The Nigel Tufnel Theory of Rhetoric


Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at

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273 Responses

  1. Avatar DavidTC says:

    You realize the article ‘Taxpayers Paid $5.6 Million for Climate Change Games’ does not actually say what it thinks it’s saying.

    There is indeed a grant of 5.6 million. But there is absolutely no evidence that these somewhat dumb voicemails cost any significant amount of that.Report

    • Avatar clawback says:

      And the polar bear researchers’ “admission” may or may not have been a departure from what they’ve said in the past. The link to the Circumpolar Polar Bear Action Plan, which one might assume links to the Circumpolar Polar Bear Action Plan, allowing one to verify the “admission” claim, does nothing of the kind, but rather links to more climate change denialism. Obscurantism turned up to 11.

      And the “97% of scientists” claim appears to be no more than shorthand used by Kerry and Obama. The actual study they refer to establishes that 97% of scientists that claim expertise in the area think climate change is a problem. They inexcusably neglected to mention that the 97% doesn’t refer to scientists who know nothing about climate science. Pedantry turned up to 11.

      And Pierce’s piece makes perfectly clear in what way he considers Thomas’s views similar to those of Confederates. Apparently you want to leave the impression Pierce considered Thomas just like slave owners or some such. No, he made a simple case about Thomas’s view about state rights. Insinuation turned up to 11.

      Some guy by the name of Bob Beckel called someone treasonous. I guess I’ll give you that one.Report

  2. Avatar Francis says:

    You’re citing Roy fishing Spencer in a WSJ article as a credible authority on climate change? Oh the irony.

    If you’ve got nothing to peddle except this much hate, why do you post here at all?Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    So you think I was privileged while I was being stalked by a pedophile? While I was raped? That my best friend was privileged when her husband threatened to kill their children?

    It’s all the same monster, Tim. We women are privileged to encounter it everywhere.Report

  4. Avatar Morat20 says:

    Was this entire post sarcastic? Because if so, I sorta missed it. Like the bit about the West Point speech linked to an article with this juicy quote:
    “ut beyond that, I mean, it was just a continuation of a series of speeches and actions that signal weakness to both our enemies and our adversaries. This is a person who is very, very confused. He thinks that winding down wars are synonymous with winning wars, and they’re not. He’s actually, anybody can wind down a war by losing it, and that’s really what he’s doing. He did it in Iraq. What he doesn’t tell you, but what is the reality of things is that when he took over at the end of the Bush administration, Iraq was actually in pretty good shape. Not great shape, but it was an ally, it was a functioning democracy, violence was down, the surge worked, and he kicked that away for no reason other than ideological reasons. Now he’s trying to do in Afghanistan what he did in Iraq.”

    So yeah, I just read a Green Lantern Politics Enthusiast go with the “Stabbed in the back’ rhetoric and double down on “Blowing crap up is the only form of foreign policy acceptable” playbook.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Oh wait, I missed the best quote!

      “.You have to do several things. You have to begin to increase Defense spending. And then you have to have a series of actions, some at home, possibly, but also overseas to show that America is serious again. I think once we get somebody in place there in the Oval Office that’s a serious individual and understands, really, the purposes of America and how to conduct foreign policy, that can be a kind of circuit breaker. But you know, it takes time if you undercut and decimate an American military to rebuild it. So the successor of President Obama is going to have a lot of work to do, and he’s going to be around for two and a half more years, which is an unpleasant spot for many of us.”Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Ya know, I’m sure there was a time when “the purpose of America” with respect to foreign policy could be economically justified. Invade a foreign country or otherwise impose a set of US-favorable policies on them and the balance sheet would be happy happy happy, all the while being a global force for good. And I don’t mean that cynically. But times may have changed since these guys last looked. Increasing military spending only makes sense – if it ever does – if it’s economically justified. I just don’t see that calculus working out for the hawks. I think they’re hanging onto a myth, myself.Report

  5. Avatar ktward says:

    My point was that if we use up the most violent terms in our language to peddle false facts (“77 cents”) or make scandals and movements out of thin air (“binders of women,” #YesAllWomen), then we rob ourselves of the ability to describe truly horrible things that are actually happening in the world.

    Let me get this straight: you consider yourself literally robbed of the ability to speak to acts of atrocity because US political/factional rhetoric offends you? Yikes.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      I like how “YesAllWomen” is a movement “out of thin air”. I mean, did they not register properly? Did they call themselves a movement without doing the paperwork?

      Was it not properly organized? How is it “Out of thin air”? Because it self-organized off of Twitter? (And I mean, so disruptive! They were just out there, talking about their experiences and hurting people’s feelings!”

      I guess women haven’t complained about equal rights long enough — it was obviously just a PR stunt, since if equal rights and stuff was a legitimate movement there’d have been complaints before. I mean, maybe if there’d been a mass shooting or something, we might pretend they’re legitimate.

      More seriously — did you actually think before you posted this? It seems shoddily thought out, shoddily researched, and frankly I’m wondering if this is some bizarre satire piece.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        It commands the same weighty consideration usually given a blog post based on a Spinal Tap reference.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        So it was in fact satire? Because that’d make a lot of sense, even if it required actually digging into the references to get the joke.

        I mean, it was pretty funny that you did the “President arguing with a straw-man” and linked to a piece where one of the two people was, in fact, an unrepentant war-hawk indulging in all the things the president was supposedly straw-manning.

        Most people won’t bother with links, though, so it’s gonna fall afoul of Poe’s Law.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      I opened the steel box where I keep my words and they were gone and someone peed in the box. What would you call it?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Delusion? Lack of command of language? Politically motivated bullshit?

        Are you really saying that because you think other people have corrupted the words you like to use that you’re incapable of expressing what you want to say?

        Sounds like chickenshit to me, Tim. Just say what you want to say. It aint that hard.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        I opened the steel box where I keep my words and they were gone and someone peed in the box. What would you call it?

        I dunno. Is that how you imagine your mind? A steel box? If that’s true, then maybe writing isn’t your best creative medium.

        Meanwhile, good news!, I’m betting you’re in a teeny tiny minority of professional writers. Most can probably find the words to speak to acts of atrocity despite all of the rhetorical abuses you cite.

        Tim, your OP reinforces an ugly conservative stereotype: never met a conservative who couldn’t blame their own inadequacies on the libruls. Consummate victims. Is that really where you meant to go with this post?Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        I still think it’s satire.

        The whining about language (what sort of idiot would think that you can’t complain about stuff because other, worse stuff, is happening? I mean, good lord, should I not go to the doctor about the pain in my knee because some people had their kneecaps shot off?), the links that — with even half-hearted digging — show the rhetoric to be wildly overblown to false or even links that refute the actual claim.

        (The latter is really common with cherry picking references — people yank a quote from a paper or article, and trust people won’t follow the link and see the bit where what they quoted was the exact opposite of what was reported)..

        That plus Spinal Tap either means satire. I’m thinking he’s two pints in at the local bar and laughing at the furor. 🙂Report

      • Avatar ktward says:


        Satire? Fuck me, I hope you’re right. In which case, I’ll have [the tequila equivalent of] a pint and totally join in on the laugh.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        A pint of tequila sounds like a great way to end up in the hospital or praying to the bathroom gods but that might just be me.

        I don’t like tequila very much. I prefer my Ethanol in the brown and red families.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        I can only speak for myself, but if I wanted to describe the horrors of a woman’s having acid poured on her, I would describe (first with adequate trigger warnings) in plain language a woman’s having acid poured on her.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:


        Crikey, I didn’t say I’d drink a pint of tequila. ! I said I’d drink the tequila equivalent of “a pint”. Which is, what, maybe a shot or two? (I don’t drink the stuff myself, but I’m guessing “a pint” is basically 16 ounces of beer.)Report

      • Avatar notme says:


        When the liberals finally get their last political mile out of the hyperbole that is the “war on woman,” where will they go next? What is worse than a war on women? Maybe the GOP campaign of extermination against women? I can see it now, Nancy Pelosi on TV complaining of the GOP campaign of extermination against women.

        Hyperbole like the “war on women” is like the boy that cried wolf. After a while it loses its effect and no one listens. Not to mention that along the way you debased all the other language because not everything can be the worst thing all the time.Report

      • @notme

        “When the liberals finally get their last political mile out of the hyperbole that is the “war on woman,” where will they go next?”

        Probably the War on Secular Xmas.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        When the liberals finally get their last political mile out of the hyperbole that is the “war on woman,” where will they go next?

        Liberals will move on from invoking the “war on women” rhetoric when conservatives stop trying to pass legislation that restricts women’s rights.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:


        It depends where you are. In the US, a pint is 16 ounces; in the UK it’s about 19. Not sure about Canada. Anyway, a pint is roughly an ounce of alcohol, so, yes, a shot of liquor or a glass or two of wine.Report

      • @mike-schilling @ktward

        In Canada, a “pint” (in the draught beer sense) is 20oz.

        But, god bless ’em, some places serve 32oz “pints”.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        In the UK and US, a pint is a real unit of volume. For reasons that escape me, in the UK it’s 20 oz and in the US it’s 16.

        At least where I am in Canada, a pint is “a largish glass of beer” – maybe 20 oz, maybe 16, maybe 500 mL… Nominally the pint-as-in-unit-of-volume in Canada uses the UK definition. But there’s apparently no legal requirement that a bar fulfilling a request for a pint of beer actually put a pint of beer in the glass.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        For reasons that escape me, in the UK it’s 20 oz and in the US it’s 16.

        The reasons are historical and make no particular sense, and I bet you knew both of those already.Report

      • It’s true, @dragonfrog , some bars will stiff you with a 16oz or 18oz pint. Those places deserve to be burned to the ground.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        In Germany, all bar glasses had marks on them, so you could make sure the correct amount was being poured.

        What I’m saying is, Germans take beer, and measuring things, seriously.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        @jonathan-mcleod or at least have the top 10 or 20% of them burned off.Report

  6. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Wow. What a post!Report

  7. @tim-kowal

    Could you please flesh out a bit what you mean in this post, because like some of the others here, I’m just not getting it, and your comments so far don’t shed much light on it for me. I know a while back you did a pretty good parody that a lot of us (including me!) failed to understand. And as for myself, I got on my high horse and criticized you for saying something when you were actually criticizing it. (I do recognize the Spinal Tap reference, though.)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      @gabriel-conroy et al.

      I’ll say this: Because it’s late and I spent hours riding a bus tonight and I’m a little drunk, I thought Tod wrote this post, not Tim. And I got what he was saying. Realizing it was Tim and seeing some of the criticism, my initial inclination was to side with the detractors.

      But then I realized that wasn’t really fair.

      So, if you’d oblige a hypothetical, how would you respond if it were Tod who wrote this post?

      (And this has nothing to actually do with Tod, mind you, aside from my own illiteracy…)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I can’t imagine, in my wildest delusions, that Tod could have written this post. How’s that for an answer?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        You couldn’t imagine Tod criticizing people for being hyperbolic in service of their ideological/political ends?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Which is what I read @tim-kowal as doing here, more or less.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Kazzy, I can’t imagine Tod having written this.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        Humor me and tell me what you think Tim was trying to say here.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        Kazzy, maybe it’s because you’re a little drunk that, unlike the rest of us sorry sober sots*, you can imagine Tod having written this post. Try again tomorrow. When you too are sober.

        *I can only speak for myself, of course.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I guess what I’m wondering is: Does it matter who wrote it?Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        “criticizing people for being hyperbolic in service of their ideological/political ends”

        Ding ding ding.Report

      • @kazzy

        That’s a good question, especially because I often read Tim’s posts thinking they’re Tod’s. There’s something about the T** K**** combination, along with the fact that Tod writes more posts here than Tim does, that makes me sometimes think they’re the same.

        To answer your question: I would probably have been more open to whatever it is the OP is trying to say and more willing to suspend doubt or go out of my way to be charitable in interpreting what was written. That’s usually not a good thing for me to do, and it wasn’t a good thing for me to do here, or in the other “parody” post I mentioned. In fact, if I recall correctly, Dave asked a similar question to yours, and my two cents were substantially the same as my answer to yours.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I think it is fair to consider the messenger along with the message (and would agree with @burt-likko ‘s criticism offered below), but I think people are focusing more not he messenger than the message.

        I’m a bit sympathetic to @tim-kowal . He and I have had some very fruitful and constructive exchanges here. And I know he often finds himself in a difficult spot here being probably the most conservative of our writers. I’ve disagreed with him strongly on some things before, but I try to take a “When you’re right, you’re right” approach. And I think in the broadest sense of Tim’s post here — namely decrying hyperbole — Tim is right. It’s not a flawless piece, but I do think personal politics are dominating a lot of the interactions I’m seeing here.Report

      • @kazzy

        That’s a really good way of looking at it.Report

      • @kazzy You can’t imagine one of Tod’s posts getting a lot of push back?


      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        Tod certainly has gotten his share of push back. I’m not saying this piece would have been welcomed with open arms had he penned it. But, like I said, when I first read it and thought it belonged to Mr. Kelly, I thought, “I get what he’s saying even if I think the way he went about it was peculiar.” I don’t know that I should have necessarily thought differently upon learning that Mr. Kowal wrote it.

        Also worth noting:
        1.) I can be a stickler for language use. So I was probably more likely to be sympathetic to the line of thought being explored here than others.
        2.) I didn’t click any of the links so if Tim’s argument fell apart there, I missed that.
        3.) My attention span waned as I read this, so if Tim’s argument broke down as the piece went on, I might have missed that, too.

