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In America, politics is often thought to be more based on personalities than policies and party unity. This was probably more true in the 2000 campaign when the Republican Party played on Al Gore’s surname, tagging him ‘Al Bore’. Likewise, the Democrats retaliated by digging up political dirt on George W. Bush’s past business life playing on the fact of whether a man with Bush’s alleged background in business and earlier lifestyle problems could make a trusted national leader.

41 Which word best describes the Republican Party’s characterisation of Al Gore in the 2000 election campaign? (a) Threat (b) Untruth (c) Compliment (d) Caricature (e) Likeness

(a) INCORRECT. The nature of the description, and the way in which it was used, does not appear threatening.
(b) INCORRECT. The implication is that the image portrayed was an exaggeration, not a complete untruth.
(d) CORRECT. A caricature is a depiction of someone that makes part of their character or appearance more noticeable than it really is, usually to make them look silly.
(e) INCORRECT. Whilst there may be elements of truth in the caricature, the description in itself is very limited and cannot be said to provide a good overall likeness.

I accept (d) as a possible answer, but why are (a) and (b) wrong?
(a): If I call someone boring, then I'm threatening his image?
(b): How does the passage alone confirm this as an exaggeration, and not an untruth?

Source: p 125, Mastering the National Admissions Test for Law, Mark Shepherd

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The characterisation was not a threat. The characterisation was not aimed at Gore, but at his potential voters. To them, the implied image that Al Gore was a bore can hardly be taken as a serious threat (although, sure, some people will find the idea of their president boring them is horrific enough to take it as a threat.)

Something that could be seen as a threatening characterisation would be the insistence by his opponents that Obama was supposedly a Muslim, creating fear in people that they might elect an implied terrorist as president. (Please note that I do not promote, nor condone, the explicit nor the implicit allegations and connotations of that line of campaigning.)

As for the untruth, you could only possibly qualify it as an untruth if you would have evidence (preferably from the passage) about whether or not Al Gore was actually boring or not. Since you have no such information, you cannot qualify the characterisation as truth or untruth. The question is not whether untruth can possibly be a correct description of the characterization, but whether you can decide that it describes the characterisation best.

As for untruth being a good description of a characterisation, the earlier Obama reference could hold for that as well.

All in all, the main reason for this (childish) wordplay on the guy's name was not to create a threatening image of him, or tell an outright lie about him. The main reason was to associate his name, and this the person, with a non-pleasant characteristic. This is very typically the scope of the caricature. It has sometimes worked very effectively in changing people's perception of (historic) characters. The depiction of Napoleon as an exceptionally short man was so powerful that many believe it to be historical fact today.

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  • I'd quibble that "describing someone as threatening" and "threatening someone" are two very different things. If I said, "I think Mr Jones is a crazed killer", I am describing him as threatening. But I am not threatening him in any way. – Jay Sep 8 '14 at 15:33
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    BTW The British writer G. K. Chesterton once wrote that when he did some door-to-door campaigning he was given a list of rules, which he proceeded to make fun of. One of the rules was that you cannot "threaten the person with any consequences of his vote". He said that he presumed they meant that you couldn't say you were going to beat him up if he didn't vote for your party or something of that sort. But, he went on, if this statement was taken literally, it would destroy the whole idea of campaigning. What campaigns are all about is convincing voters that if the wrong candidate wins, the ... – Jay Sep 8 '14 at 15:35
  • ... economy will be ruined, the nation's moral fiber will be destroyed, and the barbarians will invade. – Jay Sep 8 '14 at 15:36
  • @Jay - I interpreted the answer "threat" to mean that the victim was described as a threat. I fail to see how characterising someone could possible constitute a threat to that person (other than indirectly... I can jeopardize someone's safety by characterizing him as a murderous raping paedophile, so that could be threatening). In the context of election propaganda, I think that describing someone as threatening is more common (and likely to raise less concerns - I think that even in US elections, openly trying to get your opponent killed would be frowned upon.) – oerkelens Sep 8 '14 at 16:58
  • G.K. Chesterton's interpretation is interesting... there are those who believe the original goal of a campaign is nothing like that, but rather about convincing people that electing the right candidate will transform the nation into an instant paradise on earth. I have actually witnessed some campaigns that were based on that idea, though I admit they seem to be a thing of the past. Well, the absence of said paradises must have played a part in that. – oerkelens Sep 8 '14 at 17:01
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Can't say I ever heard Al Gore called "Al Bore", but I suppose for the point of the article it's only necessary that someone said this once. Anyway ...

