Don’t Fight the Other Guy’s Fight

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

There’s an old axiom in boxing that says you’ll never win if you fight the other guy’s fight. If he’s a slick boxer, you should try to pressure him, break his rhythm, force him to get into a punch-for-punch shootout.

Conversely if your opponent is a brawler, you should use fluid side-to-side movement and long, quick jabs to keep him at bay and prevent him from getting close. There’s a more colloquial expression for all of this: “Don’t hook with a hooker.”

Politics is no different. The winning side is the side that is most successful at framing the argument in terms more advantageous to their favored positions, the side that can convincingly present the talking points that play to their strengths while minimizing the amount of time and conversation spent in areas not to their liking. There are clichés that apply: Democrats don’t talk about building up the country’s military strength. Republicans would rather avoid the topic of race-based quota admissions.

Unless there is some immediate, unusual pressing emergency that forces an unwelcome issue to the fore, most of the time the candidate or party spokesperson can side-step it and not be forced into an uncomfortable defensive position.

There are times when talking about a “bad” issue are unavoidable: when cornered by a hostile media reporter during a press conference or interview, when a private citizen (a non-plant) manages to formulate an intelligent, informed question at a town hall, or during a debate when the opponent brings up a topic he/she thinks is going to make the other person look bad by forcing them to talk about what they don’t want to talk about.

What would be really effective would be if that candidate or spokesperson could turn their supposed weakness into a major strength. That would require that the opposition’s position/talking point was thoroughly analyzed, vetted, prodded and poked in advance, behind the scenes. Give it real thought, play Devil’s Advocate with it, defend it, role play with it, learn it backwards and forwards. The absolute worst thing to do is exactly what most politicians do now: merely dismiss it with a derisive wave of the hand, perhaps accompanied by a trite, sarcastic cliché.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s look at one issue. Democrats love this one. They get great mileage out of it. The “mushy middle” of inattentive, low Information voters is persuadable, being particularly susceptible to a message that is phrased simply and casts them—the voter—as a victim. When someone is told they’re a victim and I, your humble Public Servant, will come to your rescue, it can be quite compelling indeed. Elections are often won or lost by the effectiveness of messaging to this bloc.

The issue? Income Inequality. Message: Republican Fat Cats are overpaid. The implication: If the Fat Cats were paid less, that leftover money would somehow magically make its way directly into your pocket. Income Inequality is the source of all your ills. Greedy conservatives are unfairly given the money that should rightfully go to you.

That’s the Dems’ message. “Billionaires are immoral.” They push it hard and often. Republicans, to date, have had no effective counter to it. Nothing short, pithy and memorable. Nothing that is so true and unarguable that it shuts up the Democratic speaker—whether it’s a candidate, a party spokesperson or a liberal media talking head—and puts them into a state of open-mouthed shock, unable to speak.

“Conservative CEOs rake in millions of dollars in pay and stock options, bonuses, profit-sharing, etc., but the rank-and-file earns only $50k/year, 1/50th the CEO’s pay. All Republican policies are aimed at making the CEO even richer. Republicans love Income Inequality.”

The entire notion of “income inequality” is a farce, a non-issue, all-appearance/no-substance. When Republicans attempt to answer it, they’re doomed. They’re playing the Democrats’ game.

Ok, here’s the scenario: Kamala Harris or Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or whomever is the Democratic Flavor of the Month is going on and on about income inequality, how it’s worse than ever, how it hurts the ‘little guy,’ and what they say drips with the implication that if rich conservatives are paid less, then poor derserving liberals and swing voters will somehow get more money.  “How,” precisely, they get that money is never explained, but no matter. The liberal moderator eats it up and throws one softball after another for the Democrat to hit out of the park.

Usually, the poor, communications-challenged Republican is clueless how to respond, and more often than not, follows their Democratic opponent and the liberal moderator down the one-way no-escape rabbit hole. They get humiliated, tagged—again!—with the “Republicans are heartless” label. The cliché is confirmed once more.

Not this time. This time the Republican has something up his/her sleeve. It’s called “Easily-Understood Logic,” that most rare of conservative communications commodities.

“So, Senator Harris, you’re not rich, right? But you live a fairly decent life.; Your family has enough to eat, you pay the electric bill and you generally have no real complaints. Is that a fair characterization?”

She nervously agrees, fearful that something is coming.

“And your next-door neighbor on your street, they’re in roughly the same boat, right? Not outright rich, but no actual complaints. Things are fine. Is that right?”

Again, Harris nervously agrees, knowing that something is coming.

And here it is: “Now, Senator Harris, let’s suppose that tomorrow, your next-door neighbor hits the lottery for $500 million and all of a sudden they’re incredibly rich. Yesterday, Senator Harris, you and your neighbor were in the same financial boat. There was perfect income equality. Today, they’re totally rich and you’re not. Complete income inequality. Tell us, Senator Harris, exactly how does your neighbor’s new-found wealth prevent you and your family from living a perfectly nice life?”

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. People’s income and financial status are independent of each other. It’s not a zero-sum game: One person’s income doesn’t go down just because another’s goes up. The economic pie is continually expanding. It’s not finite, where the size of one person’s “slice” directly impacts the size of someone else’s “slice.” GDP in America has more than doubled since 1999. The pie is expanding. There’s more than enough for everyone.

The term “income inequality” needs to be called out by Republicans for what it is: a totally inaccurate, pejorative term invented by liberals, designed to make conservatives look bad to the liberal media and to inattentive, low-information swing voters. The correct term is “income sufficiency.” As long as someone has an income sufficient to provide for their needs, that’s all that matters.

Let your next-door neighbor hit the lottery. Let Tim Cook or Warren Buffet make another few million today. Their income is not what is holding anyone back. There may be other things—structural or not—that cause any given individual to not enjoy income sufficiency, but the financial success of another person isn’t one of them.

Of all the rhetorical scams perpetrated by the Democrats, “income inequality” is among the worst. Republicans need to stop chasing that phony slickster around the ring, swinging and missing at a non-existent opponent.

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