Argument Vs. Counterargument

I fell behind on my reading last week due to my site’s move and the mild coma I lapsed into thanks to the Republican National Convention. But getting back into it, I find a piece by Sean Quinn at Five Thirty Eight that points out the seemingly obvious (but somehow often overlooked) fact that the presidential election cycle is largely a game. There are teams, there are players, there are official rules that can’t be broken (with  punishment of ejection) but many others whose violation will cause, at worst, a minor foul. Quinn shows why Sarah Palin might be the player to watch out for:

And then several years ago I had an epiphany about the hockey playoffs –nobody is coming to save youInitiators win, reactors lose. Expect adversity, because it’s built in. The fourth-line, no-scoring-talent, pest agitators (or as we now call them, “energy guys”) have a specific job. Skate in, take a cheap shot, make it after the whistle. Make it against the rules. Stir something up. Put a wet glove in the other guy’s face and rub it. Get the outrage flowing. Get the opponent not thinking about the game, get them thinking about your shenanigans. And what happens? The “victimized” team loses its composure, hitting back.The guy who hits second is always the guy who goes to the penalty box.

Watching Sarah Palin this week, and the reaction to her by both sides, and all the talk of hockey mommery, I realized that this is who she is. She skates into the corner, throws up an elbow, and the Democrats cry: “Foul!” Hey! She said Obama has never passed a major bill – this is an objective lie! Hey! She ridiculed community organizing the day after Service was the theme! Technically people should punish her by not voting for her over this infraction!

It’s whining, and whiners hit back second and go to the penalty box on top of it.

Sarah Palin is a person who by her own admission found out about the Iraq surge – the centerpiece of the McCain judgment argument – from television. Apologies to conservatives, but technically, objectively, inarguably, this alone makes her unqualified to be President. But we don’t live in that technical or objective world. Political campaigns – as distinct from policy and governance – are the NHL playoffs. It’s only about who survives the war of attrition to the finish line first. Is Brett Hull’s skate still in Dominik Hasek’s crease and was that same situation disallowed in every previous instance throughout that season? Yes, but so what? Dallas had a parade.

“Initiators win, reactors lose” can also be translated as “arguments win, counterarguments lose”. Your team wants to be the one making the arguments, not on the defense against arguments. That isn’t to say that the Obama-Biden campaign shouldn’t refute what comes out in Republican attacks. But every counterargument should be built within a larger argument. Sarah Palin- her irony meter not in service- attacks Barack Obama as being inexperienced? He can point out the hypocrisy but within a bigger story, such as Troopergate or her associations with Ted Stevens. The bundled arguments should put the other team in the undesirable position of starting their fight from ten steps behind.

As important as it is to package counterarguments, it is more important to know a good argument when it comes around. John McCain opened a great door with his “number of homes owned” gaffe because the Obama campaign was able to instantly form an argument (McCain’s lack of knowledge about his own economic situation not speaking well of his grasp on economic issues in general). The Republicans lacked an effective way to shove a counterargument (if a convincing one could be formulated in this case at all) into a new argument of their own. They issued denials and spin but nothing stuck.

The official campaign has already done so, but surrogates and supporters need to distance themselves from irrelevant stories about Sarah Palin’s personal life that may end up drumming up more support than criticism (pregnant daughter, possible extramarital affair, etc.). There are plenty of valid reasons to form arguments against Sarah Palin. She’s already posed herself as the initiator. The Democrats need to take that title back and let her do the reacting.

[Cross posted from Moue Magazine]

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