The conservative movement doesn't understand anti-racism as a value, only as a rhetorical pose. This is how you end up tarring the oldest integrationist group in the country (the NAACP) as racist. The slur has no real moral content to them. It's all a game of who can embarrass who. If you don't think racism is an actual force in the country, then you can only understand it's invocation as a tactic.
It may be more general than racism itself. Facts themselves are regarded as nothing more than rhetorical devices. Truth is negotiable.
And the lack of content extends beyond conservatism, although that does seem to be the epicenter of a trend. Facts were once the aim, the very purpose, of reporting. Contemporary journalism regards fact-checking as a controversial practice. It is tolerable when placed at a respectful distance. Confronting brazen fabrication with documented truth, calling falsehood what it is, is thought to be kind of, well, impolite.
When falsehood becomes too huge to ignore, balance is sought. Any criticism of some side must find an equal and opposite criticism of the other side. "Factually incomplete" is a charge that can be tolerated. "Not balanced" is too harsh.
Thus hosts of Sunday morning interview programs have an open disdain for confrontational fact-checking. David Gregory is not a singular voice in self-righteously proclaiming that audiences can be trusted to perform their own fact-checking.
For a candidate in debate, the weapon of choice is sometimes what the National Memo calls the Gish Gallop:
Named after the creationist Duane Gish, the Gallop is a tactic wherein a debater spews so many lies and half-truths that rebutting each one is impossible. The technique leaves their opponent shaken and unable to make clear arguments.
The strategic question is how a candidate, or anyone else in a public forum, can debate effectively and honestly when confronted with such tactics.
Joe Biden's approach was to interject staccato notes that matched, with precision, each dubious factoid, every deceit before the echo had faded. This is different than the Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly shout-down. It was not an excerpt from CNN's old and bothersome Crossfire, where the contest goes, not to the fleet of foot, but to the loud of voice. And it was not the sort of filibuster designed to keep an opponent from making a point.
In fact, the experienced Joe Biden seemed to encourage young Paul Ryan to make just as many points as he wanted. Which was not to say he could make whatever assertions he wanted without challenge. With some exceptions, the machine-gun style misstatements were met with some minimal syllabic answer: "Nope" or "Not so." When words failed, facial expressions didn't.
Just as important, the Vice President went on to quickly and effectively make his own case.
Predictably, pundits reacted with some dismay. Tom Brokaw was in the mainstream of punditry:
It was the demeanor that he showed. And these are always combinations of the two, people are impressionistic when they look at these debates. And I don't know how this is going to play out eventually, but sometimes you have to dial that down, worst instincts.
Conservatives remain apoplectic about the rudeness involved. The Vice President was so impolite, ungentlemanly. Michael Medved writes more eloquently than most:
The oddest aspect of his patronizing performance involved the complete disconnect between his derisive laughter and anything that Paul Ryan actually said. Where, exactly, did the GOP nominee make some point so ridiculous, or express himself so clumsily, that the only appropriate response would be the uncontrollable urge to titter or chortle?
Patronizing. Performance. Derisive. Disconnected. After all, Congressman Paul Ryan did not make any point in a manner that was clumsy or ridiculous. And that was the issue, right?
How dare Mr. Biden!
The initial, tentative, evidence is that independent voters were more impressed than the pundits or the ideologically committed.
There is not much discussion among mainstream pundits in their analysis about whether those points, the ones Biden said were false, actually were, you know, false. The overarching in-your-face point is that he was so rude as to point out falsehoods while the untruthful gentleman was sitting right there in front of him. You'll never see that ruthlessness on Meet the Press.
Michael Medved and countless clones regard truthfulness and dishonesty as morally indistinguishable rhetorical devices. Like racism, playing disrespectfully with the truth is not a charge to be examined dispassionately. Is unemployment in Scranton really going up?
Rather, like racism, like any charge, dishonesty has no more moral value than any weapon of choice. Conservatives, like journalists, "can only understand it's invocation as a tactic."
So if they call us untruthful, we'll just call them dishonest. What is there to examine? One insult calls for another. He pulls a knife you pull a gun, he sends one of yours to the hospital you send one of his to the morgue! That's the Chicago way. And that's how you deal with charges of dishonesty. We're not dishonest! You're dishonest!
Just not right in the guy's face. That's impolite.
It is not important that Biden was right. It is only important that he was so rude as to be right about his opponent being wrong while the fellow who was wrong was right next to him.
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