March 30, 2008

Hoping to be haunted by legitimacy

According to Perry Bacon Jr. and Anne E. Kornblut, "Clinton Vows To Stay in Race To Convention", Washington Post, 3/30/2008:

"We cannot go forward until Florida and Michigan are taken care of, otherwise the eventual nominee will not have the legitimacy that I think will haunt us," said the senator from New York.

I hate to go all Kilpatrick on this, but wouldn't it be a lack of legitimacy, or perhaps a failure to achieve legitimacy, that would haunt them? As quoted, the sentence seems to me to indicate that Senator Clinton hopes to be haunted by legitimacy, and for that reason plans to stay in the race until the nominating convention in August.

For comparison, here are a few other sentences exhibiting the pattern "... will not have the X that will Y <someone>", as found on the web. In all cases, it's the X that will do the Y-ing, not the failure to have the X.

The upside is they will not have the sort of firepower that will cause the US military a lot of problems ...
The absinthe you get in the US will not have the wormwood in it that will get you "high".
... you will not always have the answers to situations that will confront you in your career/life

... people will not have had the insurance that will allow them to recover.

Josh Marshall calls this interview "pretty astonishing" ("Clinton: All The Way to Denver", TPM, 3/30/2008), although it's the politics rather than the syntax that surprises him. However, he does note an interesting point of usage:

The key quote from the interview is this one: "I know there are some people who want to shut this down and I think they are wrong. I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan. And if we don't resolve it, we'll resolve it at the convention -- that's what credentials committees are for."

So she's promising to remain in the race at least until June 3rd when the final contests are held in Montana and South Dakota and until Florida and Michigan are 'resolved'. Now, that can have no other meaning than resolved on terms the Clinton campaign finds acceptable. It can't mean anything else since, of course, at least officially, for the Democratic National Committee, it is resolved. The penalty was the resolution.

As we've often noted in defense of others, speaking extemporaneously in public is a hard thing to do, and occasional awkwardnesses, infelicities and downright flubs are to be expected. On the other hand, Senator Clinton's quotes in this case were apparently from remarks prepared in advance, on a topic central to her campaign. According to the WaPo article,

The Clinton campaign requested the interview Saturday to talk about how she could win and to emphasize her focus on Michigan and Florida.

So let me note that if linguistic awkardness were part of the journalistic meta-narrative about Hillary Clinton, and someone were keeping score the way Slate's Jacob Weisberg has been toting up Bushisms, this interview would certainly go into the file of Hillarities.

In fact, I've always had the impression that Senator Clinton is a skillful and well controlled speaker. Could this series of rather awkward statements be a sign of an unusual level of stress?

[Andre Mayer wondered:

Or did she say:

"We cannot go forward until Florida and Michigan are taken care of, otherwise the eventual nominee will not have the legitimacy -- that I think will haunt us," said the senator from New York."

I wondered about that myself, and looked for a video or audio clip of the interview to check, but couldn't find any. That construal would still be pretty awkward for a prepared statement, though, unless the Post's reporters mangled the quote more thoroughly than just by ignoring a clause boundary.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at March 30, 2008 07:05 AM