“The President has put forward a proposal that will be reflected in his budget and the principles will be reflected in his budget. And that proposal, as you know, because you covered it, that he made to the Speaker of the House demonstrated his willingness to find common ground with the Republicans on both revenue and entitlement cuts, demonstrated his seriousness of purpose, demonstrated his belief that balance is essential in our pursuit of deficit reduction. And that offer has been on the table ever since he made it to the Speaker. And sadly, the Speaker has not taken it up. In fact, he declared he would never negotiate with the President again, which was a rather stark proclamation.”
—White House Press Secretary Jay Carney
Carney leaves out the adjective “personally,” which makes his statement personal.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made his statement about House Speaker John Boehner during a press briefing on March 12. Carney referenced Boehner’s preference for working through the regular order of the legislative process earlier in his remarks:
Well, as I was saying earlier, leaders of both parties in both houses have expressed interest in returning to regular order.
And in the context of that regular order of business:
And so we look forward to working with Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans and everyone on Capitol Hill, including House Republicans and House Democrats, in hopes of achieving a compromise that achieves — that has within it the balance that is essential.
In the broad context of his statement Carney acknowledges room for compromise with Speaker Boehner. In the immediate context he makes no such acknowledgment. Considering the broader context, it requires only minor charity take Carney’s statement about Boehner as something less than absolute. Still, the immediate context will carry its own meaning for many.
Analyzing the Rhetoric
To fully communicate Boehner’s position on negotiating with Mr. Obama, Carney should have said he declared he would never negotiate one-on-one with the president again. Carney’s imprecision encourages an exaggerated view of Boehner’s unwillingness to negotiate, particularly in the immediate context. Carney, after all, has just assured everyone of Mr. Obama’s good faith in the negotiations, proved by the existence of an offer that’s been on the table from the beginning. In a recent fact check we touched on the source of the only real movement in the negotiations: Republicans agreed to more revenue to help meet deficit reduction goals set by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Democrats have yet to stop pushing for a second Republican compromise on that issue.
Carney’s statement, on net, serves as a mild personal attack (ad hominem) on Speaker Boehner. Carney paints the president as the reasonable party in the negotiations and Boehner as the unreasonable party. The attack relies in turn on Carney’s ambiguous language, which creates a logical booby trap for the audience (encouraging a fallacy of ambiguity).
“[Boehner] declared he would never negotiate with the President again.”
“Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 3/12/2013.” The White House. The White House, 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.
Berman, Russell. “Boehner Tells GOP He’s through Negotiating One-on-one with Obama.” The Hill. Capitol Hill Publishing Corp., 2 Jan. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.
“UPDATE 1-U.S. Senate Democrats’ Budget Seeks $1.85 Trln in Savings-source.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.