It’s a common strategy when characterizing one’s opposition to use the non-argumentative device commonly called the downplayer. So one may use the opposition’s language, but scarequote its best points or one may go out of one’s way to emphasize how little you think of them and their points. In so doing, you prime your audience to hear anything the other side says as ridiculous. The problem with downplayers is that if you do them too much, it’s not entirely clear why you’re bothering to argue with or even correct this person. If the quality of the opposition is so bad, then perhaps you’re not trying hard enough to find thoughtful interlocutors. Or the thoughtful ones don’t talk to you.
Now, hear Sean Hannity’s characterization of Ryan Adams, the alt-country star, here. You see, Adams posted a tweet directed at Hannity, saying that he was “controlled by fear and by hate,” and that Hannity should “evolve” and “see reality.” He also called Hannity “little chicken man.” In response, Hannity had decided to respond. But instead of defend himself against the charges (such as they are), he goes out of his way to downplay. Some highlights of his response to the tweet:
Now isn’t that nice.
You probably don’t know him. He’s not that popular.
His little agent…
If we wanted to torture terrorists, we should play his music to them 24-7.
He’s hiding behind his rockstar makeup like a little gutless coward.
A lot of people don’t even know who he is… so forget it.
And so now once Hannity has successfully downplayed to this point, he’s made himself look pretty silly here — he’s now having to respond to someone who he doesn’t think he should have to respond to. As if to say: This person criticized me… but look at how unworthy of my concern this person is. I mean… really, just pathetic this person. Criticizing me. I’m not peeved by this or even perturbed… being criticized by such a low, low person. I mean… really. It doesn’t bother me at all, because this person is such a lowly piece of garbage and he criticizes me… It’s not even worth my time to even think about it, that guy, that lowly guy. Not even worth my time to even think about it. Because that guy is just so low. And to criticize me, such a lowlife. Not even worth my time. Sometimes, when you downplay too much, it undoes the force of it.
(Oh, it may not have been worth Hannity’s time to respond, but it clearly was worth the time of Miss Oklahoma.)