A "threat" is a statement that you intend to harm a person, usually with some condition attached. Like if you say, "Unless you give me your wallet, I will kill you", that's a threat. You do not have to be talking about physical violence for something to be a threat, nor does the harm have to be illegal or unjustified. If you said, "I will tell your wife that you are having an affair" or "If you do not pay this bill within 30 days, we will put a negative report on your credit history", those would also be threats.

Calling someone boring is not a threat. You are not saying that you will do him any harm and you are not demanding anything from him. Arguably, if you said, "Unless you do X I will tell everyone that you are boring", that could be a threat. A pretty mild threat, but a threat.

You could say that calling a politician boring "threatens his chance of winning the election" or "threatens his public image", but saying that a characterization "threatens" someone's character or goals in this sense is not the same as saying that the statement is a threat. You're mixing two different definitions of the word. If my doctor tells a patient, "If you don't quit smoking, you could get lung cancer", he is warning him of a danger, but that does not make the doctors words a threat. "Threat" implies a sinister or selfish intent, not just a warning.

Whether a statement like "Mr Gore is boring" is an "untruth" is a matter of opinion. There is no objective, scientific definition of "boring" that we could apply. In practice, most people who heard him speak agreed that he was at least somewhat boring, so it would be tough to argue that this statement was a blatant lie.

One could debate whether "caricature" is an appropriate description. When we say that something is a caricature, we generally mean that it is a portrayal of a person (or organization or some other thing) that is so wildly exaggerated or distorted as to be inaccurate. If someone simply said, "Mr Gore is boring", that is not of itself a caricature. If they harped on this idea to the exclusion of anything else that could be said about the man, that might be a caricature. That is, you would have to be trying to create the impression that the only relevant fact about Mr Gore is that he is boring. It's like, if I say, "This car has comfortable seats", that's not, of itself, a caricature. It might be a completely accurate description.

"Likeness" is inappropriate for any one-sentence description of a person -- unless, I suppose, that one sentence really is all that could possibly be said about him. If I said, "Albert Einstein was a brilliant scientist", that statement might be completely true and the most important thing about him, but I still wouldn't call it a "likeness", as it is too one-dimensional.

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  • Intent to harm with a condition attached is one kind of threat. However, in general, a threat does not necessarily have intent to harm. For example, Climate change is a threat to our survival. – 200_success Sep 8 '14 at 17:26
  • @200_success Yes, that was the point of my paragraph about "threatens his chance of winning the election", etc. But the question asked if the "characterization" of Al Gore as boring was a "threat". The answer is no. Al Gore being boring might be a threat (to his political future), but a statement saying he is boring is not a threat. These are two different definitions of the word "threat", and they are used differently. – Jay Sep 8 '14 at 19:27
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Answers (a) and (b) aren't entirely wrong. It's just that the question asks for the best word, and caricature is the closest fit. It's definitely a caricature. It may or may not be a threat to Al Gore's image, depending on whether the public was swayed by the Republicans' tactic. Al Gore's reputation for stiffness was not entirely untrue either.

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    In the context of an American law exam (a) and (b) are things you could potentially be successfully sued for, and (c) is not. Even as a dumb Brit, I get the subtext 'is this Constitutionally protected speech?'. – richardb Sep 8 '14 at 17:12

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