Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy is disturbed by the rhetoric of the following statement by President Bush yesterday morning:
Those determined to find fault with this [immigration] bill will always be able to look at a narrow slice of it and find something they don't like. If you want to kill the bill, if you don't want to do what's right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it, you can use it to frighten people.The complaint seems to be that the president is treating those who disagree with him on this bill don't want to do what's right for America. I think the complaint relies on an ambiguity in the expression. Absent any context, principles of charity, or assumptions about what someone might mean, you can take the expression in either of the following two ways:
A. This bill is right for America, and if you want to kill it then you don't want to do this thing that's right for America.
B. This bill is right for America, and anyone who wants to kill it must agree that it's right for America and therefore must have a desire to harm America or at least to resist anything that's right for America.
Now I acknowledge that someone could use the language the president used to mean the second thing. However, I find it extremely unlikely that that's what he meant. In context, he was discussing a particular bill and arguing that the bill itself is right for America. The very fact that he was arguing with those who disagree with him on the particular bill, and that he was making an appeal to doing it because it's right for America, means he does think those who disagree with him on the bill want to do what's right for America. So taking him as if he thinks the opposite is at odds with the context of his speech. He wasn't speaking to a closed-room, partisan audience in order to smear his political opponents. He was trying to persuade people who disagree with him.
It therefore makes much more sense to interpret the president as fitting within his rhetorical situation rather than opposing it. It's always best to take someone in the most charitable way possible given all your information, and it's more charitable in terms of intellectual coherence to take him as saying A. It's also more charitable in moral terms, since it would be immoral to intend B by the sentence he uttered.
But there's no reason to think he did, and intending A is perfectly fine. So I'm at a loss to understand why there's supposed to be any problem with what he said (aside from whether it actually is best for America, but that's something he's in the process of trying to argue for, and mentioning that he thinks it's best for America is perfectly legitimate in that context).
Update: Even Peggy Noonan has joined the insanity. I'd never have predicted her to be the sort who would read this president's words in as uncharitable a light as possible. She sometimes disagrees with him, but she's not usually willing to engage in this kind of libel.