        I’m not saying no one should criticize Tim or this post -OR- that the author of the piece doesn’t matter. But I do think people saw a post written by our most conservative writer in which he attacks a tactic employed by liberals and reflexively went for their pitchforks and torches.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        I simply saw a piece that started out saying misogyny isn’t misogyny because women aren’t being murdered with acid baths by their own parents every day; with the presumption that feminists are only speaking about their own comfort in the US implied (hence the girl in Pakistan). That’s why I quoted him publications from his church, filled with lies, inaccuracies, and misinformation. Like the quote from the Vatican priest in charge of family matters saying women aren’t logical. At least I gave him enough context to comprehend the hyperbole without too much effort.

        I try very hard to approach conservatives and conservative thought seriously. I question liberal ideology, I do it here regularly. I fail to see anything remotely close to self-questioning in Tim’s post here; it’s disrespectful of women, it’s filled with anti-science propaganda, and it reeks of war-mongering death lust.

        If he had a valid critique, it’s lost on me in all the hatred and vileness he spewed.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        And I think that is exactly the sort of pushback people should have been giving Tim.

        Edited to add: And I applaud those who did engage with the content of Tim’s post in giving feedback.Report

    • Avatar ktward says:

      You really are drunk- you’re going all existential. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Whatever drunk I had has actually worn off. I’m being serious here.

        Again, I read Tim’s piece thusly:

        If things such as limiting women’s access to contraception, failing to support equal pay for equal work, and being a rape apologist (all things I find morally objectionable) constitute a “war on women”, than what do stoning, punitive rape, and acid baths constitute? If they, too, are part of a “war on woman”, how meaningful is it to put “acid baths” and “77-cents-on-the-dollar” under the same umbrella?Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        A more obvious war on women? A more violent war on women? A more physical war on women?

        Still, rhetoric is the tool of communication. As is hyperbole. Complaing that people are being hyperbolic is complaing that we’re not robots. It’s like whining that fiction is ‘made up’.

        Of course it is. Hyperbole and rhetoric are one of the ways humans convey subtext and emotional context.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Or more specifically: Some god awful violent stuff going on in another part of the world, which is unconnected to the crap we’re talking about here in America?

        i mean sure, it’s both women being oppressed. But hey, we’re all human so by that logic I really can’t use a whole raft of terms and complaints, because other humans are suffering worse. I can’t say my day sucked, because was I tortured to death? No, well then my day didn’t suck. I had food and a job and a roof over my head.

        I’m still gonna say my day sucked, you’re going to interpret that as “His day sucked in the context of his life”.

        I’m pretty sure I can say I had a hard day, without preventing anyone else from understanding how hard a day someone who had acid poured on them had.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        how meaningful is it to put “acid baths” and “77-cents-on-the-dollar” under the same umbrella?

        Pretty damn?

        Is the argument supposed to be that since liebruls make a big deal about women only make 77 cents on the men’s dollar conservatives can no linger talk about acid baths as being unjust?

        That makes no fucking sense, Kazzy.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        Kazzy, clearly you and I have very different takeaways from Tim’s piece. I’m just going to loop back around to my original comment here.

        how meaningful is it to put “acid baths” and “77-cents-on-the-dollar” under the same umbrella?

        Who is it, exactly, that counts these things as equatable?

        Here’s what I hear Tim saying in his OP: OMG, people in the US who I disagree with on policy use such over-the-top rhetoric to make their case that now I–no, we, all of us!–can’t possibly adequately decry any horrible atrocities that take place.

        I’m not sure what you’re hearing, Kazzy, but that’s what I’m hearing. And it sounds like self-victimizing melodrama to me. But then again, maybe Tim’s OP is satire, as @morat20 suggests. In which case, guess I have some shots to do.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        I think he’s criticizing the hyperbole, on the grounds that it is hyperbolic.

        “Look, this is what a real war on women looks like, so stop saying it in America about things that aren’t”.

        Which is..dumb. Because hyperbole is just like analogy, metaphor, and imagery. It’s basically complaining that people aren’t always literal.

        People who literally equate, say, unequal pay with acid poured on the face — as in “Both these things are equally bad and really you might as well flip a coin as to which one to do to any random woman” don’t actually exist, at least not in any reasonable numbers. (It’s 2014, you can find someone who’ll say anything in all seriousness on the internet somewhere).

        But might as well bar analogies, imagery, and metaphor.

        Now, if the people he were criticizing actually equated two unequal things, in all seriousness — then he’d have a great point about those people on that thing.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        Not just hyperbole. They’re lies. E.g.,

        “To be alarming, to present opinions without proper scientific support, to make wild claims; all of these harm our credibility and result in people (rightly) ignoring us.”

        “When formal science advice is perceived as advocacy, trust in that advice and in the adviser is undermined, even if the advice is accepted. For example, exaggerated presentations about the causes of storms and floods can erode the credibility of the underlying argument about global warming.”

        Granted, this is a different kind of injury caused by the misuse of rhetoric than the one I complain of in the early part of my post. And a more serious one, in my view. Still, sloppy language begets sloppy thinking. Hard to measure its effects with any precision, so ranting is about all we’ve got.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        Which is..dumb. Because hyperbole is just like analogy, metaphor, and imagery. It’s basically complaining that people aren’t always literal.

        Taxation is slavery!Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Not just hyperbole. They’re lies.

        More than that, they’re conspiracies. Really. Liberals secretly make this shit up so we can force gummint to make you do what we want, Tim.Report

      • @kazzy

        If things such as limiting women’s access to contraception, failing to support equal pay for equal work, and being a rape apologist (all things I find morally objectionable) constitute a “war on women”, than what do stoning, punitive rape, and acid baths constitute? If they, too, are part of a “war on woman”, how meaningful is it to put “acid baths” and “77-cents-on-the-dollar” under the same umbrella?

        If that’s Tim’s point, then I suppose I see where he’s coming from. I guess it depends on who’s making the statements. I would, for example, see a “rape apologist” as being in the same league as an acid bath, but not in the same league as the 77 cents on the dollar claim. However, if someone, focusing solely on domestic US politics, criticizes failure to support equal work for equal pay and opposes making it easier to obtain contraceptives, then their “war on….” language does not necessarily imply they’re making the equivalences Tim seems to be suggesting they are. They’re referring to what they believe to be mostly systematic attempts to disempower women or to decline to support the policies that might empower them. (To be fair, I clicked only on some of his links, so maybe there’s something I’m not missing.)

        Having said all that, the “war on….” language is often not very helpful. I got very disturbed, for instance, when people described Bush Jr.’s stem cell research policy as a “war on science” and Obama’s rescinding of that policy as “ending the war on science.” I’m also not a big fan of hyperbole. And I think it works best primarily when the reader/interlocutor knows that it’s hyperbole.


        Are they lies in the sense of being well established truths that people who know better are stating for the purpose of deception, or in the sense that one can argue the claims aren’t true, but there is at least some evidence for? To me, “lies” is using hyperbole of the sort you’re criticizing in the OP.

        Which might have been your point in using “lies” in the first place: to illustrate what you’re talking about. If so, well played.

        For the record, I thinkReport

      • @tim-kowal

        By the way, I agree with this:

        Still, sloppy language begets sloppy thinking. Hard to measure its effects with any precision, so ranting is about all we’ve got.

        ….at least until it’s applied to what I say, and then it’s unfair!Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        Where I will disagree with Tim (or at least what I think Tim might be saying/thinking) is that I don’t think it necessarily problematic to raise issues with the treatment of women in America while not engaging conversation around other issues women face the world over. I don’t believe in making the perfect the enemy of the good. We all have it pretty good here in America when looking on a global scale. We could probably write any of our issues off as “First World Problems” and tell people to quit their whining. There is nothing wrong with focusing on the problems that is in front of one’s self.

        If Tim is saying, “We shouldn’t care about 77-cents on the dollar because at least they’re getting money instead of acid,” I’d disagree with him. But I’m pretty sure he’s not saying that. I’m pretty sure he is really talking about language, albeit in a provocative and perhaps overly-narrowly-focused-on-his-opponents kind of way.

        (I’ll also cop to his previous satire post being totally over my head so that didn’t really influence my reading of this piece.)Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Not just hyperbole. They’re lies. E.g

        What, all of them? Because the first few comments were people pointing out your links were, shall we say, of debatable accuracy.

        Calling it “lies” when there is apparently debate (debate, in fact, appears your links are on the short side of — well, isn’t that…hyperbole?

        Honestly, the whole post seems like a giant whine that liberals are using mean language, and it hurts your feelings because…STUFF. It’s not particularly well thought out, and frankly I like it better as satire because it captures a certain common bitter whine fairly well (once you dig into the links).

        I mean, I tackled Peter’s whine about Obama’s West Point speech. Seriously, you criticized Obama’s rhetoric as “tired” by linking to that? Which is some masturbatory military power fantasy that was not just the perfect example of the core of Obama’s speech (the confusion of foreign policy and military might, and the use of military might whenever possible), but was so over the top I had to first check it wasn’t a humor piece.

        Did you even read it? DId you agree with it? Did you SERIOUSLY just whine for three paragraphs about hyperbole in politics and link to that POS?

        That’s why I thought it was satire, but when you’re back with “No, they’re lies” now I’m wondering if this was just some massive whine about mean liberals and their mean words and how they hurt your feelings and oh WHAT ABOUT ACID TO FACES WOMEN HAVE IT GREAT HERE SHUT UP LIBERALS.Report

      • @morat20

        Honestly, the whole post seems like a giant whine that liberals are using mean language, and it hurts your feelings because…STUFF.

        I’m not sure I disagree with the rest of your comment, but to be fair, and speaking only for myself, I sometimes approach issues similar to what you mention in the part I just quoted. I do believe tone, or the way something is said, is part of the substance of what is said. Not all, but a part. That was one motivation for writing my post on “sticky words.”

        We can turn that right back at Tim and infer a certain tone, which is how I read your comment. And that’s fair play, too. But…..maybe it’s possible to reorient the discussion toward something more introspective, about how, why, and when we choose to indulge we succumb to such hyperbole. Even if we do that, I do think there’s a legitimate critique of the OP, somewhat along the lines you’re offering.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Yeah, and that’s why the first half of the comment thread is asking for clarification or pointing out flaws in the links.

        But he went with the coy game of “Guess what I mean” which doesn’t really lend itself to continued good faith attempts to suss out his meaning.

        When people ask for clarification, and you don’t give it, then it’s only natural they go with “Okay, then let’s just go with what it looks like”.Report

      • I wonder if some of that may have been his not having much time as he needed to answer those questions? Or maybe he wanted to give the more liberal commenters among us enough rope to hang ourselves?

        I’m of two minds about this whole issue. I’m willing in theory to cut the OP author a little slack, since his is very much a minority viewpoint at OT. Sometimes people who are advancing an unpopular position might do so in terms that seem really antagonistic. I keep thinking of the LGM commentariat and authors and how brutal they can be not only to people who disagree with them, but also to people who agree for the wrong reasons, or just for different reasons. (Maybe things have changed over there. I haven’t checked in for a very long time, at least if we’re talking internet years.)

        On the other hand, there’s a way to frame things to a group of people who don’t share your (the universal “your”) views so as to maximize understanding or to start a dialogue. The OP doesn’t seem to do that. Maybe that’s because no OP is ever perfect and what I describe is a goal that’s impossible to achieve completely. And as Kazzy points out (to my mind, correctly) there is something discussable here. But I think that the pushback the OP is receiving relates to what you’re pointing out here.

        Finally, I’ll say that I feel a little inconsiderate in writing what I just did in this comment. I don’t write a lot of guest posts and because my views are more “mainstream” (at least as far as OT is concerned), my posts don’t undergo nearly as much of the criticism that the OP’s author’s do. I myself have gone on record saying that I tend to hyper-analyze this particular messenger even though I should probably know better.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Maybe things have changed over there.


      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        A principle of charity can only go so far, it seems to me. I mean, my charity can’t go so far as to attribute views and arguments to the author which aren’t even hinted at in the OP. I’m not sure what the point of this post actually is, but it’s been criticized on a bunch of levels and across a bunch of lateral terrain. It seems to me his argument is expressed in his “steel box” comment: that the words he wants to use to express a judgment about acid baths are gone and someone peed in the box. If that’s the argument, then there really isn’t anything left to be charitable about. I mean, *that’s* the argument.

        Chris brings up a good point that better examples of liberal hyperbole might have made for a better argument, but even then I’d have to wonder why the examples used were in fact chosen. ANd on that score Tim expressed in comments why he picked at least some of them: they’re all examples of liberal lies. (Which gets dangerously close to Conspiracy Theory Land and Saul’s post about the paranoid mind.) What’s interesting to me about that comment is that he’s criticizing liberals for not only being hyperbolic about certain topics but that the hyperventilation isn’t even based in reality.

        I don’t know how to be charitable about an argument which takes that form, myself. It certainly leaves very little – like, infinitesimally small – room for agreement by the audience (liberals) he’s critiquing.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        I wonder if some of that may have been his not having much time as he needed to answer those questions? Or maybe he wanted to give the more liberal commenters among us enough rope to hang ourselves

        What, ambush writing? If you write something and the posts until you respond are either variations of “What the heck do you mean?” and “Your links don’t say what you’re implying they say” then it just means you wrote crap.

        If I was the only one confused, well — I probably just didn’t get it. If everyone was confused, he wrote it poorly (or, in some cases, your point is so awful people get confused because they think you can’t possibly mean that).

