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February 06, 2013

Matt Lauer: "Now the President Always Has to Back Up His Words with Proof?"

Again from @benk84. Matt Lauer is just beside himself.

During a panel discussion on Tuesday's NBC Today about the White House releasing a photo of President Obama skeet shooting to dispel doubt about his claim of doing it "all the time," co-host Matt Lauer worried about the precedent that had been set: "So like releasing the birth certificate a year or so ago, this is the next step, that now the President always has to back up his words with proof?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Lauer's concern seemed to follow administration talking points perfectly. On Sunday's Today, correspondent Peter Alexander reported: "This weekend, the White House tried to shut down the doubters. The President's former senior advisor [David Plouffe] even referred to those who still question where Mr. Obama was born. [Image of Plouffe Tweet] 'Attention, skeet birthers. Make our day let the photoshop conspiracies begin!'"

One point I've wanted to make about Skeet-Gate for a few days now is that conservatives tend to put themselves in the worst possible position rhetorically, and not just by accident; I think it's intentional. It seems to happen a lot.

What I mean in this: Obama claimed to shoot skeet "all the time." This claim is obviously a lie. Until this photo was released, we had zero reports of him shooting skeet, and zero photos of it. In his entire life I think this might have been his only reference to shooting skeet.

Now, given that, I think it's plainly untrue that he shoots skeet "all the time." Things one does a lot become naturally associated with one, because one is, again, doing it "all the time."

Thus, attacking Obama's untrue statement -- and his intended manipulation of the public, suddenly declaring himself, in effect, to be a "gun guy," with all this skeet shooting filling up his days -- would have been a slam dunk for us.

But we didn't do that, or at least enough of us didn't do that that the slam dunk eluded us. Instead, we put our chips on the proposition that he never shot skeet at all, not once, not ever, and now the media is basically running with the story "Obama wins again; Obama told the truth."

Consider how easy it is to win on the proposition that Obama does not, in fact, shoot skeet "all the time." And consider how easy it is to lose on the question of whether Obama has never once in all of his life shot skeet.

Consider that proof of a single incidence of skeet shooting tends to win the question for us if we advance the first proposition, and lose the question for us if we push the second. Also consider how unlikely that is-- I'm not a gun guy either, but if you push the "You've never, ever fired a machine gun" proposition against me, you lose -- I shoot machine guns "all the time." (By which I mean, as Obama apparently did, "once or twice" in my life.)

Instead of pushing the attack that was most difficult for Obama to falsify, we pushed the attack that was most easy for Obama to falsify.

And I do not think this was an accident. Time and time again we do this sort of thing. It is not enough for us to win small on any question; no, we must Win Big, so push the Biggest, most expansive point we can think of (instead of just scooping up our earnings with the small win), and then lose the point.

During the campaign, for example, a lot of conservatives got angry at Romney for conceding the economy was growing a little bit but not much, and certainly not growing anywhere near the way the economy typically grows after a recession. They wanted him to make the rhetorical point that the economy wasn't growing at all, and thought it was a betrayal of him to concede so much ground.

But in fact the economy is, by the GDP figures at least, growing slowly (or at least it was; now it's contracting). Further, Romney was also attempting to preserve multiple outs, as they say in poker, for the campaign. What if the economy posted a decent GDP growth number right before the election? He wanted to be in a position wherein the central justification for his campaign wasn't easily falsified by a single GDP release. He wanted to have a position and a fall-back position, too: Even if the economy grows, it's barely growing, and this meager growth is unacceptable.

But where Romney saw a very smart way to put himself in the best position to win over a range of possible late-election-cycle scenarios, many conservatives saw betrayal. Unless we're advancing the Strongest Possible Form of any argument -- including mere factual arguments, did this happen or did this not happen -- we're not being honest and we're not being truly conservative.

When you're losing -- and we are losing, make no mistake -- you always have to make sure that your frustration at losing isn't further compromising your performance. It happens to everyone. Professional football players start making stupid frustration-penalties when their team can't get anywhere. People can't get out of their own heads and start missing easy lay-ups.

I think this is where we are, as a group. And I think Obama is planning on just this -- he's planning on being so obnoxious and loathsome to us that we start racking up penalties and putting ourselves further behind.

We should resist it.

Skeet-gate was not all that important. No one will ever ask "Where were you when Obama released his skeet picture?"

But this is a tendency I keep seeing over and over again, the urge to grasp for the Strongest Possible Statement of an Argument (or Strongest Guess About a Fact in Dispute), which I think is caused by the same sort of thinking that causes a gambler on a losing streak to make bigger and bigger bets -- trying to recoup lost money by making larger wagers. And that, of course, is when you're supposed to walk away from the table and get your head on straight.

Actually, of course, you're supposed to leave the casino entirely, but we're not in a position where we can do that; we have to remain at the tables, and ride this grim run of horrible luck out until exhaustion.






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