“I’m rubber and you’re glue!”

Politics Public Relations Race

It has got to be the most popular rhetorical trick in the bag these days!

It goes something like this: Someone criticizes you (accusing you of, say, “X”), but you don’t want to have to answer the charge. You don’t want to even have to think about whether the charge is accurate. What do you do? Remember that the best defense is a good offense, and turn it around! Say: “Nuh-uh! I’m not X — you’re the one that’s X!”

This works great because it deflects the criticism off of you and onto your opponent. A reasonable, ethical opponent will typically respond by analyzing how X applies (or does not apply) to him/herself. Whew, crisis (and any possible introspection) averted!

But what if the accusation of X doesn’t make any sense when pinned on your opponent? All the better! The more random the counter-charge, the more likely it is to infuriate your opponents (in addition to merely distracting them). Polarization follows, and the danger of any real two-way communication is thus totally obliterated.

It’s amazingly effective. Just say “We’re not taking away your civil rights — by using your political speech to criticize our political actions, you’re taking away our civil rights!” And then look at how quickly blogspace has gone into overdrive spinning their wheels answering the question “Are peaceful political protests of the LDS church’s political actions very much like racists lynching black people over civil rights? Why or why not?”

A few provided some pretty extensive analysis: Deconstructing Elder Oaks’ Prop 8 Devotional, Oaks Speaks Out, Gays and the Church: Whose Ox is Being Gored?, The Hypocrisy of Dallin H. Oaks. Others went with simpler reporting and commentary: Dude?!? Wrong Side!!, Persecution Complex, From The Frying Pan Into The Fire, All Well and Good Except…, WTF?, Analogy Fail — inlcuding Monica Bielanko who got a call from the church for reporting on the story. (Oaks even made Olbermann’s “Worst Person” list, as reported here and here.) Many of these put some satirical effort into deciding what to call it: Is Mormon the new black?, Dallin Oaks Reaches a New Low in His Crusade Against Teh Gays, and Satan, and Reality, Irony, thy name is Dallin H. Oaks, Mormon Leader Calls Kettle Black, and especially Moroni’s Trumpet: We Shall Overcome.

I think Harry Reid said it best (regarding the CoJCoL-dS prop-8 political involvement): “it was a waste of church resources and good will.”

The LDS church squandered quite a lot of public good will on that political contest. Then they squandered even more by icing that cake with juvenile complaints about how unfair it is when people base opinions about you on your actions.

18 thoughts on ““I’m rubber and you’re glue!”

  1. The LDS Church in this case is like white Southern businessmen whose businesses got disrupted by boycotts and sit-ins. “Those awful Negroes. Why can’t they understand that a man has a right to do business however he sees fit?”

  2. What an idiot. Didn’t anyone ever tell Oaks that when your foot is in your mouth, you stop swallowing? The persecution complex bothers me SO MUCH. And his anology that Mormons should be entitled to extra rights just because they are believers was LAME. What I really wanted to say to him in my post yesterday was this: Dude, you have balls. Use them.

  3. Yeah, and the real shame is that the people he’s hurting most — by aggressively increasing polarization — is the ordinary members.

    He comes off as placing a chip on his shoulder and daring people to knock it off (insisting it’s a good analogy when criticized). In practice, he’s placing chips on the members’ shoulders by putting them in the position of having to answer for this nonsense in discussions with their non-member friends and neighbors.

  4. In practice, hes placing chips on the members shoulders by putting them in the position of having to answer for this nonsense in discussions with their non-member friends and neighbors.

    Too true.

  5. I don’t think Church leaders have a particularly adept understanding of racial justice. They seem to think that because (1) the Church is growing happily in Africa and Brazil, (2) Hinckley got a standing ovation at the NAACP over a decade ago, and (3) Mormons helped out during Katrina and the 1992 riots in LA, that therefore Church leaders can make racial analogies. They fail to understand that their power remains concentrated in whiteness (even if some black members fervently agree with Oaks, their voices will never be heard). This dynamic doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. Conversely, the gay rights movement can more easily integrate itself into the nationalist drama of minority rights, because there are gay, disabled female leaders of color in the movement who are working-class immigrants (exaggerating here, but my point is that “gayness” does not discriminate, whereas “Mormonness” does).

