Cry Wolf

Crying Wolf and Modern Politics:

Some of you may have missed Elise's comment on the post below re: the New York Post report that ObamaCare would require end-of-life counseling sessions. If I may be so bold as to summarize, she read through several comparable sections, and believes that instead the language intends to limit the number of such sessions that Medicare will pay for, i.e., not more than once every five years unless you are in hospice or other serious care.

We all know Elise for a careful thinker with close attention to detail, so I'm willing to assume that her reading of the bill is better than the Post's.

Today she has a post expanding on that comment, and elaborating a fear she has that the Right -- meaning the professional Right, I think, its think-tanks and journalists and advocates -- is intentionally making overly strong claims about the bill. She worries that the claims will undermine the Right's credibility, making it harder to convince people of the less-strong-but-still-very-serious problems.

Personally, I think it is more likely that the Post author is simply less careful and thorough than Elise. Elise is a former computer programmer and quantitative analyst, after all, both of which require a mind much more well-suited for this kind of work than is normal. What seems more likely to me is that the Post author brought some expectations to the text of the bill, and so thought she had found what she was expecting to see.

For the sake of argument, however, let's say that Elise is correct. I said in an email exchange to her, which she asked me to reproduce, that I thought she was probably right about the text of the bill, but wrong about the effect of the rhetoric:

The rhetorical position is this:

A) There is already a perception that the Left is willing to endorse euthanasia and semi-forced living wills as a cost-cutting measure, etc., and

B) The public is suspicious of that.

Therefore, C) It is strongly beneficial to tee up an endless series of things that appear to endorse euthanasia, etc., and require the Left to deny it. Every claim will reinforce the perception, and every denial will require time that could have been spent defending the plan.

In addition, consider that the denial has to take the form: 'No, no, if you read Paragraph 45 of Subsection 23 of Section EE, and compare it to Pargraph 54 of Subsection 32 of Section DD, you can see that...'

Do you see what I mean? "The Right" has nothing to lose here in terms of credibility, because very few are going that far down the road. Rather, the people will see a claim that echoes with their existing perception (and which they are therefore inclined to believe); and then they will hear for an answer a bureaucratic mish-mash that sounds like gibberish if it isn't read thoroughly and digested. 99% of humanity will simply assume from that the claim is true, and the counterclaim is an attempt to hide the truth behind layers of lawyer-speak.

That's not to say that you're wrong about the facts. I mean, purely from the perspective of rhetoric, this is a powerful and likely to be a successful tactic. The one thing that could undermine the Right's position would be to admit they were wrong, which would indeed undercut their credibility. The most successful rhetoric will, instead, answer every such defense with a new charge: 'So you claim that mish-mash is a defense? Well, then explain how in section 12, you call for taxpayers to pay for lawyers to write living wills for the elderly.'

The endgame position leaves the Right having checkmated the Left. The Right has made a series of simple, clear, broad claims that the public was already inclined to accept; the Left has become so lost in the minutae of multiple defenses that it is unable to make a clear reply.

I don't write that to endorse the tactics, but simply to explain them, since you seem to feel the Right is making an error. They may be making a moral error; but not a rhetorical one. There they are doing the very thing most likely to lead to success. This is how debate is conducted in a large democracy, where it must persuade the hundred-millions instead of the few.

It's just how the Left defeated the Right on Social Security, a few years ago -- and you can see that the final position was just as I describe. The Left convinced the public that the Right was ready to throw senior citizens to the wolves; the Right was so lost in explaining the details of its defenses that it lost the ability to communicate. All it could do was babble on about subsections and rates of growth.

As for me, that's why I asked, "Seriously?" It sounded incredible (though not impossible, given the clear displays of arrogance by the government these last few years).
She pointed out to me that we've certainly seen the approach more recently than that. She cites this post from a blog called "Reclusive Leftist" (whom, should she follow this link back here and be horrified, I would like to refer to this recent post as an introduction to company probably more right-wing than she's accustomed to having):

But even weirder is what happens when you try to replace the myths with the truth. If you explain, “no, she didn’t charge rape victims,” your feminist interlocutor will come back with something else: “she’s abstinence-only!” No, you say, she’s not; and then the person comes back with, “she’s a creationist!” and so on. “She’s an uneducated moron!” Actually, Sarah Palin is not dumb at all, and based on her interviews and comments, I’d say she has a greater knowledge of evolution, global warming, and the Wisconsin glaciation in Alaska than the average citizen.

But after you’ve had a few of these myth-dispelling conversations, you start to realize that it doesn’t matter. These people don’t hate Palin because of the lies; the lies exist to justify the hate.
The lies don't exist to justify the hate, exactly. The lies and the hate are both means to the end of destroying the ability of the thing to exist in American politics. Sarah Palin was very dangerous, and had to be destroyed. The hate and the lies were tools.

I still think it is less likely that the Post is attempting to leverage lies in this way, than that they aren't as careful and methodical as Elise. It's very easy for someone with a precise and clever mind not to understand how other people can be so slow and careless.

Still, the method does exist, and it has been employed on occasion. It's necessary to be aware of it, so you don't fall prey to it -- from either side.

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