        I waited until he’d responded a few times, to give him a chance to further explain. Which he chose not to. That’s not the sign of anyone interested in communication. That’s trolling.Report

      • “What, ambush writing?”

        Sometimes life happens. But I get what you’re saying, and I was confused, too.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        I would think that somebody whose side of the aisle sees Obamacare as the second coming of Josef Stalin, and a purchase of bullets by the Social Secutity Admin. as the harbinger battle of end times, would be a bit cautious about invoking Nigel Tufnel.

        I would post more, but I need to set my DVR for the #Benghaziii!!! hearings.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        @gabriel-conroy I’d say that 77 cents false fact was/is a lie. From the Christina Hoff Sommers piece at the Daily Beast linked above:

        “What is wrong and embarrassing is the President of the United States reciting a massively discredited factoid. … By now the President and his staff must be aware that the wage gap statistic has been demolished. This is not the first time the Washington Post has alerted the White House to the error. Why continue to use it? One possibility is that they have been taken in by the apologetics of groups like the National Organization for Women and the American Association of University Women. … The White House should stop using women’s choices to construct a false claim about social inequality that is poisoning our gender debates. And if the President is truly persuaded that statistical pay disparities indicate invidious discrimination, then he should address the wage gap in his own backyard. Female staff at the White House earn 88 cents on the dollar compared to men. Is there a White House war on women?”

        Many other sources also panned the remark. It had been given a “mostly false” rating two years prior by PolitiFact. WaPo’s fact checker upgraded it from one to two Pinocchio’s, and only then began dropping the line from his addresses. Thus suggests he knows his statements are wrong but only willing to revise for accuracy when called out on it.

        Anyway, that is probably a separate issue from what we are discussing here, which is not strictly about lying but the misuse of language — a related but distinct problem. 77 cents is inaccurate at least, and likely a lie, but the specific problem it exacerbates is the ‘War on Women’ meme. In my view, it debases our language, among other problems.Report

      • @tim-kowal

        I’m going to eat crow and say you’re right. But like a true liberal, I’m going to contest the atmospherics of the point you’re making.

        From the quoted portion you offer, the point about “women’s choices” suggests to me that the daily beast is relying on the argument that women on average earn less than men because they, on average, choose absent themselves from the labor force. From elsewhere in the article you quoted:

        The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers.

        I’ll note a few things about what I just quoted. First, I find it a respectable argument. It’s one of the reasons why I really don’t like what I see as the oversimplification behind the “women only make 77 [or whatever] cents on the dollar….therefore discrimination!”

        Second, the article admits that that 23 cent gap statistic has some validity. There is, apparently, a study that really does say there’s a gap. Now, if it’s right, then yes, Obama’s statement is misleading. But it’s not the clear cut lie the part you chose to quote suggests it is.

        Third, it seems that the 23 cent gap issue is something that’s debatable, and its debatable aspect is evident in the fact that the article doesn’t deny it, but it contextualizes it and tries to demonstrate what set that figure represents and that it’s not the full picture.

        Now, when does dishonesty or only partially truthful become a lie? I’d be lying myself if I didn’t admit that using a correct statistic misleadingly–as Obama appears to do, according to the daily beast article–is dishonest, and that the distinguishing feature of lies are dishonest, so that all dishonest utterances are lies. In other words, okay, you have a point. But…..

        I also think there’s a differences between saying something is used misleadingly and saying it is an outright, flat out lie. There’s something about saying, “Not just hyperbole. They’re lies. E.g.,….” that seems misleading, too, about the nature of the “lie” you’re calling out, as something so obviously untrue as to be indisputable. Not something, as you admit, is called out as “mostly false” and as the Daily Beast article admits, is true, but not true in the way Obama seemed to imply. Now, the fact that you’re being a bit misleading doesn’t change the fact that the original utterance was a lie. I don’t believe tu quoque’s are valid refutations.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The wage gap is fairly.large even accounting for factors other than gender, and the 77% is still a problem, even if it does not mean what some take it to mean, because access, status, and independence are so tied to money in our system. But this gets lost in the hyperbole that is equally present in Tim’s discourse on the subject.

        By the way, virtually everywhere I see the 77% figure, it is qualified. E.g., .Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I’d say even a 5% difference is significant. That adds up a lot over time.

        Curiously, though, nobody talks much about the death and debilitating injury gender gap in employment.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @chris That’s less true on common political discussion (that the appropriate qualifiers are there) and it does seem to confuse a lot of people. Bob Somerby (a generally malcontent liberal and media critic) has written on this a couple of times.

        Pay disparity is something of material interest to me. It’s really quite interesting how much less faith I had in women getting a fair shake when suddenly our household income depended on it. The modified figure is notably smaller than 23%.

        What’s missing from the dismissal that often follows that, however, is that the appropriate qualifiers are often themselves subject to sexism. Specifically, “for the same job” assumes equal access to the same jobs. On the other hand, priorities and such do differ. Countries with generous leave and women-friendly labor policies often have notably higher gender gaps because women are more likely to work part time and take leave if they are allowed to.

        All of which is to say, dang it’s complicated. But I do side with Tim insofar as the common discourse does mislead people by making the problem seem a lot more simple (just give the women raises!).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @james-hanley To be honest, I’m less worried about the specific number and more worried about career tracks. Or put another way, I’m less worried that they’re going to look at my wife and say “Let’s pay her 10% less than a male counterpart” and more worried they are going to have a vague notion that she’s not the best fit for the place and assumptions about priorities and work ethic. (Though, to be fair, in my wife’s case it’s accurate in that she is looking for a work/life balance that is different from a lot of male docs. However, I suspect there are a lot of assumptions at play that may or may not be accurate.) More broadly, I think that similar behavior is looked at and treated differently, and that this sort of thing very much is reflected when it comes to opportunities.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        @will-truman et al.

        put another way, I’m less worried that they’re going to look at my wife and say “Let’s pay her 10% less than a male counterpart” and more worried they are going to have a vague notion that she’s not the best fit for the place and assumptions about priorities and work ethic.

        …And potentially choose to go in another direction, right? (…Potentially quite rationally from their perspective, though also potentially depriving themselves of huge amounts of talent that would make up for costs they expect associated with hiring women over time as such decisions pile up.

        As a matter of lost value in the marketplace, then, imo it’s entirely reasonable to mix in the costs of these lost opportunities with straightforward wage discrimination in existing employment relationships to arrive at a number greater than that which can be clearly documented in the latter stat. So that a good part of that portion of the 23 cents that isn’t just outright wage discrimination among real female and male employees within companies that gets described as related to “women’s choices” is still quite aptly included in an estimation of the wage gap. Not all – there are some choices women make whose consequences are likely not magnified by discriminatory disinclination to hire them and also not themselves influenced by gender discrimination in broader societal expecations. But I’m willing to say tbhat set of choices is pretty small.

        So maybe in that 23% there’s a 5% outright wage discrimination gap, 5% essentially non-doscrimination-influenced choices, and 13% that’s either choices influenced by unequal gender expectations (and outright biological facts), or the unfair (if rational) anticipation of such choices by potential employers resulting in less opportunity.

        If the wage gap, then, is maybe 18% when most discrimination is factored in (that’s pure spitballing but I think it’s plausible), it’s hardly the biggest lie in the world if politicians continue to refer to the 23% figure, especially if a more reliable figure hasn’t been arrived at yet.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        We really don’t know what the percentages are. Suggesting that we do, and it’s 77% and suggesting that number has been adjusted for relevant factors… is highly problematic. Regardless of whether or not I think women are getting a fair shake in the workplace.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Ahem, guys…

        Curiously, though, nobody talks much about the death and debilitating injury gender gap in employment.

        Do I need to spell it out?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @james-hanley That’s one of the relevant factors that the 77% figure does not take into account, but others that still show a disparity do.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Curiously, though, nobody talks much about the death and debilitating injury gender gap in employment.

        Guess what job has the most injuries?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Here’s the important part for those who don’t want to click thru:

        Women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median weekly earnings of $657 in 2009. This represented 80 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($819).

        The important part is that within each employment sector women made less than men.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Will, I’m not suggesting that it’s all of it, but I am suggesting it’s part of it. What’s more, I’m suggesting that the focus on equal pay is a bit of a misdirection given the data on occupational deaths.

        The occupational fatality rate gap for men and women far exceeds the pay gap. 92% of occupational fatalities are men, and 8% are women. That’s 11-1.

        And for those men who die on the job, their lifetime pay is likely outpaced by the average women’s lifetime pay.

        April 9 is “Equal Pay Day,” an estimate of how much longer into the next year the hypothetical average woman has to work to equal what the hypothetical average man did in the prior year. Economist Mark Perry has caculated Equal Occupational Fatality Day, how long that average woman would have to work to equal the death risk that average man faced in the past year….she gets there in 2024.*

        By all means let’s even the pay gap. Let’s even the death gap, too.
        *Perry’s essay says 2023, but it was written a year ago.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Zic, I was going to fix your link, but the URL got stripped out.

        Here’s the data I’m working off of.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Sectors cover a rather large area, though, in ways that don’t always even out. (For example, the gap is comparatively narrow in construction. I don’t think that’s because sexism in construction is less rampant, but because men occupy a lot of the particularly low-wage position, comparatively speaking.)

        It also leaves aside such factors as work experience (time off for children, stints working part time), hours within the full-time realm, promotions, and so on.

        On the other hand, roles within the company can be (and I suspect are) assigned in gendered ways. And it’s possible that some of the higher-pressure, higher-paying segments of numerous industries are probably more likely to prefer to hire men.

        I’ve read that some studies have negated the gap by comparing like-to-like stringently. Others have suggested that it cuts the difference down to 5-10%. These can paper over, however, for the sorts of things I mention in the previous paragraph.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Is the evidence I linked to enough to form an opinion regarding whether or not Obama lied when he said the pay gap is 77%? IF a person were to claim Obama lied about those numbers, could we say he was being so extreme in his use of language that he’s rendered the word “lie” irrelevant?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Most job injuries:

        Health care workers. Predominately women. Not life-threatening or loss-of-limb stuff; but potentially life-long problems.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Stillwater, the 77% figure itself measures something, just as the 80% does. Whethe it’s a lie, or at least dishonest, depends precisely on how the data is being presented. Politicians and media types that have used the figure have been very slippery about what the figure means. Veering, in my opinion, into dishonesty.

        At the least, they’re creating a lot of confusion.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        That’s a pretty low bar for using the word “lie” no?

        Shouldn’t that word be reserved for the most flagrant of abuses of willful misrepresentation and deception? The “acid bath” versions of lying, so to speak?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        “Lie” isn’t the word that I would use, but it’s not one I can forcefully argue with. If you know that women are not paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for the same work, and you intentionally say things in such a way that leaves people with the impression that women are paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for the same work, it’s hard to muster much of a defense against the accusation of lying.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        If you know that women are not paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for the same work, and you intentionally say things in such a way that leaves people with the impression that women are paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for the same work, it’s hard to muster much of a defense against the accusation of lying.

        Dude, I just cited a BLS article which concluded that women make 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. It says it right there on the .gov website!Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        “for doing the same work”Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Hmmm. I think my point is being missed. It has to do with hyperbolic rhetoric and the debasing of our language. Here’s the thing Will: I think it’s true that women make less than men do in every employment sector covered by the BLS report. ANd the reason is because I believe the report. And personally speaking here, I think you’d be hard pressed to establish the claim that I’m lying when I say I believe it.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:


        But you would be lying if you said or deliberately implied that this showed that women got paid 20% less for the same work as their male counterparts. Now, it could be an honest mistake, but the likelihood of that is extremely low for someone of your or Obama’s intelligence.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        “The same employment sector” is not “the same work.”

        The issue that takes it beyond sloppy or somewhat misleading into dishonest territory is not when someone says “Women earn 77 cents for ever dollar a man earns.” It’s when they imply that the 77 cents and one dollar are for doing the same work.

        If you say “Women earn eighty cents on the dollar in every employment sector” that would actually be technically untrue, but I wouldn’t call it dishonest. It would be dishonest if you used that statistic to imply that women earn eighty cents on the dollar for doing the same work. Unless you thought that to be true. Do you? I believe President Obama and Rachel Maddow know that’s not the case (or at least that the evidence cited does not actually point in that direction).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        OK, now I get it. I had to do some research once Murali referenced a specific quote. I didn’t pick up on what Tim was referring to in his upthread comment about pay equality (I was actually ignorant of the specific Obama quote he was referring to til I Googled it) and I think Will probably had that particular quotation in mind all thru this thread. So, yeah, I agree with you guys that he’s either being incredibly ignorant about what he’s saying or (more likely) lying about what the data actually represents.

        Sorry about the confusion. My bad there.Report

      • @will-truman

        “Lie” isn’t the word that I would use, but it’s not one I can forcefully argue with. If you know that women are not paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for the same work, and you intentionally say things in such a way that leaves people with the impression that women are paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for the same work, it’s hard to muster much of a defense against the accusation of lying.

        When I had written my comment above responding to @tim-kowal ‘s quote, I had started in my first draft by taking a position that what Tim was describing wasn’t a lie, but “merely something debatable, used to shade a certain way.” I had to revise the comment before clicking “submit” because I had to admit that it was a true statistic (at least according to Tim’s source) that was used misleadingly. I then was tempted to say that “misleading” = dishonest but does not necessarily = “lie,” but I found I couldn’t do that because while I have a higher standard than Tim apparently does for calling something a “lie,” I wasn’t prepared to defend it. So I had to concede the point.

