Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rhetoric: "Get Tough and Hit Back"

You've probably heard some variation of the following:
We need to stop being so nice. Politics ain't bean bag. We gotta take the gloves of and get tough, hit back, start giving as good as we get.
Frequently, politicians complain that their side is going too easy on their opponents, who are playing dirty. They say that their own side needs to "get tough" and "hit back", or else they're going to lose the next election or whatever other political contest is upcoming.

There's a few things that can go wrong with this sort of rhetoric.

First, it often indulges in violent rhetoric, which opens up the usual issue of whether such rhetoric should be taken literally or metaphorically.

Second, it often indulges in the "only my opponent" caricature. That is, "get tough" rhetoric is usually based on the false belief that the other side has resorted to underhanded tactics while one's own side has behaved with respect and civility (when in fact both sides have been misbehaving). It's rarely the case that only one side started it.

Last, but not least, this isn't the right way to respond to incivility. To respond to name-calling with name-calling is unproductive. It's a misapplication of defiance, in this case, to retaliate in kind. Reciprocity -- I do to you what you do to me, fair is fair -- is not necessarily the right course of action. Nobody's forced to resort to caricature and demonizing in order to win because the other side is doing so.

If somebody is doing something wrong, rebuke it. In politics, the way to resist false and unfair tactics is to point out how they're false and unfair. Reproducing them in the other direction isn't a solution.

"I just wanted to make it clear to the Clinton people … if we're hit, we can hit back."
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), April 8, 2016.

Comment: This is "get tough, hit back" rhetoric.

"As you may know by now, when you attack him, he will punch back 10 times harder."
-- Melania Trump, wife of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, posted April 4, 2016.

Comment: This is "get tough, hit back" rhetoric.

Donald Trump said Thursday he plans to "hit back" hard against rivals at the next Republican debate, despite recent pledges to tone down his brash style and attempts to act more dignified on the campaign trail.

"I can't act overly presidential because I'm going to have people attacking me from every side," he said on TODAY. Trump said he plans to defend himself against attacks he expects to come "from all different angles."

"I would have a very, very presidential demeanor when I win, but until such time you have to hit back. When you hit back, you're no longer presidential, unfortunately," he said.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, March 3, 2016, as related in a story by Eun Kyung Kim of

Comment: This is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric.

"Anybody that hits me, we’re gonna hit them 10 times harder".
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, November 3, 2015.

Comment: This is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric.

"In the spirit of problem-solving, I'm wondering if you're at all concerned that some of your divisive language you use on the campaign trail undermines your ability to solve problems," a questioner said, to raucous applause.

"I went to Ivy League schools, I know what's divisive, I know what's not divisive," Trump replied. "I don't want to be politically correct all the way down the line. ... I see politicians, they're afraid to say anything because it's not politically correct."

"I am going to have to be who I am," Trump said. "At the same time, I'm running against a lot of people, many are going to be dropping out, I think very soon, if they're smart, they're going to be dropping out. Too many people! Too many people. When it becomes a different kind of situation, you'll see, I'm going to be much less divisive. But always remember this: I never start anything ... I simply counterpunch. They start. They get very nasty."

He continued, "I don't think anybody in this room wants to have somebody who's not going to fight back. We have people now who don't fight back, the country has been hurt tremendously."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 12, 2015, at the No Labels conference, as related in a Politico story by Katie Glueck.

Comment: The questioner and Trump are discussing "divisive" language without specifying exactly what counts as divisive. Also, Trump is using "get tough and hit back" language. Finally, if "divisive" language means name-calling, then it's false for Trump to say that he's never instigated it: that's the "only my opponent" caricature. Besides, even if it were true that Trump wasn't the instigator, responding to name-calling with name-calling is still unacceptable. Civility doesn't require being quiet in the face of unfair rhetoric; there are ways of responding that don't indulge in more of the same.

"So they do this poll. And in the poll, I score really high marks on almost anything. Other than they thought I wasn't a nice person. They said who's the nicest, and I was like pretty low on that part. And I'm a nice person. But who cares. A woman came up to me, she said "I'm not sure that you're nice enough to be president." And I said, "You know what, this is not going to be an election based on a nice person. It's going to be based on a competent person. We're tired of the nice people.""
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, August 21, 2015.

