"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."


Glenn Reynolds:

Barack Obama:
"Impossible to transcend."

Albert A. Gore, Jr.:
"An incontinent brute."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright:
"God damn the Gentleman Farmer."

Friends of GF's Sons:
"Is that really your dad?"

Kickball Girl:
"Keeping 'em alive until 7:45."

Hired Hand:
"I think . . . we forgot the pheasant."

I'm an
Alcoholic Yeti
in the
TTLB Ecosystem

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Mask Slips

Back when I was a young attorney, I was taught that it is always a mistake to use adjectives instead of explanations. That is, to say that the other side's arguments are "absurd" or "ridiculous" is counter-productive for two reasons. First, it doesn't add anything. It does nothing to help the judge decide the case. Second, and more important, it suggests that you can't explain why the other side is wrong in a way that the judge can understand. In short, you don't have anything substantive to say, or you're suggesting the decision-maker is too stupid to understand what you have to say.

I've been reminded of this as I read that "Tea Party" (whatever that means) members of Congress were no better than terrorists, or that they held America hostage, or that they constituted the Hezbollah wing of the Republican Party. These aren't arguments, and they suggest that the speaker either has nothing substantive to say, or thinks his audience is too stupid to understand.

I had not considered that there is a rhetorical step beyond the "that's stupid" non-argument. But apparently there is. It's the "that's so stupid the other side shouldn't be allowed to say it in the first place" view. If there is an argument to which you know you have no effective response, what could be better than to rig the system so that that argument can't be made in the first place? That way, you're relieved of responding, and don't run the risk that your unpersuasive non-argument will reveal that you don't actually have anything to say.

Enter the senior senator from Massachusetts, the Honorable John Forbes Kerry, who has clearly just about had it with people making arguments to which he has no coherent, understandable effective response:

Personally, I think persons who don't know the meaning of the word "literally" should be prohibited from using it.


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