It’s all over the news so I probably don’t have to fill you in on the details but a candidate for U.S. Senate from my great state of Missouri made some controversial comments. I’m not going to spend time analyzing the statement itself but I do want to address the follow-up remarks. I want to examine the difference between misspeaking, forgetting a fact, lying, breaking a promise, misunderstanding, and saying what you meant to say. I think it’s a hugely important distinction that speaks directly to the character of the person making the explanation.
First the story. Representative Akin said that doctors have told him that women who are raped rarely become pregnant because their bodies naturally have “ways” of preventing the pregnancy. It’s all on video so you can judge yourself.
Now, the possibilities are that he misspoke, that he forgot some facts, that he lied, that he failed to keep a promise, that he misunderstood something said by someone else, or that he actually meant exactly what he said. Representative Akin now claims that he misspoke.
When someone says something incorrectly, uses improper grammar, inserts the wrong word where they meant another, switches word order, these are examples of misspeaking. Some examples:
- President Obama visited 57 states when he meant 57 states and territories. He clearly does not think we have 57 states. He misspoke.
- President George W. Bush said “I’ve been in the Bible every day since I’ve been the president.” He meant that he read the Bible everyday. He misspoke.
Forget Facts or Lie
It’s easy to forget that something happened and when presented with such evidence suddenly remember. It can be difficult to differentiate between someone who claims to have forgotten and someone who lied. Some examples:
- Congressman Paul Ryan repeatedly said he never asked for stimulus money up until the day he was presented with letters he wrote asking for stimulus money. He is either a liar or legitimately forget he (or an assistant) wrote said letters.
- President Reagan could not recall authorizing Oliver North to trade shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to Iran in order to obtain money to fund the Contra revolution in Nicaragua.
It’s possible for someone to tell you something but you either heard incorrectly or misunderstood the point they were trying to make. An example:
- I wrote earlier how many people think a woman raped in Islamic culture must provide four witnesses to the event but actually reading the wording of the Quran shows that the accusers must provide the four witnesses or he is deemed to have lied. I think most people just misread this passage.
A failed promise is when you promise to do something, give it a realistic try, but fail.
- President Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison and failed. It can be argued that he didn’t try hard enough but he certainly tried.
- An athlete who promises a sick child a particular sporting feat but is unable to accomplish the deed.
This is when a person says exactly what they meant to say.
It is particularly pertinent in this case because Congressman Akin did not misspeak. It is possible he lied or misunderstood when he claimed doctors told him that women have ways of terminating a pregnancy resulting from rape but his basic premise is exactly as he expressed it. He believes that women should not have abortions even if raped. He believes, wrongly, that women generally spontaneously miscarry from pregnancy caused by rape.
This is my problem. He now claims he misspoke. He didn’t. He said exactly what he meant to say. He was clear. However much I disagree with him, I would have actually respected it if he came out and affirmed his original position. He might have said I was misinformed about the spontaneous miscarriage but that doesn’t change my position. But, the one thing he didn’t do was misspeak. So, when he claims he misspoke he moves directly into the realm of lying.
Here is my advice. When you say something that is unpopular, that is wrong, that is a lie, admit it. Oops, I misunderstood some facts and reported them incorrectly. I meant to say this. I forgot about that incident. In my enthusiasm to get elected I said something that was false and I knew it even as I was saying it. I’m sorry.
For you Representative Akin, as a proud resident of the great state of Missouri, I say this: No vote for you.
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