        Still….there was, to me, something misleading by Tim calling that statement a “lie.” Perhaps because I do have a different standard. I believe lies have to involve a certain intentionality or willful disregard of truth, for something that can be demonstrably shown to be untrue or that the speaker ought to know is untrue. Even then, maybe Obama’s statement counts as a lie. But the game does seem closer to me than it does to Tim. I think there’s something misleading, or perhaps unnecessarily provocative about using “lie” in that case, but I’m prepared to admit that my own partisan blinders or my opinion of the messenger’s own unwillingness to meaningfully engage others clouds my judgment.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Here’s one claim from a political add:

        “The son of a single mom, proud father of two daughters, President Obama knows that women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn’t just unfair, it hurts families.”

        This is from his State of the Union address:

        “You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns,” Obama said. “That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”

        The second one is ambiguous enough (or cagey enough) for people to legitimately disagree about. THe first one seem less so. Either way, I think Tim and Will have some pretty solid ground to stand on when accusing Obama of lying about those statistics.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @stillwater It’s all good. I felt like there was a disconnect between what you were talking about and what I was. I probably could have clarified things by supplying more direct quotes of what I was talking about.Report

  8. Avatar El Muneco says:

    I miss the days before Poe’s Law was stolen from us.Report

  9. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    Yes, things are not black and white and exist on a continuum. I don’t think any averagely intelligent adult doubts that.

    Just because things are not as bad as the piece you describe, does not mean that America is sexism free, violence against women free, etc. The son of a very famous person just pleaded guilty for murdering his girlfriend and he had a long history of violence against women but getting treated lightly.

    If you want to talk about rhetoric being turned up to 11, I would like to hear some criticism of the people who claim that Agenda 21 is a secret UN plot to destroy the American Way of Life and how bike lines and more public transportation are a sign of the End Times.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      If you want to talk about rhetoric being turned up to 11, I would like to hear some criticism of the people who claim that Agenda 21 is a secret UN plot to destroy the American Way of Life and how bike lines and more public transportation are a sign of the End Times.

      Why? Because you think Tim’s in allegiance with those folks? Or because every time liberals are critiqued here at the OT the response is to redirect by pointing out how much worse conservatives are? Or because you feel like, really, those wackaloons just haven’t been criticized enough?

      Why does Tim need to be the one who criticizes them?Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        Because if Tim’s point is to criticize the use of excessive hyperbole in political language, it seems odd to omit half the political spectrum (and oddly convenient to omit the half on which he happens to reside). It raises the suspicion that he’s using his criticism of hyperbole as a way to unfairly tarnish only his opponents, when his allies are equally guilty of the same alleged crime. There’s a place for BSDI, and this is it.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        What Dan said. I actually really dislike hyperbole and have a very strong innate adverse reaction to inflamed rhetoric. I am not fond of the war on women hashtag/meme even though I ardently oppose Republican policies on the matter. I am also not a woman so I generally keep quite quite on the issue. It is not my place to criticize.

        I would use a genie wish to make or civil and political debate operate on less Manichean terms.

        That being said, this is an issue of BDSI and it is suspicious to use this to tar team blue and rehabilitate your own team.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        To be fair, I can also use inflamed rhetoric even though it makes me wince. Agi-prop can be catchy.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I’d be on board if BSDI meant liberals critiquing conservatives here will get the same response.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        How much self-criticism would make you happy James? Seriously. I mean, I identify as a liberal, but I don’t agree with a whole bunch of other people’s views who also identify as liberal. How the hell am I supposed to self-reflect on views that aren’t my own?Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        What is comparable to the Dems, including the pres., demagoging on climate and eat on women? Curious what people’s take on that is.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        In asking that question, do you mean to ask “what is comparable in conservative rhetoric to the Pres demagoguing about climate change and the war on women”?Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        @stillwater Yes, that’s what I mean. I limited my examples to those I saw from last week, but those two seem among the worst to my mind.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        First, I’d that that the President isn’t demagoguing about climate change – it’s pretty conventionally agreed upon to be a Real Deal, at least insofar as the empirical side of the argument goes. By contrast, I’d say that conservative rhetoric about that topic is both hyperbolic (“liberals are claiming that we’re all DOOMED!”) and factually incorrect (denialism, attributing the whole issue to a liberal conspiracy, etc). So I think you’ve reversed the analysis in that case and conservatives are far worse on both counts than liberals. At least, that’s how things seem to me.

        The war on women is a bit more difficult to disentangle since the role of women in society isn’t determined by empirical evidence. Yet even then, I don’t think liberals are incorrect when they say conservatives are engaging in a war on women wrt abortion service access in all the myriad ways that obstructionism is realized, contraception inclusions in insurance, denigrating arguments for equal pay, and so on. Liberal arguments in support of those issues – particularly equal pay – aren’t hyperbolic, it seems to me, either in scope or in ascribing certain goals and value positions to conservatives. What you view as liberal extremism in describing conservatives strikes me as for the most part an accurate description of conservative objectives and arguments.

        But to get back to the question you asked: Benghazi comes immediately to mind. So does the commonly expressed view that Hilary staged the shoe throwing incident, her daughters pregnancy, or the reintroduction of Lewinsky onto the political landscape. That shit’s extreme – and extremely insane – and there’s no political goal I can think of advanced by engaging in that sort of behavior except as evidence of an internalization of a wildly hyperbolic (and paranoid) mindset, one that maybe even you don’t realize is deranged. Benghazi is part and parcel of the same nonsense. (I mean, conservatives have a perfectly good scandal to nail Obama and Democrats balls to the wall with – the IRS scandal – but they instead choose to pursue evidence free conspiracy theories. Insane.)Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        @stillwater Thanks for responding. I’m not aware of what specific hyperbolic rhetoric has been used by Republicans on Benghazi. The fact that the GOP thinks something is an issue worth pursuing is not itself a problem of rhetoric or civility, the focus of my critique here.

        I think climate change demonstrates perfectly that setting strawmen on fire gives nothing but heat and no light. Skeptics are not “deniers,” for one thing. Skepticism is the essence of the scientific process, and to tar skepticism as akin to Holocaust denialism that should be subjected to a “Climate Nuremburg” is dangerous and wrong. (Also ask: Do those who bandy the “denial” meme also take offense at the use of “Democrat” as an adjective?) Skeptics accept conservation as a principle, but they also recognize the limits of our data: We don’t know how much human activity has affected atmospheric temperatures, and even less the effects on ocean temperatures. As important, we don’t know what good effects our best efforts can have, versus the bad effects of making energy less available. Abundant energy is vitally important to human prosperity, so this issue, like any other, involves important considerations on both sides.

        In the face of these uncertainties, we find Sec. of State John Kerry saying this: “climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction. … Now, President and I – Obama and I believe very deeply that we do not have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society.”

        Not cool. This is refashioning rhetoric, both in its meaning and its purpose, at the highest levels of our political system to disrupt and overwhelm the intellect, not inform it.

        I readily admit I may have partisan gaps in forming my opinion, but nonetheless, it is my opinion that the left engages in this reprovisioning of rhetoric to suit certain agendas far more often and at higher levels than the right.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        How much self-criticism would make you happy James?

        How about…some? Without an immediate commentariat redirect to how bad conservatives are, or BSDI complaints?

        Seriously. I mean, I identify as a liberal, but I don’t agree with a whole bunch of other people’s views who also identify as liberal. How the hell am I supposed to self-reflect on views that aren’t my own?

        I hear you. I just wonder if Tim had that same thought when Saul asked him to reflect on Agenda 21, bike lanes and oublic transit.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        What is comparable to the Dems, including the pres., demagoging on climate and eat on women? Curious what people’s take on that is.

        My take would be the right’s (and many of my fellow libertarians’s) tendency to use the word socialism far too freely. If requiring everyone to purchase a product from a cartelish industry (ACA) is socialist, then what word do we use for governments that nationalize their oil industries? Seems like a “goes to 11” problem to me.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        @james-hanley Yes, I’d say that’s a valid contender.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        What seems blindingly inevitable to me is that if I were to write a post about hyperbole using left examples and right examples it would be critiqued almost certainly as false equivalence. I mean, there is not a question in my mind. At least with Tim’s approach, we have gotten something resembling agreement that we don’t need to limit ourselves to only one side’s misbehavior.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Will, I agree, and we get plenty of “right” examples here, and we don’t even really need them, because pretty much everyone but Tim, Jim, and notme, are painfully aware of them. It would have felt unnecessarily gratuitous, to me, if Tim had thrown in some of the “right’s” hyperboles. I just wish he didn’t pick examples that essentially said “Because I disagree with their position, anything they say is hyperbole, even if they didn’t actually say it.”Report

      • @will-truman @chris

        That’s true, I think. Which is why I haven’t really criticized the omission of examples from the right.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    In college, I wrote a paper about how Wayne Gretzky’s nickname (“The Great One”) made it really hard to describe anyone else accurately.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Especially Jackie Gleason.Report

    • Perhaps it made it easier to describe everyone else accurately.

      “not as great as Gretzky.”

      “Man, that Mario Lemieux is a great player.”
      “Yeah, but not as great as Gretzky.”

      “I’ve been reading Dylan Thomas lately. He’s a great poet.”
      “Sure, but not as great as Gretzky.”

      The implosion of the earth just before we escaped on this rocket ship is the greatest tragedy to befall mankind.”
      “Yeah, but…”

      I don’t see a problem.Report

  11. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    So, what words are left to describe actual slavery?Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:


      Look, I’m all for happily pointing out overblown rhetoric — mostly by pointing out it’s stupid, but in the end hyperbole is just a form of metaphor or analogy, and everyone understands it.

      Nobody who says “War on women” in America thinks there’s a bunch of soldiers assaulting women, attempting to force them to surrender or conquer their land. Because we’re not stupid, and we understand context and imagery and analogy and metaphor and all that crap.

      But when someone says “X is slavery” and means it — like literal, not rhetorical, not hyperbolic, actual slavery — then you can say “You’re a total idiot. THIS — pointing to actual slavery — is actual slavery. Maybe you mean coercion, or slavery in a metaphoric sense, but if you insist it is actual, literal slavery then you are an idiot and we will laugh at you”.

      And then you laugh.

      Like when you see LaRouchies, who draw Hitler mustaches on everything and are a walking Godwin’s Law violation because they’re mostly really serious, and really dumb.

      Because there’s analogies and there’s bloody stupid.

      Also, again: If people keep getting confused as to the points of these posts and people have to guess in comments until you admit what it is, perhaps you should reconsider how you write them, because they are self-evidently confusing which means you’re not getting your point across. Maybe because of Poe’s Law, maybe because you’re just not tailoring your satire right.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        But when someone says “X is slavery” and means it — like literal, not rhetorical, not hyperbolic, actual slavery–then you can say “You’re a total idiot.

        Or, when you assume they mean it, because you’re pre-committed to calling them an idiot no matter what.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        So you’re just assuming I can’t tell the difference?

        Because I’ll tell you which group, right now, I mock without reservation or deeper inquiry. The SOLE group I will mock right from the get go: LaRouche Democrats. And I do that because they put Hitler mustaches on everything and call everything fascist.

        So, technically, the only people I will assume are idiots without further investigation are technically on my side of the aisle, and I only do so because they’re routine Godwin’s law violators.

        I do have ask: You seem to assume that I treat anyone making an idiotic claim as an idiot (rather than, as I do, forcing them to clarify to make sure they aren’t speaking literally — I have met “taxation is theft” sorts of both stripes). So if my (apparent) assumption is bad, how bad is yours?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Well, no, I’m pretty sure that on the internet nobody can really tell very often.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        Nobody who says “War on women” in America thinks there’s a bunch of soldiers assaulting women, attempting to force them to surrender or conquer their land. Because we’re not stupid, and we understand context and imagery and analogy and metaphor and all that crap.

        There aren’t that even in the countries where women get acid thrown in their face, either.

        And, actually, ‘war’ is not actually a metaphor, or an analogy. The actual definition of war not only includes ‘a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations ‘ but ‘a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end’.

        It’s not a metaphoric ‘war’, it’s an actual, literal, 100% the-actual-definition, ‘war’. That is one of the real, current, meanings of the word ‘war’.

        Now, of course, the name ‘The Republican war on women’ could be debated, but wars have often been named for propagandize purposes. Although, really, that name is pretty neutral, objectively speaking. It sounds bad, but, uh, waging an offensive war on specific people who’ve done nothing to you always sounds bad. And it’s the only name we have. If the Republicans have some other name for it, they should present it. (The women’s war on Republicans?)Report

  12. Avatar Tygh says:

    I wasn’t terribly confused, though at first I thought he might have been joking on account of the Spinal Tap reference.

    Anyway, I think the takeaway was supposed to be that there are no indignities suffered by women in America that are worthy of words stronger than, say, ‘mildly inconvenient’; that the polar bears are fine; and that both the notion of human contribution to global warming or the risks to our economy or societies are junk science… don’t get him started on incandescent lightbulbs.

    Furthermore, the reason that anyone believes otherwise is apparently that liberals, or other misguided folks keep running their mouths at maximum volume using superlatives wherever possible. This leaves Tim sad that the *real problems of the world must now be described with the same adjectives used to talk about the fake ones. That sucks Tim; sorry buddy. Too bad our language is so limited.

