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Thoughts on Overreaching

December 21, 2002 News - National 30 Comments

A Nixon-Era Distraction Steps Out of Limelight
Initial Pain, but Perhaps Long-Term Gain
Couple of articles really bring to the forefront what will certainly be some overreaching on this whole Lott-mania. Its a natural process, when there’s blood in the water, to locate exactly where the line is drawn on acceptable parallels.
To date, there’ve been a few, and I myself have been one of several to point out those that stand out to me. For my own sake, I denote the more egregious in order to place them on guard for their actions. Maybe Ballenger or even Burns aren’t as bad as their comments reflect. Maybe their genuine in their remorse for saying them. But they still need to be taken to task for them.
Where it gets dicier is whether or how to equate a voting record or a paper trail to such disdainful beliefs. The New Republic has an article highlighting Alabama Senator Sessions. It notes that his record is strongly more odius than Lott’s, he has a history of focusing on issues that do indeed indicate a desire to deny or abate black voters, commenting on the Klan in a way that implies acceptance of their racial views, etc … the problem is that there is no single smoking gun to really tie that down like the Lott video at Stromfest.
There have likewise been some aspersions cast at the likes of Lott’s presumptive replacement, Bill Frist (via Josh Marshall):

“[Jim Sasser is] sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry … While I’ve been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans’ wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry.”

Josh explains his sentiments in the link above more thoughtfully, but the ending is probably the point I concur the most with:

Now, I don’t think Bill Frist is a racist. Nor do I hope or expect he’ll end up like Trent Lott. One reader — flopping around like a fish-out-of-water making the case for Frist — sent me this link about how Frist goes to Sudan to operate on African children. So how could he hate black people? How could he be a racist?
This misses the point. I doubt Frist is a racist. But this almost makes the point more clearly. Even some of best Southern Republicans seem incapable of resisting the temptation to dabble in racial code words and appeals on the stump. (In Frist’s case, perhaps it was a rather notorious campaign consultant who worked for him that year and has a rep for such ugly tactics.)
I think the Bush family is a very similar case. I don’t think this President Bush or the last one were racist in any way. Nor do I think either of them liked dabbling in racial politics. But in a pinch, when the chips were really down, both have been willing to do so. For this President Bush you need look no further than the South Carolina primary fight in February 2000.
The issue here isn’t what’s in your heart or what your party’s ‘thought’ is. It’s what you’re willing to profit from, where you’re willing to draw the line, what you do and don’t look at and say ‘I’m not going to put up with that in my party.’
On that count, the GOP falls really short.
Neo-conservative Republicans are very different from Dixiecrat Republicans. So why won’t they stand up to them more often? Maybe they should try …

Its easy to just try and paint this as a situation where Dems may love to see fratricide among Reps. I’m sure there will be those that get a kick out of it, just as some Reps enjoy seeing Dems battle amongst themselves on free trade, war, taxes, and any number of other issues. I stand by my comment that this transcends party politics. The fact of the matter is, however, that it was the Republicans who took in the bulk of Dixiecrat voters back in the day, and still have a sizable contingent of same to deal with. Will they continue with a wink and a nod, or will they truly rid themselves of this influence?
The Democratic party has its share of leftovers: Byrd, Hollings, etc. Some have been more contrite than others in noting a change in their sentiments over time. But as a party, the Democrats made their move in 1964 when LBJ pushed a Civil Rights bill, and in 1965 when a Voting Rights bill was pushed. As for the present extremists, we’re working on that one. McKinney and Co, have been sent packing by black voters no less. There’s lessons to be learned, and it would behoove all partisans to take note and do a lot less politicking of the issue. We can serve notice, we can debate the merits, but it does no good to overreach on what truly constitutes a “racist agenda” if your going to include things like the minimum wage or health care as bullet points on such an agenda.
Addendum:
Atrios has this to say:

Throughout all this Lott mess something’s been bothering me. I would say, roughly, that the difference between Left and Right on racial issues in this country isn’t as some seem to think a policy difference but rather a difference in perception . Those on the Left generally think that racism is still a problem which adversely effects racial minorities enough that we should formulate a policy response to the problem, while those on the Right don”t. There are enough people on both sides who agree that there is a problem but debate about what should be done about it, but I do think the predominant difference is the perception issue.
However, soon after the Lott thing broke we heard plenty of Republicans screaming “look at all the Democrats who are racists too!”
Fine, fair enough. But if there are all those racists in the top levels of government, don’t we have a problem?