Comment: It's not clear precisely what Trump means by being "nice", but this could be either "get tough and hit back" rhetoric, or an assertion that civility is bogus.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Sunday that he will strongly defend himself from critics, regardless of gender.

Trump rejected claims that he treats females who disagree with him unfairly.

“When I’m attacked, I fight back,” Trump told host Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I was attacked very viciously by those women,” he said of female opponents his detractors say he has demeaned.

“What they said about me is far worse than what I said about them,” Trump added. “Am I allowed to defend myself? I want to get back to the country. We have such problems.”
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, August 9, 2015, during an interview with NBC News' Chuck Todd, as related by an article in The Hill by Mark Hensch.

Comment: First, this is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric. Second, Trump is claiming to be a victim – but not a perpetrator – of invective, which is the "only my opponents" caricature. Finally, Trump is saying that the criticisms of him are a distraction from the issues America faces.

"We need a nominee who is going to throw every punch, not pull punches, and someone who cannot stumble before he even gets into the ring."
-- Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, August 6, 2015.

Comment: This is violent rhetoric of the "get tough and hit back" sort.

CALLER: Well, first of all, he can't be bought, but he is not afraid to punch the media back in the mouth, and that's what a lot of people like about Donald Trump. He'll punch 'em in the mouth.

LIMBAUGH: And what if he doesn't do it tonight? You know, we've heard the observation that he's in a different mold now, a different mode. In the past week he's more presidential; he hasn't been calling anybody names. What happens if an opportunity like you want pops up tonight? What if Donald Trump does not do something like that? Are you gonna be disappointed and think, "Oh, no. Oh, no. Trump's not who he is, either." You gonna get that far down with it?

CALLER: I'll be a little surprised if he doesn't do it, but how do you treat bullies, Rush? You punch 'em twice as hard as what they punch you, right? That's how you get the respect. Well, that's what Trump did to the media person out there. I don't know where he was, but he said, "No, no, no. You're done. You're done," and he didn't take any further questions from them. The media, I think, is a little afraid of Trump. They're afraid to challenge him now 'cause he knows they will embarrass them. He will punch them right in the mouth, and they know it. That's how you treat bullies. You punch 'em back five times as hard as what they come after you.

LIMBAUGH: I'll tell you what: I'm sure you have people standing up there cheering with this. I don't doubt it all.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, August 6, 2015, speaking with a caller, Jay in Columbia, SC. Their remarks concerned Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and the GOP debate taking place later that day.

Comment: This is violent rhetoric of the "get tough and hit back" sort.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says if he was president, he would use the same language when referring to potential deals with Iran — and that the response from Jewish people to his controversial comments has been "overwhelmingly positive."

"We need to use strong words when people make strong threats against an entire group of people as the Iranians have made toward the Jews," the former Arkansas governor said Tuesday in an interview with Matt Lauer.

Huckabee said he has received nothing but positive feedback from the group of people he supposedly has offended.

"The response from Jewish people have been overwhelming positive," he said, adding that he has even heard from Holocaust survivors and their children. He noted that at an event he attended Monday night, "I was probably one of four gentiles in the entire event — it was a Jewish event. People were overwhelmingly supportive."

A day earlier, Huckabee refused to apologize for criticizing President Obama's nuclear weapons deal with Iran by comparing it to the Holocaust.

"He would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven," he said in a recent interview about the plan.
-- Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), July 28, 2015, from a Today News story by Eun Kyung Kim.

Comment: This is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric.

This year is the 10th anniversary of a book called "The Republican War on Science." I could just as easily write a book called "The Democratic War on Science." The conflict conservatives have with science is mostly caused by religion. Some religious conservatives reject evolution, and some oppose stem cell research. But neither belief has a big impact on our day-to-day lives. … By contrast, the left's bad ideas about science do more harm. Many on the left -- including a few of my fellow libertarians -- are paranoid about genetically modified organisms. … The left's anti-science fears also prevent us from building new nuclear reactors, especially after Fukushima and Chernobyl.
-- Pundit John Stossel, June 17, 2015.