    Speaking of hyperbole, I have family members who are still pretty sure that President Obama is an Islamic sleeper terrorist bent on destroying the country. They also point to Benghazi and Obama Care as evidence of this agenda. Tim is right that *someone* has the volume knob twisted right off.Report

  13. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    @gabriel-conroy , covered this topic a lot better. He pointed out numerous examples from both sides, for example.

    I get that you’re a conservative, but don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.Report

  14. Avatar zic says:

    The revealed word of God, a thousand years on, is the war on women.

    They protect priests that prey on children for decades but fire priests who ‘invalidly participate in the ordination of women.’

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that only men can receive holy orders because Jesus chose men as his apostles and the “apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.” Blessed John Paul II wrote in 1994 that this teaching is definitive and not open to debate among Catholics.

    Yet some Catholics persist in asking why, as traditional distinctions between the sexes break down in many areas of society, the Catholic clergy must remain an exclusively male vocation, and what this suggests about the church’s understanding of women’s worth and dignity.

    Tim is a warrior in this war on women, too.

    Reflecting on differences between the sexes, Father Giertych suggested other reasons that men are especially suited to the priesthood.

    Men are more likely to think of God in terms of philosophical definitions and logical syllogisms, he said, a quality valuable for fulfilling a priest’s duty to transmit church teaching.

    Although the social and administrative aspects of church life are hardly off-limits to women, Father Giertych said priests love the church in a characteristically “male way” when they show concern “about structures, about the buildings of the church, about the roof of the church which is leaking, about the bishops’ conference, about the concordat between the church and the state.”

    Father Giertych acknowledged that a Catholic woman might sincerely believe she is called to the priesthood, but said such a “subjective” belief does not indicate the objective existence of a vocation.

    None of which means that women hold an inferior place in the church, he said.

    Yeah, right. You lie.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      To continue, there’s <a href="the Catholic version of the War on Woman:

      Despite what we are being told, the “War on Women” is not some evil plan orchestrated behind closed doors by conservative male politicians and Catholic Church leaders. In reality it is quite the opposite.

      It actually began before the sexual revolution took hold in the 1960s. It began with the “War on Words” which ushered in a time when women were stripped of their true identity and fed a steady diet of false feminism and moral relativism.

      The piece goes on to list the casualties in this war. The first?

      Men are completely confused by who they are and what is expected of them.


      There are lies in the list, too:

      Young people no longer date. They “hook up.” Social pressures and “new norms” have left no family untouched by the heartaches which have come from the sexual revolution.

      So people don’t date anymore, they just hook up? Right.

      Full-time motherhood has been desecrated … young mothers who stay at home to raise children are made to feel inadequate if they do not have a job outside the home.

      ahem; with the income shifting going on, it now requires two wages to afford a home, for instance. (Megan McArdle did a piece during the foreclosure crisis that pointed out many of the families being foreclosed were in this position because only one partner had lost a job, yet paying their mortgage required two incomes.)

      This is one of the biggest whoppers:

      Millions of wounded and abused women live with the heartache and regret of abortion.

      Obviously, the priest dude writing this claptrap didn’t bother to actually look at the vast amounts of information about how women who’ve had abortions actually feel about those abortions, let alone to bother to ask how those same women feel about the right to control their uteruses. Major league projection going on here.

      And let’s blame breast cancer on contraception and abortion while we’re at it:

      Millions of women have been blindly ushered into the high risk group for breast cancer due to the lies of contraception and the unreported link between abortion and this deadly disease. Many are left physically scarred and emotionally depleted from this cancer which the National Institutes of Health (NIT) tells us kills more women in the United States than any cancer except lung cancer. It is also listed as the most common cancer among young people ages 15 – 40.

      Here’s the closer victim point:

      Parents mourn the children that they willingly prevented and their children long for their missing siblings. (Catholic World 2003 reveals that since the introduction of the Pill the average number of children in the American Catholic family has fallen from 5.5 to 2.1 children per family.)
      The list expends far beyond these victims.

      Reality is that if women have the right to contraception, they still have children, but they space those children better, they have fewer children, and those families lives are more economically secure. Even Catholic women use contraception to better space their children.
      This view of Tim’s war on women was brought to you by a fan of Nigel, because dudes who call themselves priests also crank it up to 11.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      If God wanted women to become priests he would have given them the ability to think logically.Report

  15. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    My gripe is not with Tim’s pointing out that either a) people in other parts of the world have it way worse than us, or b) people left of center usevover the top, unnuanced rhetoric, or more distressingly for some, c) OMG what’s a conservative doing here being all conservative and stuff.

    Though I risk being accused of flying the “equivalency in all places and things” flag, righties turn their rhetoric up to 11 quite a lot too. Ann Coulter titled one of her books “treason” for crying out loud, the treason being peaceful advocacy of political policies she disagreed with. Listen to Sarah Palin’s stump speech; supersaturated with sarcasm and slant. Witness the massive freakout of the NRA over a gun that a home invader can’t use against its rightful owner. Trying to subsidize middle-class peoples’ health insurance is the Doom Of The Republic and a reduction in the rate of increase of military budgeting is leaving the door unlocked to Vladimir Putin annexing Montana.

    IIRC, getting away from mind-killing hyperbole and exploring nuance is what Ordinary Times is about. My criticism of the post is only that by calling out leftie immoderation in rhetoric, not so much as a nod to acknowledge the existence of rightie immoderation was made.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      I agree that leaving out conservative hyperbole diminishes the merits of a post ostensibly about how damaging such language can be to public discourse. And that’d be a fine thing to write about, I suppose, if the argument were applied fully generally. But even then, I would disagree with the premise that hyperbolic uses of language prevent individuals from forming or expressing judgments about truly egregious behaviors and practices. To believe that liberal’s use of the term “war on women” prevents a conservative (or liberal, for that matter) from expressing a view about acid baths is to believe that that individual’s ability to use language is constrained by how others use words and not determined by their own intentions and agency. That’s just a form of whining, it seems to me. ANd whining about something completely under their control. So there’s also an appeal to victimization here as well.

      The post doesn’t read to me as a meta-observation regarding language use fully generally, but rather the view that liberals have once again fucked things up for conservatives. I hear that story so often I begin to wonder whether conservatives are even capable of determining their own outcomes anymore, if conservatism really does just reduce to opposing liberals and preventing them from doing what they do.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I’ll be honest, I saw what he was doing, but also saw that it was pretty clearly a chance to take a shot at liberal things he doesn’t like, the result being that while he picked excellent examples for the latter purpose, he picked poor ones for the former. It’s a case of the conservative tripping himself over his own partisanship. Or basically the entire conservative blogosphere in one post.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Yeah, that’s a good way to sum up my views on it too. THere’s a good point buried in there (somewhere!) but in the reflexive rush to demonize liberals and define the conservative view in purely oppositional terms (eg, ~liberal, AKA Cleek’s Law) the argument trips over its own inconsistency.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Hell, I wouldn’t care if he only used liberal examples. He’d just have to pick some that actually demonstrate his point. As a few here have shown, the examples he chose do not.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I hear ya on that Chris, but even if he picked better examples I’d still reject the argument. I see no reason to think that hyperbolic language use by other people prevents a speaker from articulating his or her views about a topic. That premise strikes me as either a form of whining, agency-denying victimization, or begging the question.Report

      • @stillwater

        Are you prepared to say that tone (in this case, hyperbole) can never be part of the substance of an argument? If so, that’s a respectable view, even though I hold a different view. But I’m curious how far you’d take what you just said in your comment.

        It might not be an either/or thing, either. Maybe one can say tone can be part of the substance of an argument, but that what the OP does here, and perhaps hyperbole in general doesn’t meet the threshold. I really don’t mean my question as a gotcha.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        I take it that Tim isn’t criticizing hyperbole full stop. He’s criticizing hyperbolic language insofar as it prevents him from expressing his own views about a topic. I think that’s just a ridiculous argument to make or even suggest, myself. Furthermore, his examples of hyperbolic excess all fail. Furtherfurther, I don’t think the phrase “war on women” as it’s used by liberals in the US is hyperbolic, but Tim and I disagree about that.

        I dunno if that answers the question, tho. Do I find hyperbolic language problematic when trying to engage in discourse about public policy and whatnot? Not really. But I tend to not think words are as sticky as you do, either. So you and I probably disagree about some of what’s going on here as well.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Tone…and hyperbole…are, as I’ve said before, one of the ways humans communicate intensity or depth of feeling on a subject.

        It’s like…slamming poetry for using imagery. Sure, maybe the poet uses BAD imagery or is an awful poet, or maybe honestly if he’s going to say someone’s face is as lovely as the morning, he’s just ruining the imagery because that guy’s face is ugly as sin and there’s much more handsome men that that should be said of, and how are we going to describe beauty if all the good imagery is used on stuff that’s just not that pretty?

        You can slam hyperbole for being in bad taste, for being irrelevant, for being flat-out stupid, and you can certainly slam it when people SOUND like they’re being hyperbolic but it turns out they’re being literal and they’re just really wrong.

        But complaining that people use it really is like complaining poets use metaphor and imagery. Rhetoric and hyperbole are a key component of passionate communication. Maybe you don’t like passion when discussing politics, but people tend to get that way because those who discuss it feel politics has real world implications that directly affect them.

        It’d be nice if we all talked like technical manuals, but that’s not how humans have ever worked.

        I’m all for calling out excessive hyperbole (say, virtually everything PETA says and does for a left side example or the various “taxation is theft/slavery” on the right) — because there IS such a thing as idiotic hyperbole, but nothing he linked even comes close.

        But that’s basically like calling out a poet for crappy imagery. “Dude, did you even read what you wrote? You sound like an idiot. It doesn’t even make sense. What were you thinking?”Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Someone who’s elliptical while criticizing hyperbole is a shapist (and risks arguing in a circle.)Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:


        I feel you could have worked parabolic in there somehow. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        On reflection, I think you’re right.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Still, I agree, his position is off. I’m simply pointing out that he undermines it from the start, so it barely gets noticed, regardless of its soundness.

        I do think language can get distorted by “misuse” (I’m not a prescriptivist about this stuff, hence the scare quotes), but that’s just part of what language is, and how it changes. I can only hope that Tim is being purposefully hyperbolic in order to emphasize his point, when he says he can’t speak because liberals have ruined his words.Report

      • I don’t really want people to talk like technical manuals. And for the record, I don’t intend to say hyperbole shouldn’t be used, just that it’s often misused (in the sense of being counterproductive or lost on the audience) or overused or used more than I would prefer. I’d also go further and say hyperbole, like any instance of tone, is part of the substance of an argument, though not the whole or even most important part of the argument.

        But your analogy with the poet and imagery works pretty well for me. And I do find the OP confusing and think I disagree with much of what it appears to think is its appropriate takeaway.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


        My innate reaction against hyperbole comes from being a member of a minority where hyperbolic speech and bigoted beliefs led to some very deadly consequences for my group.

        So when I think of hyperbole, I think of someone trying to whip up a mob to do something really really horrible to an innocent soul.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @morat20 – Apologies in advance, I am going to comment without having read the OP nor all the comments, but you said something I saw in GoG over the weekend that I want to pick at ever so slightly:

        hyperbole…[is] one of the ways humans communicate intensity or depth of feeling on a subject.

        It’s like…slamming poetry for using imagery

        It seems to me that hyperbole (exaggeration) is slightly different from the other rhetorical tools you put in the same toolbox, at least when we are speaking of public discourse, and not poetry/fiction.

        A political or real-world analogy or metaphor that we agree is a good one is one where the two things being likened, are generally-agreed-upon to be fairly alike in the relevant dimensions (a poetic or artistic one, of course, merely need be beautiful or thought-provoking to be good).

        That is, X is (pretty much ) like Y.

        One primary way an analogy or metaphor or image becomes a bad one, is when we think either X, or Y, has been *exaggerated*.

        X is NOT like Y, because X is (far worse/better/smaller/larger/etc.)

        Analogy and metaphor, when deployed in good faith, are ideally attempts at clarifying an issue by throwing light on it from another angle (They may not always succeed of course, and some people don’t like these either, and of course they can also be deployed in bad faith, as obfuscations).

        Hyperbole, by nature, is exaggeration – therefore it shades closer to “obfuscation” than to “clarification”, IMO – and as I’ve said, the presence of exaggeration on one component or another is often enough to discredit its sister other rhetorical tools of metaphor or analogy (they become ‘false equivalence’!)

        I think hyperbole’s less likely to be intentionally-deployed in good faith, but rather is more likely to be deceptive by nature (of course, we don’t always realize when we’re being hyperbolic, and we don’t always agree on what IS hyperbolic in any given case – still, hyperbole’s something I think we want to generally stay away from in public policy discourse.)

        (If it’s fiction or poetry or comedy, hyperbole away. Stories are already lies that can tell the truth.)Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Hyperbole seems to be the American choice for emotional emphasis. You can even see it in our cliches. We exaggerate for effect, by nature.

        “The worst thing ever” is a phrase that comes readily to our lips, multiple times over multiple things (although cancelling Firefly is, of course, the worst thing ever)

        I’m still calling BS on a post that whines about liberal hyperbole while linking to conservative hyperbole. Seriously, that bit about the West Point speech? PW’s response would have been canned by Hollywood as ‘too cliche’d” a GOP response.

        Like it had everything. Worst president ever, wrecking our military, we look weak to the world, how we’re just gonna have to fight more wars later, like it was like someone took a Cold War speech in response to Surrender McSurrenderson’s Presidency.

