Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Don't Look At Me In That Tone Of Voice

Wikipedia is a dangerous thing for me; it works far too much like my brain does. Occasionally the temptation is too great and I am lost to the world. Sometimes, however, that journey dredges up a priceless nugget of information, as it did today.

Francine Busby is the Democratic candidate for the California 50th Congressional District. She was also the Democratic candidate in a special election held in June to replace Duke Cunningham, a six-term Republican who had resigned after pleading guilty to bribery and fraud charges.

Busby was favourite to win until, five days before the election, she spoke at a senior citizens centre and was recorded as saying, "
Everybody can help, yeah, absolutely, you can all help. You don't need papers for voting, you don't need to be a registered voter to help."

I've always been a firm believer in the importance of semantics, but here the problem is even more subtle. The Republican candidate won by claiming that Mrs Busby had encouraged illegal immigrants to vote; for that to be the case, the stress in the phrasing has to be on "papers". If, however, the stress fell on "voting", the meaning of the comma changes and it is just a note that non-voters can still help with the campaign. Semantics are one thing, but losing an election campaign on the interpretation of the stress in your phrasing is quite another.

Semantic battles or otherwise, this is an intriguing race for Liberal Democrats as it represents so much of what we believe, both at home and abroad. Brian Bilbray, the victorious Republican candidate, is a former lobbyist who has represented in both roles organisations that favour draconian immigration controls. Mrs Busby runs a shelter for homeless pregnant women,
is a school board member in the delightfully-named Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and is supported by EMILY's List and Democracy For America.

It's easy to loose faith in America, but races like these are going on across the country and we're not going to hear about them until polling day. Francine Busby and her colleagues can be sure that she has the support of Liberal Democrats across Britain in the fight for the soul of America.

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