To which, I would add, is precisely the problem.
Matthew Yglesias has a similarly related take that ties into the above somehow as well. CalPundit has a good highlight on it too.

One hears a similar mantra from conservatives on a whole variety of issues. Those civil rights activists used to be right, but now they go too far. I supported feminism back when it was about equal rights for men and women, but now it’s all crazy. Of course it’s good that we don’t have a property qualification for voting, but all this welfare state nonsense goes too far.
The question is what did conservatives used to say about these things back in the day. Well the abolitionists sure were right about slavery, but why do they have to go messing around with something like segregation? The suffragettes did good work, and it’s a wonderful thing that women can vote, but women having jobs? That’s just crazy.

It’s one that’s bugged me ever since the Brady Bill was a hot topic. Conservatives would always say how they have no problem with the laws already on the books, but that we don’t need new laws. Very disinenginuous since they’ve been railing against the present laws for as long as I’ve been scouting political news. Why the need for revisionism, or more appropriately, the CONSTANT revisionism? To point back to Lincoln and say “We’re the party of Lincoln” when party leaders are sucking up to the CCC, Southern Partisan, and the other neo-confederates out there, is trying to have it both ways. To say “Republicans supported Civil Rights” when Goldwater opposed it (admittedly on ideological principled grounds, but with the acceptance of those with far weaker principles), and more importantly, Nixon’s turning his back on enforcement of Civil Rights laws, again … trying to have it both ways.
Just more crap that bugs me … that’s all.

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Currently there are "30 comments" on this Article:

  1. R. Alex says:

    In regards to gun law, I think what you and Yglesias are missing is that Republicans are, for the most part, saying that they’re willing to accept current laws. Not that we like them. But instead of passing new laws, how about enforcing existing ones first? It’s our idea of compromise, which I thought was something that liberals thought conservatives should do more of.
    And don’t get me started on Marshall’s recent blackmail (“Fight amongst yourself or you’re all supporting bigotry”). Exactly how many election cycles would we have to sacrifice in the thrust of a civil war within the party to purge it of its undesirables? Naturally, a prolonged civil war would only be in the interest of Republicans, right? No sirree, no Democratic interest in it at all. Y’all just care about us so much…

  2. Greg Wythe says:

    Just for my own linkage purposes, Matt Yglesias riffs on this post. CalPundit riffs on Matt’s riff of this post.
    And those are just the ones I know about.

  3. Ulysses says:

    Regarding Marshall’s take on Frist (from today’s WSJ):
    Josh Marshall Cracks the Code
    “With Trent Lott out of the GOP leadership, liberal blogger Joshua Micah Marshall turns his attention to the new majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee. In a Friday morning item, Marshall unearthed a Frist quote from his first Senate campaign, in 1994. Incumbent Democrat Jim Sasser, Frist said, was “sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry. . . . While I’ve been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseeans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseeans’ wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry.” Marion Barry was mayor of the capital from 1979 through 1990 and again from 1995 through 1999.
    In a follow-up item, Marshall explained the significance of the 1994 quote: It shows, Marshall says, that Frist seemed unable to resist “the temptation to dabble in racial code words and appeals on the stump.”
    In order to explain how Frist was using “racial code words,” we’re going to let you in on a little secret: Marion Barry is black. Few people outside the vast right-wing conspiracy are aware of this; certainly it was irrelevant to Washington voters when they elected Barry to a fourth mayoral term in 1994, despite a felony drug conviction. But if you dial up the name “Barry” on the Republican Secret Decoder Ring, the readout very clearly says “black.” And that, if Marshall is to be believed, is what Frist had in mind when he mentioned Barry’s name.
    But wait a second. Marshall himself calls Barry “a rotten mayor,” “corrupt,” “drug-using” and “one of the worst things that ever happened to Washington, DC.” Although Marshall doesn’t mention Barry’s race, he plainly is aware of it; how else would he be able to ascertain that Frist was speaking in racial code? When Marshall denounces Barry, then, he is speaking in racial code words. Does this mean Josh Marshall is a closet Republican? It would explain why he was so eager to get rid of Trent Lott.”

