions of our society: a compassionate and welcoming society with a proud history of immigration and a law-abiding society. By breaking our laws regarding immigration, those who enter our country illegally bring these two visions into conflict, attempting to set our vision of welcoming society against our vision of a law-abiding society by demanding that we make a false choice between the two. We do not need to make this false choice; rather, we can embrace both visions, and we will do so by enforcing our nation's laws, including those on immigration.

This is a coherent argument. The argument is certainly subject to debate, of course. Nonetheless the statement in question is a reasonable statement, rhetorically effective, and should not in isolation be the object of ridicule.
12.6.2005 10:54pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
At least Bush doesn't talk about " playing hide the salami" as Dr. Dean did, although it didn't appear that Dr. Dean knew what the phrase referred to. On another note, while listening to NPRs morning edition, I heard a legal analyst talk about the importance of "not pissing off the Judges" when taking a case up on appeal. If that had been said on Howard Sterns show he'd be getting fines and nasty letters to the FCC.
12.6.2005 11:09pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
At least Bush doesn't talk about " playing hide the salami" as Dr. Dean did, although it didn't appear that Dr. Dean knew what the phrase referred to. On another note, while listening to NPRs morning edition, I heard a legal analyst talk about the importance of "not pissing off the Judges" when taking a case up on appeal. If that had been said on Howard Sterns show he'd be getting fines and nasty letters to the FCC.
12.6.2005 11:09pm
Justin (mail):
James, are you a parody, or are you the real thing?

Contrast this...

It's dialogue by sound byte; an appeal to the absolute lowest common denominator. The context adds little: Bush favors immigration laws that are enforced. Does that move the debate? Is that a proposition serious people can agree or disagree with?

with

With the context, it's clearer that Bush's rhetoric is a good deal more humane, and that his issue is that he wants to be considerably more permissive than most of the country does.

That's absurd. You've made that up. The man accidentally coughs, you hear a psalm. You're a religious fanatic, deciding the absolute truth and reasoning backwards, which is fine I guess, but does the President of my country deserve such worship?
12.6.2005 11:11pm
Tom952 (mail):
Leftist vitriol seems just like the television news business. On a slow day, you take your best story and try to spin it into something newsworthy. Hmmm....I wonder if there is a connection?
12.6.2005 11:11pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):

...and then had an interview about how Bush's immigration policy was all about keeping Mexicans out.


I, and many Republicans, wish that were actually the case. With regards to Mexicans entering illegally, at any rate. It manifestly isn't, however, and a few speaches aren't going to distract the base from that unfortunate fact. This is NOT a President who wants our immigration laws enforced, he's merely a President who wants to make people think he wants them enforced.

Unfortunately for Slate, he's also a President who doesn't misspeak often enough for the "Bushisms" to be a regular feature, and they ought to face that, and only run 'em when he DOES say something particularly stupid.

Yeah, Seamus, it's a pain spotting a misspelling in a post you can't edit, terribly embarassing.
12.6.2005 11:31pm
DosPeros (mail):
Bush seems to be pretty good humored and self-effacing with the fact that his mouth is were words go to die. The Bushism certainly don't add anything to the national dialogue, but appeal to the instinctual and primordial hate of the partisan.
12.6.2005 11:31pm
JB:
Is there a way to legally violate the law? And if not, does "those who enter this country" include citizens coming back from foreign visits?

In context, this makes a great deal of sense.
12.7.2005 1:54am
James of England:
Justin: Bush favours a guest-worker program. That's the controversial element of his platform. It's what he means by combining humanity and the rule of law (you legalize the immigrants, welcoming them more and making the legal system more robust).

That's not what the quote out of context suggests. It's not fully explained even with the context that Prof. Volokh offers, but it is there for anyone who's followed the debate in this (I'm in San Diego and have spent time interviewing border guards from both sides). Still, the context makes it clear that he's arguing for humane treatment, which is absent from the quote without context.

