I wrote a comment on Orange and thought it was worth saying here. I first became aware of this tactic from reading David Sirota and Big Tent Democrat in late 2006, when Obama was first talking about running. I resisted in my understanding, however, because I wanted to believe. It involves binary oppositions, strawmen and triangulation.
It’s the triangulation model of rhetoric. President Obama does it a lot, again today. He posits two extremes, well meaning, but wrong, and then places himself in the pragmatic middle. It’s an easy rhetorical game. You define the extremes in such a way that your position, no matter what it is, is the “reasonable” one. Often the postions are mischaracterized, i.e., strawmen created, so that the middle position is obviously better than the well meaning but wrong headed “extremes.”
It’s very effective, but it is a rhetorical game. Obama today:
We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: “anything goes.” Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants – provided that it is a President with whom they agree.
Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don’t elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense. That, after all, is the unique genius of America. That is the challenge laid down by our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages. That is what makes the United States of America different as a nation.
Obama’s been doing it for a long time. It works, so long as no one critically analyzes what he says. For example, was the Bush program really “anything goes”? As bad as they were, they had some limits. Granted, their limits were pretty damn low. But I don’t see evidence of electricity applied to genitals, etc. Bush did leave office. I opposed Bush totally, but what he did was bad enough on its own. See it for what it was. He should have been impeached during his first term.
Do the critics of Obama’s moderation on these issues really NEVER put national security over transparency? That’s many of the people here he’s characterizing.
Those are strawmen and Obama knows it.
More, after the fold.