A Proof Is a Proof

This is a public apology.

For a long time, I thought former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was comically bad at English. My knowledge of Canadian politics was derived from satire shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Royal Canadian Air Farce, and they had a habit of airing Chrétien blooper clips like this one from 2003:

Back in the day, my family laughed and said, “Ha! ‘A proof is a proof.’ Now there’s a real intellectual.” The Air Farce hosts inserted it into montages of Chrétien making funny faces and stammering.

But today I watched it again, and I was surprised. Maybe it’s the extraordinary distance between my memories of Chrétien and the present, or maybe it’s the lack of mocking Air Farce context. But looking back, that video actually makes sense.

The explanation is clear just from the visuals, from Chrétien’s face and words. Some dumb reporter had almost certainly just asked, “What kind of proof do you want that Saddam has WMDs?” (Yes, the answer is about the Iraq War.) Chrétien’s reply is actually borne not from being a dummy but from thinking the reporter is a dummy. He’s not exhibiting a fourth-grade intelligence. He’s trying to explain that asking “what kind of proof” would be necessary to invade Iraq is stupid. The answer is “any” kind of proof, because of the very definition of the word proof.

Given the fact that there was, in fact, no proof that Saddam had WMDs, Chrétien’s answer seems weirdly wise. “If it’s a good proof, that’s because it’s proven.” If only Colin Powell had presented “a good proof” to the United Nations.

I should note that I have no, ahem, proof, that this is the real explanation for Chrétien’s remark. I don’t know if a reporter had just asked him a question, or what that question was; it’s only a guess. But I think it’s a good guess. In the meantime, watch the video again. This time, don’t laugh. Watch the irritation on his face; listen to the way that, if “What kind of proof?” is an echo of the question, the sentences actually logically follow.

I’m sorry, Jean Chrétien. I’ve spent years thinking you were a nincompoop and quoting this clip as an example of your inanity. But now, I think, it’s possible that you were right all along. I can’t be certain, but one single viewing of the video has resolved the question for me. You were speaking both intelligibly and intelligently. It’s settled. A proof is a proof.


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