  4. Greg Wythe says:

    Interesting that those on the right (and Mickey Kaus for yet-to-be-explained reasons) are now in the business of defending racial code words.
    Code words, by default, are such that they can be taken a variety of ways. If it were more direct, there’d be no need for the “code” part of that. Bill Frist may very well have been utterly concerned with Jim Sasser’s leadership of the DC oversight committee and its lack of efforts to take on Marion Barry’s incompetence. I’m just a little curious why nobody’s dug out a quote to indicate that, and instead, the path taken now is to defend the practice of winking and nodding to racist elements.

  5. Ulysses says:

    So we’re agreed that Marshall was nodding and winking too, right? Or does he get a free pass because no matter what he says, he’s assumed not to be a racist since he’s a lefty?
    Code words, indeed. Gee, if only the liberals would give us the decoder ring for which they have the exclusive franchise…

  6. Greg Wythe says:

    Surely you can possibly see how Marshall is denoting points where Barry was a bad mayor as opposed to Frist, who just lets the mere mention of the name let anyone assume what they want. By all means, if Frist made any points on Marion Barry outside of that one reference, point them out. Saying someone is a bad mayor and enumerating how they are is a far cry different from using a name in a derisive manner as a standalone phrase. Exactly what was the point of Frist’s comment, as you see it?
    Don’t be so disingenuous to believe what I think you would otherwise refer to as “jackassery” had it been employed by someone disagreeing with you. Liberals are the only ones who understand racial code words? The GOP has had a pretty good handle on them as evidenced by haranguing on states rights in Philadelphia, MS, affirmitive action in rural Louisiana, confederate flags in GA & SC, etc ….
    If the GOP is truly as blind as you indicate they are on racial issues (as evidenced by this newfound willingness to defend pandering to racists), then its going to be a long road to recovery on this front and you shouldn’t be shocked the next time conservative ideas are met with derision in minority neighborhoods.
    So I ask … why the apparent willingness (dare I say … eagerness) to profit from racism? Is the confidence in conservative principles so weak that you don’t think they will gain popular status without that extra fraction of a popular vote? Suddenly, I’m sensing a lot more pride in this method on the right than was bemoaned during the week+ that Trent Lott was under fire.

  7. Ulysses says:

    You’ve gone overboard, Greg. Speaking of jackassery, your attempt to impugn me with statements made by Frist or anybody else is exactly the kind of racist demagoguery we’re sick and tired of. You know what Marion Barry is all about, I know what he’s all about, Marshall knows what he’s all about, and Frist knows what he’s all about. But if Marshall says he’s “a rotten mayor,” “corrupt,” “drug-using” and “one of the worst things that ever happened to Washington, DC.”, that shows how enlightened he is; if Frist saysd it, it’s racist. Bullshit.
    I guess if Frist said he heard someone behind him on a lonely street at night, and he was relieved to see a white man, then you’d call that racist. When Jesse Jackson said it, it wasn’t. I hope someday the nation makes progress on this front, but not through the pretentious moral grandstanding you’ve offered here.
    And you can make all the racist interpretations you want out of objective comments made by Frist, but to quote someone I know, “I prefer to see the forest to the trees…”

  8. Greg Wythe says:

    “But if Marshall says he’s “a rotten mayor,” “corrupt,” “drug-using” and “one of the worst things that ever happened to Washington, DC.”, that shows how enlightened he is; if Frist saysd it, it’s racist.”
    Third request now … show me where Frist said that. My entire point is predicated on the fact that he DIDN’T say that & you keep overlooking that very critical point.
    BTW – check email … big news there for ya.

  9. Ulysses says:

    He said they were sending Tennessee money to Washington D.C. For that matter, it could have been anybody’s name he put there. The fact that Marion Barry is the mayor and he’s black is an instance of you seeing a tree where I see a forest.

