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How Liberals Use the “Big Emphasis”

When people make untrue claims without evidence, one should usually assume they simply did not know the statement to be false. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and people may simply not have researched closely enough things they assumed to be true. Generally, people should be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, one purpose of discourse is to learn new things and correct one’s mistakes.

Nevertheless, in recent articles from allegedly credible liberal sources, liberals have devised an intellectually dishonest method of spreading their message. The technique is very similar to a term coined by Adolf Hitler and modified by his Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels: the “Big Lie.” To use this propaganda technique, an individual should not make a small lie but instead a big lie, so surprising that nobody would believe it to be untrue. When repeated many times in many speeches, the Big Lie becomes accepted as true and even as commonsense. Whereas people remain skeptical about specific details, they tend to more readily accept grand statements, particularly from seemingly credible sources. The Big Lie succeeds by overcoming skepticism through confidently presented shocking statements.

In light of this term, I would like to coin another to describe a tactic used by a number of liberals: “the Big Emphasis.” Like the Big Lie, the Big Emphasis entails making a broad unsubstantiated statement. Rather than make the statement repeatedly, the Big Emphasis merely entails confidently repeating the statement again as if the speaker carefully looked at all the available information, claiming an expertise on the topic that would have to follow from the certainty of the statement. As with the Big Lie, the Big Emphasis serves the purpose of rebutting skepticism, making the audience believe a hyperbolic or outright untrue statement has support.

To help clarify the Big Emphasis, consider three examples. Firstly, Paul Krugman in his New York Times article The Medicare Killers remarks, “All, and I mean all, the evidence says that public systems like Medicare and Medicaid…are better than the private sector at controlling costs.” Whereas merely beginning with “all” would have sounded hyperbolic, Krugman emphasizes this statement by saying “and I mean all.” Coupled with his credibility resulting from his Noble Prize in economics, the Big Emphasis helps bolster the truth of Krugman’s dogmatic and verifiably false claim. In a thorough response to his false statement, Peter Suderman notes, among other things, the American Academy of Actuaries 2009 study showing that private, consumer driven healthcare plans lead to a drop (as in an actual decrease, not just a smaller increase) in costs. Regardless of the merits of Medicare, Medicaid, and publicly managed healthcare, Krugman’s claim that “[a]ll, and I mean all, the evidence” supports his position is as false as it is rhetorically powerful.

Secondly, consider Elizabeth Rosenthal’s New York Times article More Guns = More Killings. David Hemenway, director of Harvard Injury Control Research Center, remarks in the article, “There is no evidence that having more guns reduces crime. None at all.” Like Krugman, Hemenway appears as a credible source, in his case due to the reference to his Harvard position. Whereas “[t]here is no evidence” could have been understood as a strong or even hyperbolic statement, Hemenway engages in the Big Emphasis by following it with “[n]one at all.” By doing so, he projects the certainty of an expert to dissuade the reader from doubting the claim. As with Krugman’s Big Emphasis, Hemenway’s statement suggesting “[t]here is no evidence” is verifiably false. Among other possible sources, note the research in John Lott’s book More Guns, Less Crime, Don Kates and Gary Mauser’s Harvard Law study Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? which remarks “whether causative or not, the consistent international pattern is that more guns equal less murder and other violent crime,” or places like Kennesaw, Georgia which have mandated for all its citizens to own guns and have since seen substantial reductions in murder and crime. Whether or not more guns causes more crime, Hemenway’s use of the Big Emphasis effectively removes skepticism from readers regarding a verifiably false statement, misleading his audience.

Thirdly, former President Bill Clinton at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas recently remarked, “Half of all mass killings in the United States have occurred since the assault weapons ban expired in 2005. Half of all of them in the history of the country.” As a former Rhodes Scholar and a former president, Clinton has credibility as an intellectual leader among liberals. By first claiming that half of all mass killings occurred since the assault weapons ban, he provides a remarkable and surprising statistic, leading the audience to think he may simply mean that there have been a lot of mass killings since 2005. By following the statement up with the same specificity of half in the history of the country, presumably going back for several hundred years, Clinton shocks the audience into removing its skepticism, assuming that anybody making such a specific and surprising statement must have done the research to support it. Yet, the statement is unsurprisingly false. As Glenn Klesser notes in a Washington Post article that fact-checked the claim and gave Clinton three Pinocchios, a little more than 40% of the mass shootings after 1982 have happened since the assault weapons ban expired in 2005, and a much smaller percent of all mass shootings in American history have occurred since 2005. Though his statement can be shown definitively false, Clinton convinces his audience through the use of the Big Emphasis.

By making a surprising, largely unsubstantiated statement and restating it with certainty, a person with credibility on a topic can shock an audience so as to overcome skepticism. Though people who are not liberal probably also use this technique, individuals like Alex Jones or Glenn Beck cannot effectively use the Big Emphasis to most audiences due to their lack of credibility in the eyes of many. In contrast, Noble Laureates, prestigious academicians, and respected former presidents have the ethos needed to mislead through emphasis, and sometimes choose the intellectually dishonest path of doing so.

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