Hillary Clinton, “White Americans” Comment, 3AM Ad, and Canons of Construction

Hillary Clinton has a law degree from Yale Law School and worked for many years as a corporate lawyer, representing major corporate clients such as Wal-Mart. Surely she is familar with the “canons of construction,” especially ejusdem generis. Yes, the canon of construction in which when a general term introduces a list, “the general term embraces only things that are similar to those specifically enumerated.”

In the opposite situation, where specific words follow general ones, ejusdem generis is also applied; again, the general term embraces only things that are similar to those specifically enumerated.”

So when she shockingly remarks, “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again” she should know what her statement is implying using common sense and the canons of construction (after all she and her husband are the types to argue over and parse what the “meaning of the word is” is). By ejusdem generis, her statement is read thus: “working, hard-working” are very general terms which can be applied to anyone in America, relative to the term “white Americans” which constitutes a specific racial class…thus by ejusdem generis “working” and “hard working” only apply to “white Americans,” with the implication that only white Americans work and are hard working. By omission…that leads us to another canon of construction Hillary is surely aware of: expressio unius est exclusio alterius.

Another maxim of statutory construction is expressio unius est exclusio alterius. Roughly translated, this phrase means that whatever is omitted is understood to be excluded.”

In the context of her competition for the Democratic presidential nomination versus Barack Obama and her specific use of the term “white Americans,” obviously missing from her statement about “working, hard-working Americans” is “black Americans.” That’s a clear subtext. If Obama’s support is not weakening among black Americans…and if black Americans are “working, hard-working Americans”…then overall is Obama’s support really waning among “working, hard-working Americans”? I.e., is Obama’s support among hard-working white Americans weakening enough to overpower his support among hard-working black Americans so that his net percentage of support among hard-working white and black Americans combined is weakening–what percentage point slip in support from hard-working whites would that require, and does Hillary Clinton have the exact statistics for us on that matter?

If she don’t have the statistics for us on that, then Hillary is flat out wrong-headed to preface her statement about Obama facing weaking support among white Americans by using the terms “working, hard-working Americans.” Without clear statistics, for her to preface “white Americans” with “working, hard-working Americans,” by common sense and by expressio unius est exclusio alterius she is excluding black Americans from the category of “working, hard-working Americans.” The omission her is obvious and entirely unnecessary to the point of being suspicious, potentially intentionally malicious, thinly veiled doublespeak or a quite revealing sort of verbal slipup.

Now, let’s be clear, this is not Hillary Clinton’s first egregious and questionable omission of blacks which is particularly susceptible to use of common sense and the canon of construction expressio unius est exclusio alterius: please recall the 3AM phone call ads. The commercial features shot after shot of the sweet children of America sleeping peacefully in their beds, and Hillary watching over them all ready to protect and advocate for them…oh, wait, it’s not all of the sweet children of America in the ad, its only the sweet white children of America.

A national ad about protecting America, the children America, in their comfortable suburban homes…and not one non-white face in the entire ad? Hmm, not one black American child or adult in sight in the entire commercial? This is like harkening back to Birth of a Nation days. ANYONE in advertising and PR and the media knows that to advertise a wholesome image of America that will appeal to the nation as a whole you need to project images of inclusion and diversity…ANYONE…watch any corporate ad these days, carefully constructed by Masters and PhDs in marketing, linguistics, psychology, ads from McDonalds, Ford, Honda, Target, etc…and OBVIOUSLY there will be a mix of whites, hispanics, African-Americans, projecting a harmonious, healthful, diverse image.

You’re telling me with all of the highly paid, highly educated PR and advertising and strategy and linguistics and psychology and economics advisors advising the Clinton campaign, no one thought about the effects of having a white-only cast in the 3AM phone call ad? Or is it more likely that they realized the semiotics and the undertones and liked what they saw, even if “only” to the extent that they were trying to leverage support from white voters and were willing to live with any subtly (or not so subtly) divisive and exclusionary subtexts in the ad?

With people as politically savvy and well educated as Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton and their campaign staff and advisors, it’s time for the people of America to learn about semiotics and the canons of construction to more ably interpret and parse what candidates and world leaders are really saying and trying to say, through grouping, omission, implication, what is left unsaid, what is hinted at, etc. Hillary, we know you know as a lawyer of the canons of construction including ejusdem generis and expressio unius est exclusio alterius ; would you like to comment on your convenient omissions and hidden implications in both your statement “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again” and also in the 3AM ad?

References:

Listen to Hillary’s statement here on YouTube: “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again”

from: Law Encyclopedia. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law. (bold emphasis added)

“Some of these canons of construction are expressed in well-known Latin phrases or maxims. Under ejusdem generis (of the same kind, class, or nature), when general words follow specific words in a statute where several items have been enumerated, the general words are construed to embrace only objects similar in nature to the objects enumerated by the preceding specific words of the statute. In the opposite situation, where specific words follow general ones, ejusdem generis is also applied; again, the general term embraces only things that are similar to those specifically enumerated.”

Another maxim of statutory construction is expressio unius est exclusio alterius. Roughly translated, this phrase means that whatever is omitted is understood to be excluded. ….”

Semiotics: excerpted from Wikipedia

Semiotics, semiotic studies, or semiology is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols, both individually and grouped into sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood.”

Update: see the post on Hillary Clinton’s new Robert Kennedy assassination comment

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One Response

  1. Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

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