Comment: This is "anti-science" rhetoric, and "war" rhetoric. Stossel seems to be arguing that, if this sort of rhetoric is fair to use against conservatives, then it's hypocritical not to use it on liberals and progressives, too. I'm not sure if he's advocating the rhetoric as a means of retaliating in kind.

[Rep.] Alan Grayson [(D-FL)] is Elizabeth Warren without a filter — but he intends with her help to become Florida’s great Democratic hope. Since Grayson first burst onto the national media scene as a first-term congressman from Central Florida with a savage wit, he has generated near non-stop headlines and Internet hits, calling all manner of political opponents “whores,” “vampires” and “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.” Even some Democrats who agree with almost all of his policy positions want to keep their distance. … After he shot into the national media arena in 2009, Grayson was unbowed, asking me, “Is it a necessary element of this job that I take shit from people? No one gets a free pass if they attack me. I don’t think it’s beneficial to turn the other cheek. There is no reason a Democrat has to be a weakling.” … His strident criticism of the financial system led to an early — and highly embarrassing — gaffe in February 2010, what soon would become just an indicator of what was to come. In a radio interview, Grayson attacked Linda Robertson, a senior adviser to Fed Chairman Paul Bernanke, calling her a “K street whore” and accusing her of “trying to teach me about economics.” He later apologized. Yet once catapulted into the national spotlight for his outrageousness, he never looked back. In fact, he doubled-down, comparing former Vice President Dick Cheney to a vampire bat (“I have trouble listening to what he says sometimes because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he’s talking”), calling the Republican Party a “lie factory” and dubbing Rush Limbaugh a “a has-been hypocrite loser” who was “more lucid when he was a drug addict.”
-- From an article in Politico, May 20, 2015, by Mark I. Pinsky.

Comment: What Pinsky calls a "savage wit" and "gaffe" on the part of Grayson is better described as demonizing. "Whore" is name-calling of the "sexual deviancy" sort. Also, Grayson reportedly uses "get tough" rhetoric, according to Pinsky.

"Scott Walker could be wrong on immigration. He could be wrong on global warming, to the base. The base may not like his view on this or that, but they're gonna support him because he is fighting back. That's what has been missing. The Republican Party will not even acknowledge the true nature of our enemies. I can't tell you how frustrated that has made the Republican base and then some. Not just the Republican base upset. There are other Republican voters who may not be Tea Party people, but they're also fed up that there is no fight back, that there's no push back against Obama or the Democrats or any of their policy ideas. Scott Walker has epitomized it and that's why he's just running away with every poll right now. I don't know if it's gonna hold up when it comes time to actually get in the primaries and these polls get translated to votes and that sort of thing. It's way premature on that. I'm just telling you why he's scoring so well now. The Tea Party, since they founded themselves in 2010, there has been this burning, this burning passion and desire for their representatives to stand up and fight back, which means properly identify them, not letting them get away with stealing the identity."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 2, 2015, referring to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).

Comment: This is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric. Is it really true that Republicans haven't been responding and pushing back against criticisms from President Barack Obama and other Democrats?

When Republicans won a commanding midterm victory in 2010, President Obama decided, for multiple reasons, to accept the outcome as a blow to his own legitimacy. He conciliated Republican leaders. … In substantive terms, this decision was disastrous. … as foolhardy as Obama’s 2011 strategy seems in hindsight, he and the Democrats recovered and won a satisfying victory in 2012. None of that logic holds today. The past six years have given Obama no reason to believe Republicans are good faith bargaining partners. But even if they had, his political salvation, and the best interest of his supporters in Congress isn’t in cutting conservative-leaning deals with the fully Republican Congress. It’s in the kind of partisan governing and campaigning he embraced after Republicans nearly sabotaged the economy in July 2011.
-- Pundit Brian Beutler, November 5, 2014, from an article entitled, "Obama Just Lost the Battle for the Senate. It's Time He Waged War for Real."

Comment: This is both "war" rhetoric and "get tough and hit back" rhetoric.


Examples from 2012.

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

No comments: