17 January 2013

Can someone "decide not to decide" ?

My question is prompted by a story in the paper about a nationally-prominent politician (I'll omit his name because I'm questioning his language, not his politics).
"I've decided not to decide," ** told the State Journal on Wednesday when asked about a possible presidential run. For now, ** said he and his family are enjoying settling back down in his hometown.

"I have learned that whatever you do you are going to get criticized, so you should do what you think is right," ** said.
There's one type of situation where I think the phrase could be used - when one is offered choices and declines all of them, as for example when you are told "Decide which of my daughters you're going to marry" or "Decide which cheesecake dessert you'll have" - and you "decide not to decide" (on either or any of the choices) and walk away.

But when the choice is binary (run for president/don't run for president), then I think the phrase is a tautology.  You are not deciding.

 Oh, I understand why he and others do this.  If a politician says "I haven't decided," then he/she believes that will be interpreted as indecisiveness and lack of conviction.  But if they phrase it as "I have decided not to decide," they feel they will be perceived as a decision-making potential leader of the people.

To me this is emblematic of the b*llsh*t of politics, and I'm just thoroughly tired of it.


  1. If you say you are going to omit a name... you might want to remove it from the end of the quote.

  2. I think you can decide not to decide /right now/, as in, "Well, the next Presidential election is still too far away for this to be the right time to make a definitive decision, and a lot of things will change in the next two to three years, so we'll see how the landscape looks in a couple of years and make a choice then."

  3. I don't think this is a tautology at all, nor is it nonsensical. Every time someone flips a coin to make a decision, aren't they deciding not to decide the outcome? Or every time someone decides to sleep on a decision? Or wait for more information to come into focus? Or if your boss tells you to make 15 distinct decisions, and one of them seems very unimportant to you so you decide to put it on the back burner before giving it your attention. Or maybe you want to see how your party develops in the next few years to determine just how much you'll have to debase yourself to make a run at it.

  4. I think context is needed. If you are Paul Ryan, you may have to figure out how you can re-establish your brand before deciding if you are a contender. It's probably not certain if he's done too much damage to his former image or not and if he is able to separate from the link to Romney. Once you lose a presidential election, often the media tries to make you into a buffoon.

    1. Alan in Little RockJanuary 17, 2013 at 8:35 PM

      Well we all know that. That part is obvious. The question that was asked was why can't he just come out and say I'll decide later. No shame in that.

  5. I think it's a perfectly fine thing to say. I interpret it as: I definitely don't want to lean one way or the other at this point
    I don't want to put energy toward that right now, or I'm not ready to tackle that question.

    On the other hand, if you say "I haven't decided," this could be read as I am still actively weighing the pros and cons and thinking and trying to figure out the best answer but haven't gotten there yet, so there is still more work to be done.

    It's like the advice I gave to my friend who was tired of everyone asking when was she and her fiance were going to get married: smile and say, "we are planning to enjoy a LONG engagement."

  6. It may be obvious, but a wise man once said:

    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

  7. To me, "I haven't decided" clearly means that (1) I haven't decided (!) and (2) I'm still mulling over the issue and trying to decide. "I've decided not to decide" on the other hand, feels like a declaration of (1) I haven't decided and (2) I'm finished mulling it over- I plan to remain undecided...

    To use a concrete example, someone could say, "I haven't decided where I stand on _________," (and am still processing all the data to try and reach a conclusion). Or they could say, "I've decided not to decide where I stand on __________," (and am overwhelmed with equally baffling choices, so I'm just going to stop thinking about it and not make a definitive statement).

  8. There should be a word 'cide' without the de- prefix to cover this, as in "This politician has finally cided to run for governor."

  9. As Rush (Canadian Rock Group) said in their song Free Will, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice".


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