  10. Greg Wythe says:

    In continuance … where I impugn you is that you are taking way too much of a stake in the methods that people use to gain votes of racists. Frist’s comment was objective? He merely meant to denote that Washington is a town where someone named Marion Barry lives? Nothing more, nothing less? What next? Trent Lott was really talking about Strom’s record on national defense?
    The day you see me offer Jesse Jackson as an antidote to that, feel free to bitchslap me. You’ve not seen it happen. Another issue to point out is that Jesse Jackson has been elected to all of ZERO elective offices. So save the Hymietown, quiet alley comments. You’re debating me, not Jesse Jackson.

  11. Ulysses says:

    And you’re debating ME, not Bill Frist, Trent Lott, or Strom Thurmond.
    Ask yourself why Marion Barry is famous. Is it only because he’s a black male? Or is it that he’s a crack-smoking, mismanaging fool of a man. Frist didn’t refer to his race at all, so how is it a racist comment? Are you arguing that to be black is to be immune from challenges to one’s leadership. Barry’s a joke and everybody knows it, and that’s the beginning and end of the story. If you want to play the race card on Frist, fine, but don’t deal it from the bottom of the deck.

  12. Greg says:

    Three things …
    1. I’ve taken you to task for your vigorous defense of what I see as an inappropriate use of a racially coded phrase. We can debate whether or not his comment constitutes such, but I’ve not hung you for the comments of others. Just the extent to which you now desire to defend em.
    2. Everyone does not, nor did they all know in 1994 who Marion Barry is. Its precisely the point that those who know, have an associated view of him. To most, it would certainly be that Barry is indeed a joke of a mayor (then, as in his more recent tenure). To others, he is, as Josh points out in a more recent post, an “uppity-you-know-what who got videotaped in a hotel room smoking crack.” It’s the appeal of that statement to those voters that is at issue. Were they needed for Frist to knock off Sasser by 14 points? No. Perhaps that’s why Frist stopped using the phrase when he was taken to task for them.
    3. Lastly, go back and look at your posts above and tell me how the same argument would not apply to the “objective comment” made by Lott. You seem to be implying that there’s a difference, that Lott’s were truly bad, but this one is somehow more appropriate. If so, where’s the difference in these two cases … in Reagan’s state’s rights speech … in Perdue’s Confederate flag appeals, etc. If we’re only going to look at the face value of these comments, are they all just nuetral comments? Where’s the standard that you’re applying to them?

  13. Greg says:

    Interesting … this post has been linked on Matt Yglesias’ site and that post has gotten coverage on CalPundit and TAPPED. How long before I’m hosting a pledge week?

  14. Greg,
    Marion Barry is most notorious as an incompetent mayor who got caught for smoking crack, not for simply being black. Trying to claim that the use of him in campaigning is inherently racist simply because he is black is just plain silly. Barry is an embarassment to Washington D.C. and to the Democratic Party, and thus he is obviously fair game as political fodder.
    This is desparation setting in. I talked about it in a post on my own web log, that Democrats are using Lott as an opportunity to go down a partisan hit list and vilify prominent Republicans. The notion that a negative mention of Marion Barry is a “code word” intended to appeal to white racists is so absurd that it borders on pathetic. In fact, it is race-baiting in and of itself — a mainstay of Democratic politics.

  15. Greg says:

    Did you even bother reading anything above, or did you just start posting immediately? By all means, quote me where I say that Marion Barry’s name was used “simply because he is black.”
    Desparation indeed ….

  16. Ulysses says:

    Indeed, Lott’s comments were different. Can I make a distinction between two completely different combinations of words that form sentences? Yes, I can. Can you?
    Lott specifically endorsed (retroactively) a segregationist candidate for president. Is that what Bill Frist has done? No. Can I tell the difference? Yes. Can you?
    This is your NY Times defense. I don’t see the racism. If you choose to see trees, fine. I see the forest. His comments above have nothing to do with race. If you choose to see it that way, then it’s your problem to convince people he’s racist, not mine to prove he’s not. Until you show me something – anything – that Frist has said about race that is offensive, I’m going to pay more attention to what he does, not what you conspiracy theorists think he might be thinking.

