Last night I talked about Rick Santorum’s declaration that he plans to “fight fire with fire,” and quoted my daughter’s observation that fighting fire with fire just creates more fire.
I was thinking of “fighting fire with fire” in the colloquial sense of “fighting the other guy’s sleazy tactics by using the same sleazy tactics yourself.” I generally disagree with this approach. I’d rather point out the other guy’s scuzzball tactics, rather than sinking to his level. I do think that fighting this sort of “fire” with more “fire” just leads to a huge conflagration.
However, several commenters pointed out that firefighters often literally do fight fire with fire. Here is one description of possible techniques:
When faced with a massive, woodland-consuming storm of flames and ash, your first instinct might not be to apply more fire to the dire situation. But think about it for a second: A fire needs oxygen and fuel, such as leaves and vegetation, to continue raging. Rob the fire of either source of nourishment and you squelch the chemical reaction that produces it.
When faced with an oil-well fire, firefighters have been known to remove the oxygen from the equation by detonating a little dynamite. The blast eats up all the local oxygen, leaving nothing to keep the fire going. When an entire forest is ablaze, however, a different tactic is in order. Firefighters remove the fuel — and what better way to quickly remove combustible underbrush than to carefully set it on fire?
I think this theory has an analogue in politics. Namely, if you see that the other side is going to be able to burn your candidate down by attacking his weak spots, you might want to set some backfires — vetting your candidate, in other words — thus depriving the other side of the huge amount of fuel that can cause an out of control wildfire.
The thing to remember is: any time you fight fire with fire, you’re, well, playing with fire. And if you play with fire, you might get burned. I’ll stop the stupid analogies now, but the point is: vetting is important — but it also needs to be done carefully. Because if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the . . . ah, hell. You know what I mean.
So vet away, folks. But be careful out there. And be careful not to burn each other, or to burn bridges, OK?
Otherwise I’ll have to drag out more stupid fire analogies. And nobody wants that.