        It wasn’t that he didn’t include conservative examples — it’s that he didn’t realize they were examples.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Well, as I said, I haven’t read the OP and probably shouldn’t have commented. But hyperbole does feel different to me than analogy and metaphor. As I said, if it’s done intentionally when purportedly speaking “truth”, it seems (closer to) inherently deceptive than analogy and metaphor do.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        I like hyperbole. Like, it’s pretty much the best thing ever.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        If so, then that makes hypobole the worst thing ever.

        I can’t handle the emotional rollercoaster. Best if we just stick with bole.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        I mostly like the additional half. I like it alot!Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I make a bole sauce.

        It’s just OK.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      IRC, getting away from mind-killing hyperbole and exploring nuance is what Ordinary Times is about. My criticism of the post is only that by calling out leftie immoderation in rhetoric, not so much as a nod to acknowledge the existence of rightie immoderation was made.
      He didn’t just call out lefty versions, he linked approvingly to conservative versions.

      I quoted some of the idiocy, but here:
      “, I mean, it was just a continuation of a series of speeches and actions that signal weakness to both our enemies and our adversaries. This is a person who is very, very confused. ”


      “l thing. I think Barack Obama is a product of a particular intellectual and social milieu. He’s a product of Columbia University, Harvard, the Ivy League. He is a liberal deep in his bones, and he feels that America has been a problem, an agitation in much of the world. And so he’s really with pulling back American strength both in terms of the military budget and in terms of our posture. And so we’re going down, and I must say, you’re quite right. I mean, this man is living in a fantasy world.”


      “I will also say that relations with virtually every country in the world are worse now than when Obama inherited them. And this was supposed to be his strong suit, his strong point. And this is very precarious situation for us to be in. And no president could completely ruin America or undercut our military, but the fact is, as you say, he’s not willing to deploy strength or force. His words carry no weight, no threat, and so we’re being pushed around in virtually every corner of the globe”

      That’s one article.

      He didn’t actually point out any hyperbole by Obama, but linked to some extreme conservative versions. Did Tim consider the speech hyperbole? Did he hate it? Like it? Was he linking to Peter’s craziness as some “if you follow the link I’m even handed” reasons? Did he agree with Peter?

      I can’t tell, just like nobody could tell what the point of this post was until Tim finally claimed, in comments, it was a whine about hyperbole. Possibly a satirical one.

      Whatever his problems are as a conservative writer here, one is certainly “inability to plainly express his point at times”. Half the comments on this thread are variations of “What?”Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      My criticism of the post is only that by calling out leftie immoderation in rhetoric, not so much as a nod to acknowledge the existence of rightie immoderation was made.

      How often do our lefties, when critiquing righties, nod at the left’s similar actions? And when someone–usually the not-actually-left-Tod–we get the chorus of “BSDI” whining from the usual suspects.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        I dunno, how often does the left accuse the right of hyperbole while linking to defenses that contain hyperbole?

        I suspect Tim might have gotten a lot more slack on “We should tone down the hyperbole” if he wasn’t simultaneously engaging in it himself, and linking to extreme examples at the same time.

        It’s a bit hard to swallow him simultaneously claiming Obama engages in reckless rhetoric and hyperbole and strawmanning when he links to a guy that went point by point down Obama’s West Point speech and turned it up to 11.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        How often do our lefties make neutral claims like “The language is being drained of its meaning by immoderate rhetoric!” and then blame only righties? It seems to me lefties critique righties here for believing the wrong things substantively. No sense then turning around and critiquing lefties for believing the right things on those topics. So it’s not a matter of evenhanded ness in all critiques, it should be about reflecting the actual levels of blameworthiness when advancing the procedural/systematic (I.e. not as much substantive) critiques of the kind Tim does here. And the reason for that is just that it lets everyone consider the argument in a less politically charged context. If Tim had included an example or two of right wing hyperbole it wouldn’t have made anyone doubt his political commitments. But it would have let them consider his argument about the bleaching of the language outside of a clear implication that he thinks it’s all one side’s fault. That helps when you’re advancing a neutral claim like the one he seems to be advancing – unless his claim really isn’t neutral, but instead it’s that the language is being bleached And it’s all the left’s fault!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I agree Tim’s examples weren’t good, and I’m not critiquing critique of that. I’m just noticing that the responses go beyond that. When the left is critiqued, it seems insufficient to point out the weakness of the examples, but it has to also be pointed out that the right does it, too.

        In conjunction, those two critiques are a bit weird, aren’t they? “There’s nothing there, but they do it, too!”Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        How often do our lefties make neutral claims like “The language is being drained of its meaning by immoderate rhetoric!” and then blame only righties? It seems to me lefties critique righties here for believing the wrong things substantively.

        And when we do complain about hyperbolic rhetoric, we’re not complaining about the word choice.

        What we complain about is that the right then proceeds to take it literally.

        I mean, look, if the right really wants to compare a government exchange to purchase health insurance on to Nazi Germany, they’re free to do it. (Well, as free as any person is to compare things to the Nazis, which is, not actually that free. But that’s not ‘the left’ that complains about that, it’s pretty much all people.)

        But, uh, the right then proceeds to act as if they literally believe that to be true. And incorporate all sorts of misinformation in order to make it look true.

        Likewise, if someone wants to write an article asserting that Obama has been the worst president ever at foreign policy, that’s hyperbole. (No matter how bad you want to interpret his actions, there have been worst presidents.) But that hyperbole would be fine.

        Except that hyperbole isn’t hyperbole. Along with it will be numerous false claims making a completely insane case, and the actual conclusion people are supposed to get from such an article is that president has literally destroyed the country.

        That’s…not hyperbole. That is not how hyperbole works. Hyperbole is not ‘making insanely over the top lies in hopes your audience will believe them’.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Just because lefties don’t self-examine when they accuse righties of over-the-top rhetoric doesn’t make that right, either. It just means that they (typically) don’t.

        Now, should we reasonably expect someone who is critical of hyperbole from the other side be able to look at her own fellow-travelers and say that they are guilty of similar sins? I say that we can, if the object of the criticism is truly the hyperbole rather than the slant.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I think @burt-likko gets it right on all counts, assuming I’m understanding Tim’s motivation for writing the post correctly.

      Even moving past (what seems to me to be) the obvious truth that his point would have been made far more powerfully if Tim would have looked at his own team as well, the approving nod toward an AM conservative talk radio guy coming immediately after professed outrage that a left-wing pundit would dare use an emotionally charged word like “treason” to describe the other side seemed… odd.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        @tod-kelly What conservative hyperbole to you find comparable to the hyperbole on climate and feminism? As I’ve suggested, it’s not enough to point to examples of one side ‘overplaying their hand’ — that’s a political issue, not a rhetorical one. Nor is it enough to point to examples of overblown rhetoric among an ineffectual fringe group. Climate and feminism are two examples I’ve pointed to here where the rhetoric comes from or is facilitated by the higher parts of the liberal/left’s power structure. Birtherism, treason-accusers, and the like — whom Hewitt routinely dismisses and dumps on in his broadcasts, FYI — are dim comparisons, in my view.

        I was not making a “pox on both your houses” post. I’m saying that overblown rhetoric from high places is damaging. I reject that I have to make sure I find examples from the other side of the political aisle just because some of the very best (which is to say, worst) examples come from one side.

        So if there’s merit to the point you and @burt-likko are making, it would depend on there being examples from the right fairly comparable to the Sec. of State using “weapons of mass destruction” and “Flat Earth Society” rhetoric while talking about climate change, or the White House telling 77 cents lies and otherwise facilitating a ‘War on Women’ meme.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @tim-kowal The way you’ve set the table, it seems a rather fruitless endeavor: if you’ll only except sources from the types of folks who would not make such statements, I’m not sure I will be able to find any.

        For example, I am going to take a stab in the dark that this would mean that although in your OP you quoted the token liberal on Fox News “The Five,” any of the four conservatives from that show (or anyone else on Fox) would be disqualified as not being part of the “power structure”… yes? Or that although in your OP a blogger from Esquire is an acceptable mirror of the Left, my pointing out what someone at NRO or the Daily Caller would be given a red flag as being “just a blogger so they don’t count” — would that be correct? And I’m sure various Tea Party leaders don’t count because they’re fringe, various GOP leaders don’t count because they’re “just playing politics,” etc. I used to play this game with Tom, and it’s kind of a time suck.

        So yes, I would be happy to accept your challenge and give you not two but ten examples or hyperbole and “treason”-like language/accusations from the Right — but I should probably ask you first to be more specific about what kind of people on the right you’d accept before I go to the trouble.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        the obvious truth that his point would have been made far more powerfully if Tim would have looked at his own team as well,

        It’s true, but would there be such an outpouring of criticism here if someone on the other team looked only at Tim’s team, and not his own?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Given how persecuted the liberals were feeling a couple weeks ago, maybe there would have been. Just from different people for the most part.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @tod-kelly had started a to do this, @james-hanley — as I recall, he planned to write about how D’s were going to be their own demise, with an opening post on the developmentally disabled.

        He opted, publicly, not to. I know I encouraged him to proceed, others did, too, welcoming the opportunity to critique.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Iirc, he got much more pushback than encouragement.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Tod scotched that series for a reason. It wasn’t because he was getting encouragement to run it to completion.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        He was definitely getting push back, yes.

        But he got encouragement, too. Directly from me on multiple occasions across multiple posts. Also from others, and many I’d consider liberal leaning.

        Now I’m probably one of the most liberal commenter here. All too often, I feel I’m the token feminist. If I was pushing for him to write the series, If I was welcoming the opportunity to examine the demise of liberals (and as I said, I was not alone in that encouragement,) liberals unwilling to criticize liberals doesn’t hold water.

        Unless, of course, for some reason, my opinion and my asking don’t count? No, that would be silly.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I am not claiming every single liberal every single time does X. I’m claiming the overall tone is as I describe it. I don’t think the issue is that your voice doesn’t count, but that it got outcounted.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        This was what Tod said at the time:

        I was expecting pushback, but I have to say I wasn’t expecting the vehemence and vitriol. BSDI-er, liar, hippie puncher, full of s**t, David Brooks wanna-be, sell out. I think the readers here as being the best of the best on the Intertubes, and I would happily and proudly put you folks up against any other site’s commenters. So I found it unsettling that there was such a clear consensus among the site’s left that I was so out of bounds for even asking the question.

        So like I said up top, I don’t really see the need to continue. You guys clearly don’t want me to write about it, and — at the risk of channeling Russell’s Millicent — if I’m a BSDI-er, liar, hippie puncher, full of s**t, David Brooks wanna-be, and sell out for simply saying I’m concerned something might be happening, then I don’t really feel the need to try and find a way to articulate for myself why I feel this way anymore.


      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        But that doesn’t mean our commentariat isn’t warmly welcoming of BSDI hippie-punching. 😉Report

      • Avatar Dave says:

        Dare I ask the meaning of BDSI?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        (Been wondering the same thing myself, @dave . I thought I’d missed something.)Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Both sides do it.

        As a complaint, it’s utilized on the left to complain about false balance, as typified by Krugman’s quote of “If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ”Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical”

        (Which is, of course, quite hyperbolic).

        It’s also used as a catch-all for argument to moderation (ie: if one side says 0, and the other says ten, the ‘correct’ answer must be 5).

        It’s also used as a complaint to reporters or editors who, working on a deadline or for some other reason, will simply grab a quote from both sides of whatever and slap them up rather than do any digging to determine actual facts.

        Depending on the person and context it can range from portraying equivalence on climate science (where, like it or not, the vast majority of actual experts are on one side), evolution, vaccination/autism links, etc.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        It sounds like some kind of code for the cool kids that don’t care much for hippie punchers.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Both Sides Do It.

        It’s an appropriate argument to give when someone complains about my side because, hey, to complain about a universal flaw in a system by focusing only on my side is pretty much the height of dishonesty and bad faith argumentation.

        It’s inappropriate, however, when people defend the other side by arguing that both sides do it when it’s obvious that both sides do *NOT* do it and any comparison made between a minor failing some people associated with us might do and major failings that they do is pretty much a false equivalence at best and downright lying at worst.

        And it’s telling that you’re pretending to not know that.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:


        Considering BSDI is a logical fallacy (well, false balance isn’t but false balance is argument to moderation in a bow-tie), it undoubtedly exists.

        When and where is subject to debate, of course, but sneering that it never does is just as fallacious as claiming anything you don’t like is.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        But if we’re talking about overuse of hyperbole, both sides do do it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        But they’re egregious!Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        That was what Tod said at the time, and I thought at the time and I think now that it was an inaccurate summation of what went down.

        But there was every reason to let it drop at the time. I concede the reasons why Zic’s citing that episode are problematic for addressing Hanley’s critique, but I don’t concede the accuracy of that description of events.

        Will you allow that Tod may not have been best positioned reporter to stand as the chronicler of record for how his series was received by those associated with the political side he was critiquing and say that what you quote shouldn’t be taken as an accurate statement of the facts of that episode, or do we need to litigate the accuracy of his perceptions?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I had forgotten Tod’s reasoning for abandoning the project; and I also sort-of felt like @michael-drew that there was more to it.

        But I also clearly remember encouraging it; and doing so before it was abandoned, and making several requests to please not abandon it. And I remember that I was not alone.

        So I actually do think it stands in response to Hanley’s comment. Perhaps not as strongly as I’d originally intended; but there were liberals encouraging a series exploring the mistakes liberals are making.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        But that’s how I remember it* (and I was actually one of Tod’s critics on that particular piece), and Will seems to remember it that way, too.

        But you don’t.