  17. Greg says:

    The point of playing devil’s advocate in the comparison is that one can view Lott’s own words as merely leaving the characterization of “all these problems” open to interpretation … JUST as Bill Frist left “Marion Barry” open to interpretation.
    You show a willingness to see through Lott’s transparency, but for reasons not yet elaborated, have yet to see through Frist’s. Trent Lott said nothing of race, either. You still haven’t pointed out the difference.
    The point made earlier was that in using racial code words & phrases, terms are often left open to interpretation, particularly such that those who wish to note which candidate is “against” minorities can more easily discern.
    Getting to Frist’s thoughts, you inject a point that has yet to even be mentioned by myself or Marshall. The point made was that it was a lazy slip of the tongue. Marshall even states (and I very much agree based precisely on Frist’s actions) that he thinks Frist certainly is not a racist. So where do you start off stating that I’m out to portray Frist as a racist. Let’s go back and look at the key paragraphs from Marshall’s post:

    Now, I don’t think Bill Frist is a racist. Nor do I hope or expect he’ll end up like Trent Lott. One reader — flopping around like a fish-out-of-water making the case for Frist — sent me this link about how Frist goes to Sudan to operate on African children. So how could he hate black people? How could he be a racist?
    This misses the point. I doubt Frist is a racist. But this almost makes the point more clearly. Even some of best Southern Republicans seem incapable of resisting the temptation to dabble in racial code words and appeals on the stump. (In Frist’s case, perhaps it was a rather notorious campaign consultant who worked for him that year and has a rep for such ugly tactics.)
    I think the Bush family is a very similar case. I don’t think this President Bush or the last one were racist in any way. Nor do I think either of them liked dabbling in racial politics. But in a pinch, when the chips were really down, both have been willing to do so. For this President Bush you need look no further than the South Carolina primary fight in February 2000.
    The issue here isn’t what’s in your heart or what your party’s ‘thought’ is. It’s what you’re willing to profit from, where you’re willing to draw the line, what you do and don’t look at and say ‘I’m not going to put up with that in my party.’

    Can I see the words in front of me? Yes. Can you?
    Now if you can begin to argue the point being made and stop inventing arguments that aren’t even posited, such as Frist-as-racist, this conversation might make a lot more sense. Quite frankly though, I’m not sure who you’re trying to debate on this.

  18. Greg says:

    As if to prove the point of belaboring any “Frist-as-racist” commentary, you’ll also note the lack of the silly “sharp pencil” conspiracy.

  19. Greg,
    If Barry weren’t black – but was still the national embarassment he is today – we wouldn’t even be discussing this. Accordingly, I do view that as the overriding issue even in light of all that has been discusssed. The Lott situation differed because he endorsed a segregationist candidacy. All Frist did was invoke a Democratic boogeyman, which is commonly done in politics (i.e. Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Cynthia McKinney, etc, etc.). You and Marshall are trying to impose meaning on his words not justified by the evidence, and you wouldn’t be attempting this if a black man wasn’t involved.
    The protests that “Frist is [not] a racist” seem to ring hollow in light of the rather blantant and unfounded attempts to connect him to racism. You’re arguing that he’s using divisive racial rhetoric, albeit in the form of “code words,” to inflame white, racist voters. And what is your evidence of this? It can be summed up with the following four words: Marion Barry is black. Sure, you’ll also dabble in the notion that Barry wasn’t relevant to the campaign, although embarrassing politicans rarely are. They’re invoked precisely because they are nationally notorious. This is no different from using Ted Kennedy on the left or David Duke on the right.
    But these are smear tactics being used against Frist – they’re race-baiting and they’re completely unjustified. “Desparate,” Greg, is trying to act as if Barry’s race isn’t the only reason why Marshall dug up this ridiculous “example.”

  20. Ulysses says:

    “You still haven’t pointed out the difference.”
    “Lott specifically endorsed (retroactively) a segregationist candidate for president. Is that what Bill Frist has done? No.”

    Read what I write at least sometimes.
    “Quite frankly though, I’m not sure who you’re trying to debate on this.”
    Quite frankly, I’m not sure why you’ve impugned Frist or brought any of this up at all. I think it’s the classic political: “Now I’m not saying Bill Frist is racist, but….” and then a load of crap that essentially implies that he is.
    “Now if you can begin to argue the point being made…”
    You haven’t made one. Let me know when you do.

