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"Hey, Norm!"

One of the best ways to win a debate is to be the one who defines the terms. I dated a woman who was a master of this; she won a lot of arguments before I realized that she was redefining her position and the terms of the argument halfway through. And when I finally caught on and called her on it, her response was pretty much "what took you so long to catch on, dummy?" No shame, no guilt, nothing but a bit of annoyance that the tactic she'd used so successfully for so long was no longer useful.

Well, that's not entirely true. She did pull it off successfully a few more times before I learned to watch carefully for it.

I see that same sort of thing going on quite a bit in politics.

One good example is the call among Democrats to "repeal the Bush tax cuts." The underlying presumption is that the prior taxation level was the "norm," and the tax cuts were the aberration. The thought that Bush's tax cuts re-established the baseline of taxation, and what they want to do is actually raise taxes, is completely foreign to them -- and doesn't get mentioned much.

Another one is in the argument over global warming. The push against it seems to be based on the notion that there is a set point of balance, a "norm," where the Earth's climate is ideal. According to them, this is the "natural" temperature of the Earth, and we risk catastrophes unimaginable if we allow our industrial development to tilt that balance.

(Of course, during the 70s, the very same factors were threatening to bring about "global cooling," and much of the same evidence was cited, but it's considered impolite to bring this up today.)

This is, to be blunt, hogwash. If anything, the history of the Earth is one of change. The Earth was much hotter in the time of the dinosaurs, and much cooler during the several Ice Ages. Indeed, I have often read the theory that we are currently between two Ice Ages.

You want a great example? Look at the word "tolerance." It used to mean "put up with." You don't have to like someone or something, but you accepted it and didn't put up too much of a fuss. Now, if you express the slightest measure of disapproval, you're labeled as "intolerant" and "hateful" and "bigoted."

And then there's the federal budget. Too often we've heard a "budget cut" defined as "not increased by as much as initially requested." Someone proposes a fifteen-million-dollar increase in the Left-Handed Widget Safety Board. Someone else proposes a ten-million-dollar hike. This is described as a "five-million-dollar cut in the Left-Handed Widget Safety Board's budget."

The lesson is simple. When you control the terms of the debate, the definitions of the words used, you are almost guaranteed to win the argument. The only way to beat this is to refuse to play -- don't cede the ground rules.


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Comments (11)

For the unskilled or people... (Below threshold)

For the unskilled or people new in the political arena, this post will be very helpful. Another term I use is "moving the goalposts" or trying to hit a moving target. The terms are only used when an argument cannot be sustained on its' merits. Sometimes republicans use this trick, most of the time the democrats do. I lose respect for a politician that uses this trick and for the person or persons falling for it. ww

"I see that same sort of th... (Below threshold)

"I see that same sort of thing going on quite a bit in politics."

Apparently you only 'see' progressive forays into dissembling. The Masters of the Art seem to be absent your discussion. Can Nosferatu tolerate mirrors in the Republican Castle?

Semanticleo,Could yo... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Could you be a bit more vague, please?

Such control of the languag... (Below threshold)

Such control of the language was a major theme of '1984'. Of course, nothing like that could ever happen.

Just ask any Soviet 'un-person'.

Woody: What's going on, Mr... (Below threshold)

Woody: What's going on, Mr. Peterson?
Norm: The question is, "What's going in Mr. Peterson?" A beer please, Woody.

Just one of many classic lines.

Oh, those dastardly <a href... (Below threshold)

Oh, those dastardly "budget cuts" we conservatives are constantly proposing! What a mean bunch we are.

some more examples: using t... (Below threshold)

some more examples: using the term 'pro-choice' instead of 'baby killer' to define those in favor of killing babies, labeling as 'anti-American' those who oppose Bush's ridiculous adventures, Bush critics claiming those criticizing them are 'questioning their patriotism', leaving 'illegal' out of immigration discussions to portray opponents of Bush's amnesty plan as being xenophobic, labeling as 'anti-children' those not wanting to issue blank checks to the NEA and racist anyone not in favor of quotas, and my favorite, referring to liberals as children not ready for prime time responsibilities (that they are such is besides the point).

Great post, Joel. But this ... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

Great post, Joel. But this one is a classic:

Sam: "How's going it, Norm?"

Norm: "It's a dog eat dog world, Sammy, and I'm wearin' Milk Bone underwear."

As for your post, Jay Tea, I can see why the word "dated" is in the past tense. Very annoying indeed. ;-)

Another variation of the sa... (Below threshold)

Another variation of the same tactic is "full funding." For example, Democrats accuse the President of "failing to fully fund NCLB."

The truth is that for programs to be run over several fiscal years, the Congress sets a maximum limit on what can be spent. This is called the "budget authorization" and was never intended to be the actual amount of funding - only the maximum "authorized" by the legislation, which cannot be exceeded without another bill passing. The specific amount spent each year is the "appropriation."

Congress has been doing things this way for many years, and it was never considered amiss that programs weren't funded up to the maximum amount authorized. Until, of course, the lying leftist propagandists decided they could use this against Bush, and as another excuse for the utter failure federal education programs.

Serves him right in one respect, though: when you lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

(Of course, during the 7... (Below threshold)

(Of course, during the 70s, the very same factors were threatening to bring about "global cooling," and much of the same evidence was cited, but it's considered impolite to bring this up today.)

That nonsense started in 1896, not the 1970s.

Next Step: read Stop Walki... (Below threshold)

Next Step: read Stop Walking on Eggshells and apply it to dealing with radical liberal thought.






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