        So who’s to be your acceptable chronicler of record?
        *And a brief review of comments on his first post in the series reaffirms my memory.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @tim-kowal ‘s 2:48 comment and @tod-kelly ‘s 3:12 response is ideally how this conversation should have played out.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I went back and re-read the Right Path posts, skimmed comments.

        All I can say is there must have been more of the behind-the-scenes complaining then I’d realized; because the posts did get push back, but they got a lot of good push back, lot of people exploring their own team’s problems.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @michael-drew I mostly wanted to relay why it was that Tod ceased the series, a subject on which Tod is the definitive narrator. I’m not going to re-litigate whether his reasons were justified or not. People interested in exploring that can go back and read the threads.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        It must have been the conservatives complaining, because the liberals were all for it, as evidenced by the very first comments thread on the very first post.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Less snarkily, you’re arguing from inside the liberal sphere. Things look different from inside and outside. This is evidence in this post and comment threads, as Tim is clearly less aware of conservative hyperbole than of liberal hyperbole–certain things jump out at him more because he’s inside the one group and outside the other. You’re also inside one group and outside the other, and so your perception of how liberals responded to Tod’s posts is colored by that, and is not going to be the same as the perception of non-liberals.

        Or, to return to Snarkytown (my address is 101 “Nice” St.), from the outside, your argument sounds a lot like liberal-splainin’ about how the non-liberal’s got nothing to complain about because the liberals are so gosh-darn nice.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        Constructive criticism is a valuable thing. I can find reams and reams of liberals criticizing liberal policies. It’s such a common tick amongst liberals that there’s a term for it: the circular firing squad.

        But your liberalsplaining is interesting.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        James, what comment of mine are you referring to right above, where you say “that’s how I remember it”?

        I’m a bit confused.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I was referring to Will’s quoting of Tod. Sorry for the confusion.

        That in-groupers criticize each other all the time is in no way evidence that they are warmly receptive of criticism from out-groupers.

        But, sure, the “vehemence and vitriol. BSDI-er, liar, hippie puncher, full of s**t, David Brooks wanna-be, sell out” responses that Tod got? Whoever is responsible for that, it couldn’t possibly have been liberals.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @james-hanley I never said liberals didn’t say those things on those posts, ever.

        What I did say that some liberals were asking Tod to keep going; that I did so repeatedly. And I tried to engage in the spirit of the posts. Repeatedly. After he ended it, I kept asking him to reconsider. Repeatedly.

        So the notion that liberals weren’t willing to question their own ideology is just BS; some may not have been willing, but some were happy to partake of the exercise; they saw value in it.

        You said such a thing would never happen; I said it already had. Perhaps not full-throated liberal bashing liberals to your content, but it did happen.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        You said such a thing would never happen; I said it already had. Perhaps not full-throated liberal bashing liberals to your content, but it did happen

        That’s an impressive misrepresentation of what I’ve been arguing. I suppose if you plant the goalposts wherever you want you can always claim you scored.

        But since that’s where we are now, and I have to get up in the morning to take kids to school, it seems like a good place to exit.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        I think you directed a comment to @stillwater that was meant to be directed at me? If not, sorry for misreading, but your question references the “chronicler of record” phrase, which was mine.

        I would accept @will-truman ‘s independently-produced summary of what happened, so long as he put a kernel of his usual thorough, empirical all into producing it, including a review of the record, as he would for a post of his own. (though for a considerably shorter amount of time than he would put into a real post), and as long as he in good faith averred that he would put aside any ex-ante inclination to vindicate Tod’s account. I wouldn’t trust anyone here to produce a fair summary of the events – but only under those conditions! – more than I would trust Will to.

        Is that a fair enough suggestion? (Whether it is or not should be entirely not dependent on whether Will would agree to do it, which I wouldn’t expect him to do.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        So I did. So doubly sorry, @stillwater, for the confusion. You people all look the same to me. 😉

        Michael, I would trust Will to be fair (and I think you are being very good faith here, as Will’s not on the liberal “side”). But based on some of Tod’s prior comments, I think he also gets emails when he writes touchy stuff, which wouldn’t be available for Will to review.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @michael-drew I’m honored by the trust you would put in me. Honestly, I feel too close to it to really be able to give it the objective look you refer to. While my views on the whole thing are (as always) mixed, it’s one of those things where – particularly at the time – I felt very much on one side of the debate, and did not have any experience on the other. So I’d pretty much have to recuse myself.Report

  16. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    And the New York times called Laura Bush a murderer!

    (Sorry, that was the Wall Street Journal and Hillary Clinton.)Report

  17. Avatar greginak says:

    The point about O only hitting at strawman was good for a laugh. I mean i always know Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsy Graham and Charles Krauthammer and Billy Kristol were massively full of something, i just didn’t think it was straw. But really those dudes spout all the crap about foreign policy that other R’s just wish were only strawman.Report

  18. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Charlie Pierce called Justice Clarence Thomas a “Confederate.”

    The piece attacks Thomas’s view of the relationship between federal and state governments and compares his view with those of John Calhoun (who died in 1850.) The words “Confederate” and “Confederacy” do not appear in it. The word “South” appears only as part of “South Carolina”, in a description of a tariff dispute.

    [Update: And the words “slave” and “slavery” do not appear either.]

    True, its title is “The Last Confederate Is Clarence Thomas”, but it’s not clear that that’s Pierce’s doing. Often, newspaper headlines and magazine titles are written by others, people more concerned with being pithy and dramatic (and, these days, generating clicks and maximizing SEO), than accurately summarizing the article. So, claiming that “Pierce called Clarence Thomas a Confederate” is, well, hyperbole. Maybe even a lie.Report

    • Avatar Dave says:

      The piece attacks Thomas’s view of the relationship between federal and state governments and compares his view with those of John Calhoun (who died in 1850.) The words “Confederate” and “Confederacy” do not appear in it. The word “South” appears only as part of “South Carolina”, in a description of a tariff dispute…

      So, claiming that “Pierce called Clarence Thomas a Confederate” is, well, hyperbole. Maybe even a lie.

      It’s not a lie if one looks between the lines and has a good understanding on the history of that era.

      The author describes that the relationship between the federal government and the states was disputed day one and just decides to compare him to Calhoun? That view pre-dated Calhoun by decades. Read St. George Tucker’s appendix to Blackstone’s Commentaries. It was one of the first intellectual defenses of the compact theory of the states. It predates South Carolina’s nullification attempt by almost 30 years.

      His brief history on nullification is unimpressive. I give him a C-Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        That has been the basic argument since the Constitutional Convention began, and every time that it has been litigated — in the debates over ratificaton of the Constitution, in the battle over the tariff with South Carolina, when Webster stood up to Hayne, when John C. Calhoun fashioned his doctrine of nullification out of it, when the nation tore out its own guts between 1860 and 1865, and, most recently, when “massive resistance” became the strategy through which white supremacy sought to break the civil rights movement — it has failed

        He noted several times it’s been used, in roughly historical order, with Calhoun being next to last. He then spent quite a bit of time quoting Madison’s take on it.

        Seriously, do people not read links? Or do they figure no one else will?Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        Seriously, do people not read links? Or do they figure no one else will?


        To the substance in your arguments…

        That has been the basic argument since the Constitutional Convention began, and every time that it has been litigated…

        Thank you for the recap and the feeble attempt to distract from the very last sentence:

        He is the last, and the truest, descendant of John C. Calhoun.

        Given that Calhoun’s views on the compact theory were influenced by Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolution, who was influenced by the views of the anti-Federalists and wrote the Resolution in the compact language most associated with the Articles of Confederation in order to generate the popular support he got to win the 1800 election, I have a hard time understanding why the author felt the need to close out his piece with a comment comparing his views to Calhoun. Given the number of justifiable reasons to curse Calhoun’s name at every possible opportunity, I am astounded at the lengths you are going to not recognize this as a smear.

        Anybody with a fishing brain knows why Calhoun’s name gets mentioned. Is there any other figure in history that is more well known for his development of the intellectual and constitutional theories associated with the Confederacy (i.e. state sovereignty, compact theory, nullification, secession) than John C. Calhoun? If so who?

        It was Calhoun’s theory of nullification that northern abolitionists cited when they attempted to “nullify” Fugitive Slave laws by interfering with them in every way they possibly could. It was then the secessionists that used his theories and attempted to justify southern secession based on them. We know how that ended.

        OF COURSE Calhoun was wrong, but that’s not the point. The point is that anyone with a second-grade level understanding of history ought to know that the constitutional defenses of the positions held by the confederacy were largely influenced by Calhoun (who was influenced by a number of people including Madison and Jefferson).

        He noted several times it’s been used, in roughly historical order, with Calhoun being next to last. He then spent quite a bit of time quoting Madison’s take on it.

        Sort of. He would have been better off using the rejection of state sovereignty in Madison’s Notes on Nullification along with the compound-compact theory of the union he describes in the Everett letter, a theory that can be tied to his ratification era writings (i.e. Federalist 39).

        The author committed a flagrant error. Madison did not write the Kentucky Resolution. Thomas Jefferson did and the Kentucky Resolution was the one with the nullification language. Madison himself could reject nullification until he was blue in the fact but he was still in the position of having to reject Jefferson’s writings. When he did it was somewhat half ass. He first denied that Jefferson ever made the argument (oops) and then when he confronted Jefferson’s writings, he never explicitly rejected the official version but rather the draft version and tried to tie Jefferson’s view to a natural right of revolution.

        Quoting language that rejects state sovereignty goes a much longer way than quoting Madison’s compound compact theory because all I have to do is argue that sovereignty is indivisible and Madison’s theory gets flushed down the toilet. These arguments may work in mainstream publications but I’m not impressed.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        when the nation tore out its own guts between 1860 and 1865, … — it has failed

        This particular time it can’t really be said to have failed as a constitutional argument. Unless constitutional interpretation is based on superior firepower.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:

        James, don’t be such a neo-confederate.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        You’ve got me wrong, Dave. I like that constitutional theory because I want the U.S. to be rid of the south.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:

        Everyone knows that I want to roll back 200 years of constitutional precedent because of my sheer disdain of liberalism. Perhaps if we worked together, we can conquer the world. Go Calhoun!!!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I’m telling you, it all went wrong when the gummint decided it had the authority to build a turnpike!Report

      • Avatar The South says:

        Give it up Hanley. You’re stuck with us.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        On the bright side for the rest of ya, I’m more tolerable as a fellow-countryman than I am a foreigner.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        If you say that A called B a C, and the word C was never used, and you have to read between the lines to see where A called B a C ….

        Then A didn’t call B a C.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        If you say that A called B a C, and the word C was never used, and you have to read between the lines to see where A called B a C ….
        Then A didn’t call B a C.

        If A calls B a D and D is so well associated with C that separating D and C is nearly impossible, then using C seems like a reasonable substitute to me.

        Then there’s the issue of whether or not D is accurate. I say it’s not. It’s not even hyperbole. It’s pure horseshit.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        “I believe you can ask almost any school child who the architect of Confederate thought is, and he will say ‘John Calhoun.'”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Tried it. The answer I got was, “I like turtles.”Report

  19. Avatar Pinky says:

    Solid piece, Tim. But next time, sprinkle in a few criticisms of the right so that people will actually tune into the meaning of what you’re saying. Apparently some of the commenters here have gone deaf listening to too many things at eleven.Report

  20. Tim, I understand how fatherhood would give you a new perspective on things.

    As a father in North America, have you any reaction to the fates of Amanda Todd or Rehteah Parsons? What volume is appropriate when discussing those situations?Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      Those are terrible tragedies. Is there any specific rhetoric surrounding their stories that you have in mind? I don’t have a set of prescriptions at the ready to define “what volume is appropriate.” If you mean the families and those directly affected by the tragedies, certainly allowances must be made. When it comes to politicians and commentators wielding influence over the public mind, the responsibility to use clear and accurate language increases.Report

      • Well, I’ve written about misogyny, sexism and rape culture a few times around these parts, so I think that’ll give an idea as to what language I would use.

        But I was thinking about this paragraph from the OP:

        “So I redirected my righteous indignation and commented: ”Our stateside ‘War on Women’ sloganeers should ‘check their privilege.’ (To whoever had the privilege of devoting generous helpings of spare energy to come up with it, volunteers at the Irony Hotline are standing by to take your call.)”

        You decry the rhetoric used in the ‘War on Women’ (quotation marks yours), and you argue that the issues talked about in #YesAllWomen were created out of thin air.

        In the context of fighting North American misogyny, you compare an acid attack to the 77 cents issue* (for lack of a better term). How about, when talking about misogyny, the war on women, sexism or rape culture we don’t avoid the more challenging topics, like when teenage girls are driven to suicide.

        Personally, I don’t see the need to play a whose-oppression-is-worse game, but if you want to, don’t weak-man the argument.

        *Personally, I think systemic economic oppression is a big deal, and I don’t think that minimizes extreme violence, death or suicide.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        “In the context of fighting North American misogyny, you compare an acid attack to the 77 cents issue* (for lack of a better term). How about, when talking about misogyny, the war on women, sexism or rape culture we don’t avoid the more challenging topics, like when teenage girls are driven to suicide.”

        The point is that these things are not comparable, yet we’ve deployed all the same words we’d use to talk about each of them. ‘Honor-killing’ women is misogynistic, to say the least. But in our culture, ‘misogyny’ brings to mind statistical sleights of hand like 77 cents (again, we don’t really pay women 23 cents less). Using the that word — a precise word — thus has the unintended effect of comparing/equating in the mind of a public inundated with sloppy misapplications of the term to such ‘grievances’ as paying an inexperienced female less than a veteran male employee.