  21. Greg says:

    Lott specificaly endorsed a segregationist candidate for president? Actually, he said was that we wouldn’t have “all these problems” had he been elected and that his state was proud of having cast their votes for Thurmond in 1948. Where are you seeing an endorsement?
    What you have proven is that there are in fact associative meanings to certain phrases (ie – “all these problems”) .. you, for instance, have associated an endorsement of a segregationist presidential candidate. See, I did read what you wrote. Starting to see a point there?
    Now, if you bother to return the favor of reading one’s words, you’ll note that Frist is not impugned as a racist. I’ll even repeat the point you seem to be missing in all of this:

    Even some of best Southern Republicans seem incapable of resisting the temptation to dabble in racial code words and appeals on the stump.

    The issue here isn’t what’s in your heart or what your party’s ‘thought’ is. It’s what you’re willing to profit from, where you’re willing to draw the line, what you do and don’t look at and say ‘I’m not going to put up with that in my party.’

    But certainly you read that last time, right?

  22. Ulysses says:

    Yes, I did read that. But the day I take your word for what’s in Bill First’s heart, or take Josh Marshall’s word for what he can and can’t say… well, that day will never come.

  23. Greg Wythe says:

    … if only either of us had inferred what was in his heart.

  24. Ulysses says:

    From the invaluable Mickey Kaus:
    “Tennessee Synecdoche II: Alert kf reader J.F. (not Jim Fallows!) notes another connection between ex-DC mayor Marion Barry and Tennessee: Barry’s from there! He grew up in Tennessee, went to high school in Tennessee, went to college in Tennessee and dropped out of a Tennessee grad school. Local boy makes bad! That’s another reason why Bill Frist might have used Barry as the personification of D.C. government waste in the 1994 Tennessee Senate race — as if Barry wasn’t already the obvious example to everyone in the nation except Josh Marshall! … “

  25. Ulysses says:

    Ah, to hell with it… Kaus’s whole blog for the week on this issue is invaluable for that matter.

  26. Greg Wythe says:

    Indeed … particularly the part where he can’t even agree with the person he’s defending:

    SAM DONALDSON: Dr. Frist, your opponent, Senator Sasser, says you’ve injected race into your contest, and I’d like to ask you about a couple of things you’ve said. On three occasions, you’ve talked how Jim Sasser has voted to send money to Washington, D.C., ‘home of Marion Barry.’ Now, what does Marion Barry have to do with sending tax dollars to the federal Treasury?
    Dr. BILL FRIST: Not very much, but Marion Barry symbolizes a lot about what people think about politics today.

    Sometimes, when you bend over backwards, you expose yourself in ways never imagined. Kaus just can’t get it figured out here, can he?

  27. Ulysses says:

    I think he’s got it figured out perfectly. It’s Marshall who’s bending over backwards.

  28. Greg Wythe says:

    What next? “I know what you are, but what am I” ???

  29. Greg,
    “Lott specificaly endorsed a segregationist candidate for president? Actually, he said was that we wouldn’t have “all these problems” had he been elected and that his state was proud of having cast their votes for Thurmond in 1948. Where are you seeing an endorsement?”
    Don’t be a pedant. If you’re saying that you are “proud” your state went for a candidate, you are approving of that candidacy. This isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t some tenuous use of code words. Argumentation by feigning a lack of common sense is a low debate tactic. But if you want to bring it to that, you’ll see that that the word “endorse” only requires approval, not necessarily backing:
    Webster’s Collegiate
    Main Entry: en?dorse
    Pronunciation: in-’dors, en-
    Function: transitive verb
    2 : to approve openly ; especially : to express support or approval of publicly and definitely
    Did Trent Lott “approve openly” of Thurmond’s 1948 presidental candidacy? Yes he did. Now we can move on. As for the idea that Frist saying that Barry has “not very much” to do with his campaign suggests that it was a racial appeal, all I can say is that my earlier arguments answer this. He’s a notorious Democratic figure because he was caught smoking crack while in office, and that’s enough of a reason for Republican candidates to invoke him. It’s the same with Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton.
    Marshall’s argument doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

  30. Greg Wythe says:

    “Argumentation by feigning a lack of common sense is a low debate tactic.”
    I couldn’t agree more.

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