Monday, December 12, 2005

Reject The Premise

Ezra Klein:

Liberals tend to think of wedge issues as actual issues, problematic policy thickets that a clever bit of reframing will make vanish off the agenda forever. That's where the various attempts to triangulate abortion or compromise on flag burning come from. But that's wrong. Once you dispatch a wedge issue, another springs forth to take its place. The style is the substance here -- wedge issues are nothing more than cultural controversies that large groups of lower middle-class whites disagree with Democrats on. Conservative strategists take their pick from among the many possible contenders and inject the winner into the public debate. The urgency is all manufactured, and it's entirely replicable. Kill one and they'll choose another.

Ezra is right about Democrats on this point: simply trying to reframe a wedge issue won't make wedge issues as an issue go away. There are a million potential wedges out there just waiting for some unscrupulous huckster to come along and take advantage of them. Democrats are mistaken if they think they can finesse their way out of this minefield. At best the only thing they will achieve is getting that particular problem off the radar. The deeper problem, how to deal with wedge issues in general, still remains (and it just compounds the image of Democrats as weavers-and-bobbers.)

What really needs to be done to address wedge issues is to simply "reject the premise".

Ezra says that "wedge issues are nothing more than cultural controversies that large groups of lower middle-class whites disagree with Democrats on." We should reject the premise that these wedge issues are ones that represent a fundamental disagreement between lower middle-class whites and Democrats. A lot of Democrats, lower middle-class whites or not, happen to not fit into the stereotype being presented by the wedger. For example, it is not necessary for Democrats to deny hating Christmas. It is simply a matter of rejecting the premise entirely.

Don't even give the wedge the weight a denial would give it. Don't even get into an argument on this point. Just reject the premise of the wedge every time they assert it. Want proof that this works? Check out how many times Scott McClellan uses this handy shield when he is deflecting hostile questions from the press.

When facing down someone who is trying to spin you into an indefensible position ask yourself what is the underlying premise of the comments they are making and the questions they are asking. Then bring that premise out into the light and that flatly reject it. In fact, don't even allow the conversation to continue until they acknowledge that you have rejected it and are justified in doing so. If they don't then don't even bother engaging them in any further discussion. They have already proven themselves to be dishonest argumentarians.


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