    Darron Smith wrote in “Black and Mormon” (2004) that younger Church members quietly forgive their leaders racism or “color-blindness” because of their good works and good will. But when these leaders take the national stage and appropriate history to their ends, I think this is more difficult to make sense of because of the ways these leaders are supposed to be appointed by God. It’s interesting how “gay marriage” is bringing all this interconnected history forward, but it’s interesting still what is not being said — how nationalized gay marriage threatens the validity of Church patriarchy. It’s no coincidence that faiths that accept gay marriage also have female ordination. But Oaks does not address this directly; instead he makes it about “religious freedom” (the freedom to have defined gender roles).

  6. This kind of reminds me of Pee-Wee Herman.

    “You’re a homophobe!”

    “I know you are, but what am I?”

    “You’re a racist!”

    “I know you are, but what am I?”

    “You’re persecuting me!”

    “I know you are, but what am I?”

    At some point, you have to own up to your actions. The LDS church sure seems to be on the attack lately. I’m not sure what they’re after. I don’t think it’s really helping their public image. I guess it’s intended to solidify the loyal base of supporters at the expense of alienating everyone else?

  7. This is a real PR nightmare for the church. In this age of internet and fast news coverage, they’re digging themselves deeper and deeper. It’s hard to imagine a sudden revelation from god after all this. That would surely be the last straw for any serious member. Two “get out of jail free” cards in 30 years? I don’t think so.

    What an idiot of an organization.

  8. Alan — You’re right that he’s turned this into arguing for “the freedom to have defined gender roles”, and unfortunately he’s also arguing for the “freedom” to impose those eternal gender roles on people whose beliefs are different from his.

    Saganist — I know! For years I’ve debated whether to call this rhetorical move “the ‘I know you are but what am I?’ defense” or the “the ‘I’m rubber and you’re glue [everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you!]’ defense.” Maybe I should have gone with the former.

    I do think they’ve taken up a strategy of deliberate polarization (to solidify the loyal base of supporters at the expense of alienating everyone else).

    Steven B. — Thanks for the link, that’s an excellent analysis! The beginning and end bits are a little disrespectful, but the author does a great job of showing — point by point — how Oaks is arguing for a mangled new definition of the word “freedom.”:

    Oaks is making a bald-faced argument that religious believe deserves special treatment, and that simply claiming Its my religion should exempt ones actions from criticism and examination.

    Exactly! LDS leaders have been making this claim ever since the initial bad PR fallout from Prop. 8 started rolling in. But as (correctly) pointed out by Steve B.:

    Peaceful protests are not anti-democratic. Rather, they are the lifeblood of democracy. The gay rights community chose to exercise its First Amendment rights to express its disagreement with a political position that the LDS Church had taken. That is democracy. [F]reedom from retaliation does not mean freedom from criticism or protest.

    I made the same point myself in Free Expression Basics (and went on to argue that they know it, and are deliberately creating a rhetorical side-show because they know their arguments are far too weak to win a fair debate).

  9. Actually, I just noticed one more interesting point in the discourse:

    Those who seek to change the foundation of marriage should not be allowed to pretend that those who defend the ancient order are trampling on civil rights.

    Scuse me? Should not be allowed? Should not be allowed to make a point you disagree with?

    Personally, I have a very different view of my opponents’ rights to free expression. You can make any right/wrong/intelligent/stupid point you like, as long as I also have the right to counter with my own free speech.

  10. Troy — Yeah, and the funny thing is that if they hadn’t gone out of their way to pick (and then escalate) this fight, they’d be in a position to silently “mainstream” on this — like they’ve done with so many other unpopular beliefs…

    Gen. J. C. Christian — True, that would be quite interesting…

    LDChino — Thanks for the link, quite interesting.

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