No, seriously, if you want to “win” an argument, accuse the other person of being racist, sexist, homophobic, a “one-percenter,” a socialist, un-American, anti-religious, etc.
An attack on someone’s motives grabs headlines, is something you never have to back up with evidence, and completely relieves you of the responsibility of backing up your claim with facts and logic: who knows what evil lurks in the heart of the other person? One can only imagine.
Once accused, there is no way to be proven innocent. The accusation is the sentence. Nothing will make you look more racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic or unpatriotic than trying to prove that you are not.
Remember when Glenn Beck accused President Obama of having a “deep-seated hatred toward white people”? Like a dirty bomb spewing radiation into the atmosphere, that baseless “specusation” has lingered in the body politic for years, contaminating the public perception of Obama’s every statement and policy initiative.
The president himself, wisely and regularly refuses to dignify such remarks with a response. His top priority is getting his agenda passed, and his weapon of choice is reasoned debate. Engaging in a fruitless argument over whether or not he is racist or un-American or a Real Christian would distort his message and decrease the ratio of signal to noise in the overall debate.
Noting the rightward shift of the Democratic Party and his position as its standard bearer, some have called Obama an “Eisenhower Republican.” Policy matters aside, his leadership style does resemble that of Eisenhower, who, according to historian Fred I. Greenstein, avoided “engaging in personalities” at all costs, and who advised others to “never question a man’s motives.”
Engaging in personalities is a cheap way to win a fight. Making it into a habit causes the muscles of the heart to weaken and the brain to turn to mush. Specusation is seductive, precisely because it is so effective, and we as a society are forgetting how to debate in good faith using reason and logic. If we should lose that ability altogether, then our democracy really will be nothing more than legalized mob rule.