Do you think that the difficulty with the guestworker program is anything other than it being more liberal than his party and the population in general really want? I support his position over his party's, but I don't believe that it's an easy position (see Brett Bellmore's comment). Can you outline for me where I have Bush wrong?
12.7.2005 2:06am
James of England:
Christopher M: I should have said added the word "American" before the word "media". Honestly, pretty much all of the MSM, within which I would include slate, tends to be accurate in the sense of not deliberately obscuring the truth in news pages. Slate seems to push that more often than any other US MSM source I can think of (hence, I imagine, its frequent appearance on these pages). That said, my issue with Weisberg is that I think that he has done more than any other journalist, arguably including mr. Moore, to persuade the world at large that Bush is not merely misguided by stupid. Most of the better known Bushisms are very obviously false (they're said to have been said in confidence and are reported only by people who loathe him). Weisberg gives them credibility and they become widely quoted by other, less specialised, media. This kind of ad hominem attack, more than attacks on honesty or selflessness, tends to personalise politics and stop people from feeling the need to understand opposing positions.

To clarify: I think that he harms America because:
a: He publishes false quotes, as well as misleading quotes.
b: He's very successful at what he does, and is far more widely quoted than any other partisan I can think of, albeit without attribution to him (or, generally, to the source who lied to him).
c: The nature of the quotes he publishes is particularly toxic to democracy at home and to the perception of America abroad.

In addition to his harmful impacts, he probably has some positive ones. I'd estimate them at less than Krugman, Moore, Hannity, Drudge, and other prominent partisans who have been attacked for their veracity, though. There are some great slate articles and some weak ones. I'm not sure what it would be like without him there.
12.7.2005 2:07am
jackp (mail):
Is there any reason to visit Slate aside from Kaus, Edelstein, and Hitchens? Weisberg is a clown. At least Jon Stewart knows he's clowning...

I think the quote is fine, even out of context. There are few elected officials or public figures (aside from John and Ken) willing to say "illegal alien" much less establish what that means in plain and simple english. It's blatant common sense against the weird Orwellian double-speak that turns illegal aliens into "undocumented workers" who need tuition assistance and emergency room care.

Also, the President said "Those who enter the country illegally (pause) violate the law" not "Those who enter the country, illegally violate the law" as I heard some who read Slate say.
12.7.2005 3:33am
Phil (mail):
I have always been fascinated by phrases like "undocumented worker" because of the apparent willingness to to ignore the fact that documentation is frequently (at least in the modern world) a key distinction between permissible conduct and crime. I do not think that normal speakers of English refer to drug dealers as "undocumented pharmacists", vigilantes as "undocumented police", or murderers as "undocumented executioners". Even those who think that, e.g., the war on drugs is a bad idea and de-criminalization would be good policy seldom adopt language designed to confuse the issues.
I am, therefore, mostly with jackp and DK. Sometimes a president can get credit simply for reminding us that 2+2=4, even if it is hard to imagine why anyone would even attempt to hint otherwise.
I do not expect Bush to succeed, but if he makes anything more than a laughable dent in illegal immigration I will become at least a minimal fan.
12.7.2005 4:40am
Fern R (mail):

Is there a way to legally violate the law?

Yes: purposefully violate an unconstitutional law in a nonviolent manner and then sue and win. ;-)
12.7.2005 5:50am
Brett Bellmore (mail):

I do not expect Bush to succeed, but if he makes anything more than a laughable dent in illegal immigration I will become at least a minimal fan.


I don't expect Bush to try. Like regrettably many politicians, he feels compelled to make the right noises, but is careful to make sure his deeds don't match his words in this area.

We know enormous numbers of people are crossing our southern border illegally. Has Bush, who doesn't hesitate to spend money, ever suggested doing anything that would abate this? Not to my knowlege. Aside from smearing volunteer border watchers, the security of the border seems of no interest to him.
12.7.2005 6:31am
Public_Defender:
Even some conservatives over at National Review have been dismayed by Bush's inability to explain his policies clearly unless he has a script. It does make you question his intelligence.

That said, Slate needs to drop the "of the day" part of the feature. They don't have enough material for a daily feature. Instead, they should just publish periodic "Bushisms."