        So, no: I was not comparing acid to 77 cents. I was noting that many of the same words apply to these two very dissimilar things, and that problem is a result of irresponsible rhetoric.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Kinda black and white there, Holmes. (And IIRC, 23 cents is median US census bureau. Corrected for hours and education is 19 cents or 15 cents. Some studies say 12. Some say 5, for some industries, 30 cents for others. Even more for others.)

        Misogyny can only mean acid-baths and honor killings now? Like, there can’t be a spectrum?

        So is racism only lynchings?

        I mean, let’s face it — people get hung for the color of the skin, so calling it ‘racism’ when people won’t serve blacks in their restaurant really is two dissimilar things, and really calling denial of service due to skin color ‘racism’ must be the result of irresponsible racism.


      • Seriously, you’re saying that we shouldn’t call the treatment of Rehteah Parsons misogyny because it’s not as bad as an acid bath in Pakistan?

        I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to go from there. Part of me thinks your argument is the exact opposite of hyperbole. Part of me thinks your just using the acid attack as a way to try beat on feminists. Part of me thinks that if you want to actually make a point, you need to put down the flamethrower.

        But none of that seems quite right. I’m actually at a bit of a loss, here. Regardless, I’m still unconvinced by your argument. I’m still going to call out sexism, misogynist behaviour in North Amercia even if it isn’t quite as bad as an acid attack.

        If you think that means turning the nob up to 11, well, that’s not something I’m going to worry too much about.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Okay, okay, I’m feeling my way towards his point. Jonathan I think illustrated it.

        Let’s say misogyny can be ranked, 0 to 10. 0 is perfectly equitable society in all ways, and 10 is acid-to-the-face.

        On that scale, the US ‘war on women’ is like, I dunno, a 2 or something. And acid-to-the-face is a 10.

        Ergo, the point is calling a “2” the same as a “10” makes the term worthless. If I say X is misogynistic, how can any reader know whether it’s a 10 or a 2? I’ve used the words for both.

        So, ergo, calling a 2 the same as a 10 is “hyperbole” and “reckless rhetoric”? Is that the thrust of your point?

        Because if it is, it’s idiotic. It’s entirely context free. It only makes sense if you explicitly remove social context. Everything global, ranked together. Unequal pay ain’t acid-to-the-face, sure, but it’s still crappy treatment based on gender.

        Getting turned away from the lunch counter cause you’re black ain’t being hung by the Klan, but it’s still racism. And getting by on 12k a year in America ain’t 600 dollars a year in Africa, but you’re still flipping poor.

        Seriously, I hope that’s NOT your point because if it is your entire point is several paragraphs of “Context clues are hard! If someone says misogyny, I can’t tell where to rank it globally without having to think about what country he’s talking about” which sounds like a sixth grader whining about English class.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        @jonathan-mcleod No, less violent misogyny is still misogyny, but when we say the lesser form reeks of war-mongering death lust that spews hatred and vileness, we may be asking too much of Roget to help us appropriately condemn the other.Report

      • Okay, keep shifting the goalposts, Tim. It’s your game; I’m not going to play.

        Morat, I’d say you’re pretty far off on that chart thing. If an acid attack is a 10, what’s Steubenville?Report

      • Sorry, Morat, I didn’t really write that the way I meant.

        I meant that even if the chart perspective was a useful perspective (as opposed to “idiotic”, as I’d agree), I still think that Tim downplayed instances of misogyny over here. We may not be as bad as other places, but there’s still some seriously nasty stuff going on.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

        @jonathan-mcleod I hope you don’t really think I’m trying to be evasive. I never said “No one should use the word ‘misogyny’ to describe anything that happens in America.” I understand how you might have taken my previous comment as suggesting I have a problem with the general term “misogyny,” but it would be fairer to read me as continuing the argument made in the OP and my other comments. And that is about calling things what they are, no more, no less. Misogyny is wrong. But we are still sorting out gradations of it, and indeed grappling with what is and is not misogyny.

        It would be nice if we could have discussions about these issues and not just campaigns.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        No, less violent misogyny is still misogyny, but when we say the lesser form reeks of war-mongering death lust that spews hatred and vileness, we may be asking too much of Roget to help us appropriately condemn the other.

        Seriously, this STILL sounds like “meanie lefties are saying it wrong”. Like, you know, you agree with them but sadly their tone just means you’ll have to shake your head and walk away.

        I mean, sure, if there were people saying “Denying females equal pay is the EXACT SAME THING as tossing acid in their faces” then you might have a legitimate beef. Instead, you’re basically just saying “All actual problems and substance aside, I’d like to talk about the tone and how it offends me”.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        FYI: Whinging about tone? It’s a common tactic by people to avoid talking about issues.

        It’s like literally one of the first tricks politicians learn to neutralize an issue they’re weak on.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @morat20 that’s me, I’m the meanie leftie saying bad things and using the hyperbole. I wrote the words, “reeks of war-mongering death lust that spews hatred and vileness,” as my basic reaction to Tim’s post in a response to Kazzy.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        I’ve never seen a response like this on these boards. People are refusing to consider the argument because they don’t like the examples that were used to make it. No, it’s weirder than that: they’re either pretending not to understand it, or they genuinely don’t understand it. But if they don’t understand it, why are they being insulting? It doesn’t make sense to me. This is the kind of behavior I’m used to seeing on much less mature boards than this.

        The argument itself is simple.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Of course. We’re all acting in bad faith.

        The number of people who expressed confusion over this post for the first 48 hours were just part of an elaborate plot, stubbornly denying the obvious.

        Besides, he wrote a post about tone and how it can obscure communication. In the end, what better response is there than to focus on his tone and how it obscured him communicating his point?

        Seriously, it took well over a day and several comments from him before people got what he was saying. Could be conspiracy, but likely not. So people focused on his examples, because hey — those were much clearer.Report

      • @pinky Oh, I understood the post. Quite clearly.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        People are refusing to consider the argument because they don’t like the examples that were used to make it.

        Republicans take the presidency seriously, as you can see from the people they select to be one heartbeat away from it: Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, and Sarah Palin.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        “Republicans take the presidency seriously, as you can see from the people they select to be one heartbeat away from it: Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, and Sarah Palin.”

        What a random, creepy lashing out. The phrase “non sequitur” isn’t sufficient to indicate how…just dumb that comment is, how belligerent, how uninterested in forwarding this or any future conversation. I mean, why should I ever reply to someone who would print something like that with his own name next to it? I know, I’m not offering any sort of systematic argument about what’s gone wrong in this thread (and I’m still baffled by it), but that was just shameful.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Random? It’s exactly what the quoted paragraph describes, an argument people would refuse to consider because of the examples used to support it.Report

  21. Avatar DRS says:

    I’m not buying the main point of this OP – inasmuch as I can grok it. (Could you guys please stop with the archness when you’re posting and just, you know, say stuff like regular people talk? It really just comes across as just-too-too-precious.) And if the Republicans didn’t like being accused of warring on women, they know what they can do about it and stop nominating doofuses with dumb ideas about women and reproduction.

    The same words can be used over and over again to describe various things and won’t lose anything in the usage. So go ahead and condemn the acid attack. Nobody and nothing is stopping you. I’m giving Tim the benefit of the doubt that he’s not just using the acid attack as a stick to beat people he disagrees with.Report

  22. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    I remember when this post showed up and we were told that it was totally okay to focus on the excesses of the right because something something.Report

  23. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    “Tim’s post here; it’s disrespectful of women, it’s filled with anti-science propaganda, and it reeks of war-mongering death lust. If he had a valid critique, it’s lost on me in all the hatred and vileness he spewed.”

    What going over the cliff looks like.Report

    • Avatar zic says:


      And I’m of the opinion Tim went over the wall on purpose, too, to push liberal buttons and see them writhing on the end of his fish hook.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        And here you are writhing.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @jim-heffman I’m the liberal meanie who pisses in Tim’s metal chest of words.

        I have to squat to do it, too. No standing for women.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Honestly, I don’t get the complaint, really. Language changes, definition changes, and context rules supreme (at least for English).

        Say what you want to say. If people aren’t getting it, I suppose maybe it’s because people have used “misogyny” to mean unequal pay AND acid-to-the-face and your readers can’t tell which you mean.

        But it probably just means you’re a crap writer and need to put a little more effort into it. Maybe use a few examples, to give context to your words — you know, the stuff they teach in like 7th grade for persuasive writing?

        *shrug*. It took what — two or three days for someone to figure out what he meant? Good lord, if you’re going to complain about how hyperbole makes it hard to communicate in a post no one can understand, maybe the hyperbole isn’t the problem.

        And hey, if it’s just because you’re writing to a bunch of crazy hyperbolic lefties — well, “writing to your audience” is 7th grade persuasive writing too.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @zic — “I have to squat to do it, too. No standing for women.”



      • Avatar zic says:

        @veronica-dire it was not intentionally leaving you out, it was a pun.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @zic — I know, but it struck me.Report

  24. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Re: war on women.

    I dislike “war on rhetoric.” War indicates a considered policy of killing and destruction, for which government consciously and explicitly mobilizes resources. What the Syrian government is doing is war, and while the misogyny of the U.S. is real, I don’t see eomen fleeing the U.S. as people are fleeing Syria.

    But let’s be fair. We’ve had a war on crime, a war on poverty, a war on drugs, and since Tim asked for similar rhetoric from the right, a war on Christmas. So with all this “war on…” hyperbole, what is the justification for singling out the phrase “war on women”?Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:


      If you want to bemoan the general state of discourse, that’s a problem worth discussing.

      But it’s really hard for me to accept it on face value when all of the examples you provide are not from the general state of discourse, but from one particular side of discourse, and that one just so happens to be the side with which you’re not personally aligned.

      “The state of discourse is poor” is one thing. “The state of discourse is poor and here’s a bunch of examples of them being particularly poor about it” isn’t exactly the sort of way to kick off a conversation about the state of discourse. Comes across more than a little backhanded.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      So with all this “war on…” hyperbole

      That’s what we need, a war on hyperbole. Without it, we’re all doomed!Report

  25. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    If you want to be taken seriously, you should really try to have some decent examples, as opposed to:

    – Claiming that women calling out misogyny and recounting times when they have been sexually assaulted or raped is hyperbole and “making things up out of thin air”

    – Pretending that “97% of scientists believe human-caused climate change is a serious issue” is a massive hyperbolic lie contrasted with “97% of climate scientists believe human-caused climate change is a serious issue”

    When you’re using examples like that, it feels 1) deceptive and 2) like you’d really prefer not to talk about genuinely serious issues, and prefer evading the point to actually discussing them.Report

  26. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I think we’re all missing the really important message in Tim’s post, which is that the awesomeness of Spinal Tap is something that both liberals and conservatives (and us wack-tastic libertarians) can agree on.

    Maybe we can form a new political party based on this, the loudest political party in the world!Report

    • Avatar veronica dire says:


    • Avatar Chris says:

      The Party of Quality Footwear.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      I am not volunteering to drum up support.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Fear of a Black Hat is basically Spinal Tap, but for gangsta rap (so’s CB4, but Hat is better).

        Anyway, the band in Hat has a *somewhat* similar problem with managers, as the Tap had with drummers (Nina Blackburn is the Marty DiBergi character):

        Tone Deaf: They’re always trying to censor our shit.
        Nina Blackburn: For instance, with the song “Kill Whitey.”
        Ice Cold: That shit was a whole big misunderstanding. They took the whole thing out of context.
        Tone Deaf: They were trying to say we were advocating killing white people and shit.
        Tasty Taste: Yeah! Do I look like the type of nigga that could kill a whole buncha white muthafuckas? I mean, you know, given a reason, but not on a humbug.
        Nina Blackburn: Well, in the song lyrics I’m quoting: “He’ll rip you off. He’ll take your money, make you work for free. Though you may scoff. It isn’t funny. He’s the devil, see. Kill Whitey.”
        Ice Cold: Right. Now how can you listen to that and think we’re talking about killing all white people?
        Tone Deaf: Fact. We were talking about one specific whitey. Whitey Deluca, our ex-manager.
        Tasty Taste: He ripped us off for 70 G’s.
        Ice Cold: That’s right. And Whitey Deluca wasn’t even white. He was Italian. He was one of those olive complexion MFs you know.
        Nina Blackburn: If I remember correctly, he ended up murdered?
        Ice Cold: We wasn’t in town when that shit happened.
        Tone Deaf: Wait a minute, we were here.
        Ice Cold: No, no, no. We were in Cleveland like a mofo, remember?
        Tone Deaf: Oh, yeah.


  27. Avatar Wardsmith says:

    I’m sorry but the rhetoric turned to 11 caused me to refuse to accept everyone’s name – calling of BSDI. It wasn’t a perfect unix and they did get sued, but it did a passable job before there ever was such a thing as Linux.Report

  28. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    At the risk of sounding like the kid asking to be graded on a curve, I’ll repeat that, whatever else may be said, this post was based on the deep thoughts of a fictional idiot. My drafts folder is already full of unfinished even-handed posts, and I’m fresh out of mothballs. Many of the unexpectedly numerous comments evaluate the argument as if I intended to spend a lot of effort defending this particular formulation of it. While I appreciate the attention and will take the criticisms to heart when I write on the subject again, please don’t take it the wrong way if I leave well enough alone here as the comments approach the 300 mark.Report