Tuesday, August 25, 2009

'Rule of law' is never the argument of choice for someone advocating a particular course of action; it ranks near the bottom of preferred arguments and those who use that argument are tacitly admitting they not only have nothing else in their rhetorical quiver with which to convince the audience to support their position, but also, and more importantly, that adopting the proposal will negatively impact the target.

Someone trying to convince someone to support a particular position will almost always prefer to try and convince the target he or she will personally benefit from the proposal, while opponents will try to convince the target the opposite is true, that he or she will personally suffer if the proposal is adopted.

It is only when an advocate can't come up with something to convince someone that they will benefit (perhaps because the proposal doesn't provide a benefit to the audience) does the advocate turn to such amorphous arguments such as 'rule of law' and 'fairness', both of which are shorthand for 'you should go along even though you're going to suffer'.

To illustrate, when the GOP tried to push Bill Clinton out of office, they couldn't convince the public that they would be better off if Clinton was removed from office so the GOP tried - and got nowhere - using the 'Clinton lied, so he shouldn't be President)' argument, a close cousin of the 'rule of law'. Given the choice between 'rule of law' and having Al Gore take over the Presidency on one hand versus overlooking Clinton's procedural deficiencies, the public naturally chose the latter.

And so it is with those who cite 'rule of law' in arguing for prosecuting CIA employees who allegedly played too rough while interrogating terrorists. Those arguing for prosecution have no arguments to convince the public that they will benefit from going after CIA agents, in large part because there are no benefits from doing so, so they trot out the 'rule of law' argument in hopes that people will fail to consider that prosecuting CIA agents provides no benefit to anyone other than our enemies and those with a grudge against the CIA and the Bush Administration. Think about it: if advocates for prosecution had an argument that prosecution would make us safer, don't you think they'd use that argument?

And just as the public ignored those arguments during the Lewinsky kerfuffle, the public ought to ignore those arguments now.