Eric Holder, the former Attorney General, recently put a new spin on the familiar Michelle Obama quip, “When they go low, we go high.”Â Holder’s is that “When they go low, we kick them.”Â Here’s the video with the relevant pieces at the Washington Post.Â Importantly, Holder, after the quip, clarifies what he means by ‘kick’ them:
When I say we, you know, â€˜We kick â€˜em,â€™ I donâ€™t mean we do anything inappropriate. We donâ€™t do anything illegal,… But we got to be tough, and we have to fight for the very things that [civil rights leaders] John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Whitney Young â€“ you know, all those folks gave to us.
He means give it back with confrontational rhetoric, not actual violence.Â Oh, but is that what Sean Hannity will have as part of his clip of the quip?Â Nope.Â Just the part about the kicking.Â And here’s how he cuts the tape and explains it to his audience. (Video of Hannity’s show HERE, start at 6:19) He frames and restates Holder’s quip:
Just look at the number of democratic leaders encouraging mob violence against their political opponents…Â When they go low, ditch civility. Kick Republicans, when they are on the ground, kick ’em.
He just plays the quip, not the clarification, note.Â And that’s the key.Â Holder’s expressing the view that political argument is high-stakes and hard-charging, so he’s willing to sacrifice the high road these days, precisely because he thinks it’s clear his opponents have done so.Â So the metaphor of the ‘kick’ is the response to their ‘going low’ — invoking the way the battle would go.Â But it’s all metaphorical about the rhetorical exchange.Â Imagine someone saying,Â after hearing another describing a coming debate as a ‘bare knuckle boxing match,’ they are worried for their physical safety.Â For sure, this would be some willful ignorance of how metaphorical language works.
Trevor Noah’s Daily Show review of the selective quotation also revealed the additional irony: “Can we just acknowledge that by saying theyâ€™re gonna get kicked, Sean Hannity and his friends are accepting that theyâ€™re going low?”