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Today we've seen two pretty significant examples of Republicans being challenged on their use of the kind of rhetoric that's become predictably commonplace lately.

The first instance took place on the floor of the House, when Rep. Culberson (R-TX) accused the supplemental spending bill for Iraq of being laden with pork.  Rep. Obey (D-WI) pushed back and asked for a specific instance of pork in the bill.  Culberson had no response.

The second instance was the subject of two recommended diaries: Chris Matthews challenged right wing radio host Kevin James on his assertion that Obama was "an appeaser", like Neville Chamberlain.  Matthews asked James exactly what it was that Chamberlain did that was wrong.  And Kevin James simply couldn't tell him. It was clear that he didn't know the answer.

I think these episodes reveal a fundamental weakness of our opponents that can be key to winning the election this year. Follow me beneath the fold.

Both cases reveal the fundamental Achilles heel to the use of right-wing talking points: which is that when people parrot the Party Line, they don't necessarily understand in a meaningful way the substance of their own argument. In fact, it's unlikely that they do.

We've been out-gunned for years by a propaganda machine that echoes the same sets of talking points via Fox News, talk radio, the Wall Street Journal, and the vast majority of Sunday morning pundits and newspaper columnists who repeat the message of the day relentlessly, until their message becomes so omnipresent that it controls the narrative.

But here's the thing: when you're part of an authoritarian machine that hands you the Talking Points of the Day, you don't have a deep enough understanding of your message to reconstruct it.  If you're mentally agile, you can often rely on sophistry to fend off anticipated lines of attacks, which normally come in the form of the other side making it's own case.  You just more loudly assert the rightness of your ideas, and the wrongness of theirs.  That's easy.  Even Bill O'Reilly can play that game.

However, where it breaks down is when your competency of an issue is challenged, not by a counter-argument... but by a revealing question.  In order to answer questions about the basis for your argument, you'd have actually needed to have participated in something resembling the process of independent thought: assembling facts and drawing conclusions based on those facts.

The whole house of cards collapses when you can be shown not to have done the simplest level of work to know your facts. And that's what a well-aimed question can do.

The problem is, Democrats for too long haven't tried to pin down the opposition by challenging the basis for their conservative rhetoric.  They proceed from the assumption that Republican spokespeople are drawing different conclusions than we do because of their different philosophy, and focus on challenging those conclusions. It's one set of assertions vs. another.

So you end up with two sides talking at each other... and whoever has the loudest, most overbearing personality seems more authoritative on TV.  

We can, and should, embarrass the hell out of these parrots of right-wing propaganda by asking them to get into the weeds, asking them for details that support their argument. If you didn't work out your own arguments, if you were just reading the Message of the Week from the GOP, you are going to have a heck of a time when asked for specifics.  And you're going to look like a sputtering fool. Not only do Democrats need to challenge the right... which has been all too rare.. but we need to push back in ways that expose their ignorance.

And that isn't by meeting their rhetoric with our own...  it's actually pretty simple: we win by asking them questions. Questions that reveal their own feet of clay.

So, here's the plan: we get Socratic on their asses.

Originally posted to It Came From Malacandra on Thu May 15, 2008 at 09:50 PM PDT.

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