Next, the distinction: There are two kinds of people populating the right-hand reaches of the American political spectrum. One is conservatives, here understood as people who have an ideology in which they believe but with who it is possible to have intelligent disagreement. I have had numerous exchanges with conservatives which were, most commonly, unproductive in the sense of either of us being convinced by the other or of finding significant agreement - but which nonetheless remained civil.
The other is the right-wing flakes, the right-wing nutcases, the wingnuts, or as I commonly abbreviate it, the wingers. (Those wingers directly connected to the Republican Party are those I call GOPpers.) They are the subject here.
For some time I have observed with varying degrees of annoyance and bemusement the predictable tactics of the wingers in debates - or rather, their tactics in avoiding actual debates. I put together a list of such tactics; actually, there were several versions of the list because, again, it was originally done rather light-heartedly or snarkily.
But no more. Not any more. I have had it. I have had it with the evasions, the dodges, the schemes and slime that make up winger discussions. This is my most comprehensive (but not necessarily all-inclusive) list of winger tactics, their rules of engagement, if you will - and I will guarantee you that you have run up against every single one of these tactics, probably multiple times and often more than one in any encounter. This is no longer a light-hearted list or a flip recital, but an indictment of deceit and philosophical bankruptcy on the part of a significant part of the American right.
Rule #1: Deny, deny, deny.
Rule #2: Attack, attack, attack.
Rule #3: When facts are undeniable, change the subject. This can be done in various ways, for example:
- Introduce irrelevant details on a tangential point.
- Pluck out from what your opponent said an individual phrase you think you can attack, even if it’s one that was just tossed off quickly, and treat that as if it’s the focus of the entire discussion.
- More subtly, try to tie your opponent up in piles of minutia to the point where everyone, including your opponent, loses track of the thrust of their argument.
- Apply Rule #4.
Whenever possible, insist that your changed subject is the "real" one under discussion.
Rule #4: Issue a lengthy, ranting denunciation of “the left” of the form “What about...,” being sure to include the words “hypocrites” and/or “hypocrisy,” thereby arguing that the left can’t legitimately criticize the right, while by using this tactic insisting that the right can continue to criticize the left. (Note: Where possible, include the phrase “you liberals.”)
Rule #5: Make the particular stand for the whole. Find something offensive or silly some liberal or leftist, somewhere, sometime, said or did and declare it as identifying the entire left half of the American political spectrum. Demand that your opponent spend their time denouncing that example rather than discussing the original topic.
Rule #6: Never answer a question. When faced with one, ignore it and respond with a question, preferably on a different point. If possible, the question should be accusatory. (See Rule #4.) If you do not get an answer, repeat the question and loudly demand it be answered while continuing to ignore the original question you were asked. If you do get an answer, ignore it. If necessary, drop the matter without acknowledging having gotten a reply; if possible, repeat the question, insisting it has not been answered, even if it has.
Rule #7: Demand every remotely questionable assertion by your opponent be proved in every conceivable detail, right down to dates, times, and places, complete with signed affidavits. Refer to all factual assertions by your opponents as "just your opinion" even if the demanded level of proof is supplied.
Rule #8: Assert unsourced statistics and facts with great assurance. Reply to requests for proof by saying some version of "You can look it up." You thereby demand that your opponents do the work of proving your argument for you.
Rule #9: Frame the debate in false choices; for example, by responding to a call for withdrawal from Iraq with "Do you want to win or lose in Iraq?"
Rule #10: Accuse the accuser. As appropriate, use "You're being intolerant!" or "You're the real racist!" If something you said is challenged as bigoted or otherwise wrongful, decry the "suppression" of your "free speech."
Rule #11: When a claim of yours has been debunked, continue to use it nonetheless. When it has been debunked so thoroughly and completely that continuing to use it is counterproductive, stop claiming it for a time, perhaps a few months, after which assert it again as if the debunking had never happened.
Rule #12: Whenever faced with the evil resulting from some other winger following or acting on your arguments, accuse those who point out that fact of "politicizing a tragedy." Never, never, never admit any responsibility for the meaning or impact of your own words.
Rule #13: When all else has failed - and even when it hasn't - lie.
It was the application of those last two rules to the terrorist murder of Dr. George Tiller that was my breaking point. Tiller - who performed entirely-legal late-term abortions - was subjected to a decades-long campaign of demonization and vilification. He was compared to a Mafia hit man, to Hitler, to Stalin, to al-Qaeda, to the Taliban. He was called "Tiller the Killer" and his clinic was labeled a "barbaric" "abortion mill." He had already been shot once - in 1993 - and unsuccessfully pursued and persecuted by Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, the same anti-choice asshole who a few years ago sought the complete medical records of 90 women and girls as part of a fishing expedition about "underage sex" and "illegal" abortions.
"If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue," Bill O'Reilly declared, "we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody. What Tiller is doing is that bad."
He was, that is, the ultimate evil. The evil by which all other evils were to be judged. The one who if "allowed" to "continue," would make the very concept of moral judgment invalid.
Yet when he was shot down in cold blood by a right-wing fanatic - another in the unbroken string of white male Christians who have murdered abortion providers - almost with exception those same voices were shocked, shocked, that such violence occurred and
they scurried away like cockroaches and hid. "Oh no no no, I didn't mean that! You can't blame me for that! That has nothing to do with me! Oh no no no!" The sniveling cowards, hiding behind the brutality of others, too low, too craven even to take responsibility for the meaning of their own words.So I have had it. Once and for all. I have had it with these weasels, these cretinous buffoons, these whining crybabies, these lying, self-interested, selfish, contemptible, slime-eaters swimming in their own mental vomit while thinking it champagne.
I am sick of the fundamental immorality of winger positions. I am sick of the fundamental intellectual cowardice of their attitudes. And most of all I am sick to death of the fundamental dishonesty of their arguments.
Wingers do not know how to argue honestly. They do not want to know how to argue honestly. They just want to screech their memorized lines of hatred and contempt for anything and anyone they don't see as of immediate benefit to them, without regard to context or truth.
I will play their game no longer. The next time I see some smarmy jackass proclaiming they only want "reasonable discussion" only to take any disagreement with their bullshit as proof of your being "unreasonable," they will find just how "unreasonable" I can be. As Jon Stewart said in a different but related context, I'm not gonna be your monkey.
Footnote: Tangentially related but worthy of mention is the news that Dr. Tiller's memorial service was moved to a bigger church because his own church couldn't hold the crowd and
[t]he funeral was protected by 50 American Legion Riders who roared up on motorcycles and formed a shield around Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita to honor Tiller's Navy service.I don't have a lot of use for the American Legion but that, I think, was cool.
Another Footnote: KTK at LeanLeft had a good rant on much the same point a few days ago:
What is worth noting is the constant, continued, and utterly indifferent approach to intellectual responsibility on the part of the right that pervades these kinds of discussions. ...I hope I can be added to his list of people who "get it." :-)
It is simply impossible to debate right-wingers productively because they will not, and do not seem to be able to, address the actual issues at hand, or offer arguments that are relevant, logically coherent, grounded on fact, and responsibly aimed at illuminating the issue.
Updated because I forgot to include an important rule. It has been placed as Rule #11; the old Rule #11 and Rule #12 have been renumbered as Rule #12 and Rule #13.
Updated Again to note the addition of
Rules #16 and 17