Cheap trick: The GOP’s shabby new rhetorical device

Has anyone else noticed the cheap rhetorical device conservatives are employing more and more these days? The formula goes something like this: “We can’t work on [one problem] until we solve [a far more difficult or even impossible problem].”

For example:

  • We can’t work on comprehensive immigration reform until we stop illegal immigrants from coming across the border.
  • We can’t pass simple, common-sense gun control laws to help prevent massacres; the real problem is mental illness.
  • We can’t take in Syrian refugees until, as Donald Trump says, “we figure out what the hell’s going on.”

Rhetoricians may already have a name for this tactic, but it’s basically a maddening cross between misdirection and the false dilemma. In reality, of course, it’s a call to inaction, but to a certain audience it can sound superficially sensible.

Democratic candidates should be on the lookout for this ploy in debates and on the campaign trail. The best reply is simply to call out the tactic to your audience, and then turn it into a weapon against conservatism.

Point out that this is a common ruse by conservatives to avoid having to do anything about a problem. Mention other examples, like the ones above. Remind your audience that there’s no reason we can’t work on both problems (closing the gun-show loophole and committing more funds to fight mental illness, for example; or passing immigration reform that includes more border security).

Saying we have to solve an intractable problem before we can work on a manageable problem is just an excuse to do nothing. It’s a scheme to maintain the status quo, which is what Republicans do best. Why is it that conservatives never want to solve problems. Whether it’s immigration reform, climate change, gun violence, or millions of people without health insurance, conservatives can always find an excuse not to act. That’s not leadership. It’s not a philosophy of greatness. And it’s yet another reason conservatives should never be allowed to run our country.

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