The talking point dance

I’ve gotten to the point in my political engagement that the news cycle swings in messaging and talking points are barely worth more than a tweet or FB comment on my congressman’s page, let alone a blog post. Yet this Steve Benen response to House Majority Leader Cantor’s Meet the Press appearance highlights a political pet peeve of mine. Now I’m just armchairing here, sort to speak, but ranting about pet peeves can be like that; a struggle to grasp with the comparatively unimportant facets of life. Anyway, I’ll just copy the Cantor quote Benen took (bolded emphasis mine):

“You know, the problem is, David, every time you turn around, the answer is to raise taxes [1]. And, you know, he just got his tax hike on the wealthy. And you can’t, in this town, every three months, raise taxes [2]. And again, every time, that’s his response [3]. And, you know, we’ve got a spending problem. Everybody knows it [4]. The House has put forward an alternative plan [5]. And there’s been no response in any serious way from the Senate or the White House [6].”

Benen annotes each point (which, as an aside, has an certain organizational appeal) and I encourage you to read all of them, but it’s the argumentative angle that there is “no response” from his political opponents in that last sentence that gets to me. Benen’s response:

[6] Both the White House and Senate Democrats have unveiled different proposals to replace the sequester, and unlike Cantor’s imaginary plan, they exist. What’s more, both Democratic alternatives are built around compromises on the larger policy, while Republicans insist they will not compromise at all.

These points have a trickle-down effect as official social network accounts get updated, TV appearances occur, FB meme photos are created and is finally regurgitated by cohorts of people who argue on the internet. So in this case politically engaged conservatives would be spamming the communication channels with chants of “The president has no plan!” Yet any objective inquiry would find that, yes, the White House has had a sequestration replacement plan (PDF) for quite some time. Now some may object that Cantor’s use of “in any serious way” subjectively qualifies it as possibly being a true statement by Beltway standards, but that’s the kind of equivocating quibble that turns people off from politics in the first place. A cynical person would say that these types of statements vaguely suggests things that are quantifiably false for the purpose of framing media and poll leverage. In that case then the dance of subjectivity works quite well.

I can only imagine how exhausting it must be (for everyone) to take these things professionally serious. For almost every political subject for which you can reasonably validate — for instance, the balance of recent spending cuts and revenue increases — there exists a vocal portion whose disbelief that the former has occurred elicits teeth-grinding in those who don’t do the talking point dance. My early forays into ‘talking politics’ was a constant struggle against messages like that of Cantor’s, points that were weirdly untrue — weird in the sense that such contentions were and are utterly unnecessary in a substantive sense. Does the existence of the presidents plan invalidate your preferred counter-policy prescription? Of course not, so why pretend it doesn’t exist? Maybe it’s a part of a broader strategy of delegitimization…I don’t know. If your opponent’s intentions are unserious on the merits, one might reason, then there’s no point in debating the policy on the table. The talking points give you all the ammo you need.


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