Lying with Rhetoric

Here’s a post-election quote from a Rachel Maddow, a woman I know not from Eve, but with whom  I seem to agree on at least one point: Romney was an appalling and pathetic candidate for President. However, the truth that underlies our agreement does not forgive the very subtle, almost brilliant, lying contained in the following post election quote. Only someone who is both an accomplished rhetorician and a craven partisan liar could have constructed this statement:

Ohio really did go to President Obama last night. And he really did win. And he really was born in Hawaii. And he really is legitimately President of the United States. Again. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make up a fake unemployment rate last month. And the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy. And the polls were not skewed to oversample Democrats. And Nate Silver was not making up fake projections about the election to make conservatives feel bad. Nate Silver was doing math. And climate change is real. And rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes. And evolution is a thing! And Benghazi was an attack ON us, it was not a scandal BY us. And nobody is taking away anyone’s guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually. And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. And the moon landing was real. And FEMA is not building concentration camps. And UN election observers are not taking over Texas. And moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry in this country are not the same thing as Communism.

The particular rhetorical trick here is to create a list of things that, by the very nature of being in the same list, are asserted  to be alike, to all go together. This construction attempts to assign to each item in the list whatever characteristics are most exhibited by most, and especially the first, items in the list – in this case, imagine a big circle containing all these items labeled TRVTH.

The beliefs dismissed by the  earliest items, and most items, are things that might be best classified as along a Wishful Thinking/Delusional axis. The rhetorical trick is to stick in a few things that reasonable people could actually consider, preferably using words designed to portray that consideration as delusional – thereby saving much time that might otherwise be spent in contemplation of one’s own positions or – heaven forbid – reasonable assessment of opposed positions. In other words, for example, the rhetorical trick is to paint any questions about what happened in Benghazi as being the equivalent of doubting the moon landing. This is designed precisely to end discussion (within the tribe) about what actually happened by presumptively dismissing any questioner as a quack.

This is not playing nice. This is not playing fair. This is, in fact, simply a relatively sophisticated way lying. And Maddow is easily smart enough to know it.

For, of course, in the real world, each pare of assertions from the list cannot be represented truthfully in one circle – each would have its own Venn diagrams. Some could represent beliefs of voters – how much, for example, do Birthers overlap with people who observe that the deficit is still growing out of control? Some might focus on merely Romney voters – how many Romney voters believe Obama’s a Kenyan? And so on – how many people who question the moon landing also dispute that Obama’s craven pandering to Wall Street can  be reasonably described as ‘moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry’?

Imagined as a messy set of Venn diagrams, rather than a tidy list, makes it clear that any unity between these ideas is merely in Ms. Maddow’s head. Other than the big lie of putting all these things in one list, there’s the other trick of simply describing issues in a shorthand meant to trigger a Pavlovian agreement in the target audience without running the risk of triggering any actual thought:

“Evolution is a thing” – sure is!

“Global warming is real” – yep, at least since the last ice age. It’s the ’caused by man and requiring immediate massive government intervention’ part that’s mostly in dispute.

“And taxes have not gone up.” – yep, as measured in immediate dollars taken from paychecks terms. However, measured in assumed liability terms – deficits are just borrowing based on the government’s ability to tax us –  they have skyrocketed and merely been deferred to our grand kids.  Or, more accurately, deferred until we face the music and default.

“And the deficit is dropping, actually” – um, no. The *annual* deficit is smaller, but the *total* deficit is still growing unimaginably, and shows every sign of continuing to grow until we finally max our credit and go into a Wiemar-style financial melt-down. But kudos for finding comfort in us *only* going another trillion or so in debt over the next year or two, rather than 2 or 3 trillion like before.

I gather Ms. Maddow is a star of the left. I get the same reaction to her (based on this small sample) as I got to both presidential candidates: this is the best we can do? We are so doomed.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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