I’m one of those people who never, never has a good comeback in conversation. Hurl an insult or a fallacy at me and I’m the one with my mouth agape. (Typically, the French have a phrase for it: “Esprit de l’escalier.”) I can tell that something is wrong with what I just heard, but I simply need more time to process the flaws before I can respond. This is why I’m a much better legal writer than I am a courtroom attorney. In the courtroom, I just flap my mouth like a fish, whereas in the world of paper, I can carefully break down my opponent’s argument, analyze its failures, and rebut it at my leisure. This characteristic also explains why I like to confine my political arguments to the blog world — a written world — and avoid face-to-face confrontations with people.
Fortunately, there is help out there for people like me. Richard Mgrdechian, frustrated by liberal rhetorical tactics, decided to analyze them and break them down into their component parts. The result of these efforts is his book How The Left Was Won : An In-Depth Analysis of the Tools and Methodologies Used by Liberals to Undermine Society and Disrupt the Social Order. This book is not a political tract that analyzes Democratic/Lefist/Liberal politics and policies. Instead, it is what it promises to be — a book analyzing the rhetorical patterns that emanate from the Left to advance Leftist positions.
Mgrdechian, after reading my blog, thought that I might be someone who would appreciate his book, and was kind enough to send me a copy. As I explained to him later, I was terribly worried that I would read it and hate it. Since I had gotten a free copy, I would be tremendously bothered by the conflict between my obligations to him — to be polite and grateful — and my obligations to my blog — to be honest and reliable. Fortunately, there is no conflict. I read his book in one day, and thought it was just great. I can write about it with a clear conscience, which I’m happy to do, because it comes out of a small publisher and has almost no advertising. So, here’s the review for those of you plagued by chronic esprit de l’escalier.
Mgrdechian has straight-forward writing that’s easy to read and follow. You’re not going to get lost in a morass of scholarly terminology. Instead, in 15 chapters, he examines common rhetorical tools one sees coming from the liberal side of the political spectrum. (And I think that, whether you agree with the agenda or not, you’re going to have to acknowledge that Mgrdechian is correct in identifying the various tactics for imposing that agenda.) The multi-chapter book includes the following concepts:
Promote and Exploit Divisiveness — This chapter focuses on the habit, which the Democrats are working on hard lately, to make everyone feel like a victim. The Balkanization of our society into special interest groups isn’t only an on-the-ground fact but, as Mgredechian points out, a useful rhetorical devise to make constituent members of society angry and hostile. This rhetorical tactic doesn’t provide solutions or hope, but it does advance an anger agenda.
Bad Competition — This short chapter was one of my favorites, since it examines what I call the “race to the bottom.” Mgredechian opens by defining his terms, with good competition having people optimize their product to compete in the marketplace, and bad competition which focuses on impairing others, rather than improving oneself. This latter concept underlies so much government interference that’s predicated on impairing, rather than rewarding, success. I was aware of the phenomenon, but never actually stopped to realize that it’s a formalized tool in the liberal arsenal.
Relevancy and Proportion — Because I come by my analytical skills the hard way — they’re not innate, they’re the product of mental sweat — I loved the chapter on relevancy and proportion. Mgrdechian explains that,
[I]n any meaningful discussion or analysis, there are only two things that actually matter — relevancy and proportion. Relevancy is the concept of applicability — to what extent does a particular point or statement matter to the issue being discussed? Proportion, on the other hand, is how much an issue matters in comparison to the others that need to be considered. [p. 35.]
This is huge, because I tend to follow red-herrings like crazy. Unlike DQ, who is innately talented at spotting core issues in any argument, and ignoring irrelevancies, they’re all the same to me. In a carefully reasoned chapter, however, Mgrdechian gives examples of common arguments and then explains how to separate wheat from chaff. For example:
In the 2004 Presidential election, much was made of the military service records of both Bush and Kerry. But how much did they really matter? At the time of the election, Bush had been President (and therefore Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces) for nearly four years. He had never made a big deal about his National Guard service, and never used it to sell himself to the American people in terms of why he should be President. Since it was not an issue for him, its relevancy in the campaign was pretty close to zero.
On the other hand, most of John Kerry’s campaign — and indeed his entire persona — were built on his military record and all the medals he was somehow awarded in just six months of service. That being the case, the relevancy of his military records was pretty close to being a ten. However, despite this, liberals smeared Bush’s record every chance they could, while simultaneously attacking every effort to look into the details of Kerry’s record. They made every effort to focus on sabotaging something with a relevancy (and importance) of zero, and every effort to avoid any understanding of the details of something with a relevancy (and importance) of ten. [pp. 38-39.]
Anyway, I’m going to be away tomorrow and won’t blog, so I’ll be posting a few excerpts from the book so you can get a better feel for what it’s all about.
UPDATE: If this post has you thinking about rhetoric, check out Catherine Seipp’s funny, on point, article about hypocrisy, an article that opens with her describing some of the usual attack tactics emanating from the Left. (And yes, I know the Right does it too, but that’s no what I’m talking about. Also, as a long time Leftie and a fairly new Rightie, I can tell you from personal experience that, whether or not you agree with the underlying position, the Right uses more fact and logic to argue its points.)
Talking to Technorati: How the Left was Won, Richard Mgrdechian, Liberals, Rhetoric