"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law" is a coherent statement. As the professor pointed out, the redundancy makes a perfectly valid point in a very straight-forward way. The statement is simple, not simplistic.

Of course, that means that the line was almost certainly written by someone on Bush's staff.
12.7.2005 8:40am
DK:
Several people here have question whether "We should enforce the immigration laws" is an idea that serious people can debate.

IMHO it's clear that serious people can and do debate this proposition, much more so than "We should enforce the drug laws." Especially because we are _not_ currently enforcing the immigration laws effectively. Most economists, many city governments, several national politicians, some libertarians, and many ethnic activists are on the record as opposing effective enforcement.
12.7.2005 9:01am
dk35 (mail):
Hi Prof. Volokh,

I am posting this comment here because I don't know where else to put it.

Is there a reason several of David Bernstein's more recent posts do not allow for comments?
12.7.2005 9:32am
roy solomon (mail):
Phil, I love this,
I do not think that normal speakers of English refer to drug dealers as "undocumented pharmacists"


Okay if I "repurpose" it?
12.7.2005 9:32am
Phil (mail):
roy solomon
Use it as you will.
12.7.2005 10:07am
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Eugene, I think you're right that it doesn't seem as silly surrounded by the context. But perhaps in that wise the context is misleading. The proposition is vacuous, after all, so if the surrounding language falsely lends it an air of substance then stripping that language away might be salutary clarification. (An analogy might be the fact that statements modified by an empty "because" clause seem like explanations even though they aren't; stripping away such language reveals the bare assertion without affecting the meaning of the sentence.)

On the other hand, and no bones about it, Slate should have linked to the more complete statement.
12.7.2005 11:37am
James of England:
Since several people seem to believe that Bush is lying when he says that he wants to be welcoming (and that I'm making it up when I say he wants guestworkers), and others think he's lying when he says he wants to enforce the law, here's wikipedia on the subject, with a CNN link. An elementary google search should tell you the same thing. A position that he's not willing to "do enough" can make sense, but if you think he's bluffing when he promotes this stuff to the degree that he's not trying to make any headway, you're a crazy, crazy paranoid.

Immigration
Bush proposed an immigration bill that would have greatly expanded the use of guest worker visas. His proposal would match employers with foreign workers for a period up to six years; however, workers would not be eligible for permanent residency ("green cards") or citizenship. The bill is opposed by some Democratic Senators, including Barbara Boxer and Edward M. Kennedy. His reasoning has also proved somewhat controversial, as quoting that immigrants would "fill jobs that Americans will not do" seems to imply that the jobs would be less profitable or safe than others.

Bush has also publicly stated he would like to tighten security at the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes speeding up the deportation process, building more jail cells to hold illegal immigrants, and installing more equipment and immigration officers at the border. He does agree with "increasing the number of annual green cards that can lead to citizenship" but does not support giving amnesty to those who are already in the country illegally, ceding that it would only serve as incentive for increased illegal immigration. [35]
12.7.2005 11:57am
JB:
"His reasoning has also proved somewhat controversial, as quoting that immigrants would "fill jobs that Americans will not do" seems to imply that the jobs would be less profitable or safe than others. "

Why is that controversial? That's the whole point of immigration of unskilled workers. You arrive, be poor, do the jobs no one else wants, and eventually send your kids to college after which they enter the mainstream. Worked for the Irish, Poles, Swedes, Chinese, Italians...why not the Mexicans?
12.7.2005 12:52pm
Nick (www):
I didn't read through all the comments, so forgive me if I'm repeating someone else... but it also looks like Slate misquoted Bush.

They capitolized Those, and didn't precede the quote with elipses, which they should do because the quote they chose was not a sentence which stood alone, it was part of a larger sentence.
12.7.2005 1:17pm
Luc (mail):
..."capitolized" ...

Nick's a future Bush speachwriter in the making!
12.8.2005 5:09am
Nick (www):
Yeah well... I was always terrible at spelling... and didn't have a spell check handy when whipping out my comments.
12.8.2005 12:53pm