Patterico's Pontifications


More on Fighting Fire with Fire

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:04 pm

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.

47 Responses to “More on Fighting Fire with Fire”

  1. Least of all me.

    Patterico (feda6b)

  2. or what we might could try is fighting fire with creamy nougat

    everyone likes creamy nougat

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  3. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown!

    Colonel Haiku (9080eb)

  4. Kid Rock throws down!

    Colonel Haiku (9080eb)

  5. I have friends what probably have Kid Rock songs downloaded somewheres

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  6. I definitely agree that simply calling out scuzzball tactics is much better, and frankly easier, than fighting fire with fire. Every time I try the latter I wind up regretting having done so and feeling like I probably gave the recipient exactly what he set out to get.

    Also, I’m a big fan of nougat.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  7. Actually, I think that making sure that the media only covers the stories you want them to cover would be a good example of a backfire. Just like a backfire takes the air away from the dangerous fire, keeping the coverage where you want it takes that coverage away from the stories you don’t want covered.

    DanH (77a987)

  8. And thus, the danger of playing with fire. I mean analogies. Or both. Whatever.

    Honestly, I think this stupid primary has gone on long enough and I’m tired of doing the Democrats job for them. It’s no longer “vetting” the candidates, it’s pulling out the same tired arguments and trying to come up with NEW! MORE CLEVERER! ways to hit the other guy with said, same arguments.

    Enough, please. Blergh.

    Book (672658)

  9. I think the primary should last all 50 freaking states. And I think it should be that way every four years. I love that it’s in open controversy and think it’s quite healthy.

    I don’t take anything the dems are saying at face value. We are poised to have a long primary process… so suddenly that’s the most unhealthy weak thing in the world and we should be demoralized.

    Didn’t the democrats have a drawn out primary in 2008? And they won, as Obama likes to remind folks.

    One thing that causes the really bad fires is not clearing out the brush with controlled burns. Politically, the best time to do it is in the primaries. Nothing that comes out now wouldn’t come out in the general, anyway. The frustration going on is quite real, and it would be nice of elected Republicans listened to it and fixed this party.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  10. Well it does appear to me, that had he broken more decisively with Masscare, and been more definitive
    about the circumstances behind the RGGI, he would have saved himself much hastle, Reagan did not campaign on the 1967 abortion bill, or any of his
    other fau paux in government,

    narciso (87e966)

  11. Wonder when the use of this expression will be a fireable offense.

    deTocqueville said it a little time ago. Holmes a little later. It’s not what’s right, it’s what works.

    nk (dec503)

  12. To keep the morons keeping-on paying their taxes.

    nk (dec503)

  13. This Daytona 500 tonight has been quite a mess. Lots and lots of fire… the race dragging on far longer than anyone expected or most folks wanted.

    And the possibility of the winner being someone who won’t be effective contending for the championship.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  14. Just a quibble. Dynamite does not use up oxygen. If it needed outside oxygen it would not go off when underwater or buried. The explosion blasts the flame from the fuel so the fire goes out before more fuel can reach it, just as you blow out a match. Obviously you don’t starve it of oxygen, in fact it will burn hotter if you blow too lightly. You must blow hard enough to force the flame away from the combustible material to blow it out.

    Machinist (b6f7da)

  15. Actually, I kinda admire the extended use of the single, consistent metaphor. Often can’t manage that in a run-on sentence.

    gary gulrud(MN#6, Anabaptist) (d88477)

  16. Otherwise I’ll have to drag out more stupid fire analogies. And nobody wants that.

    Let’s just turn it into a Global Warming analogy, and make dry ice from it.

    Because, you know, dry ice doesn’t melt, it just sublimes.

    Hey, what, you wanted sense?!?!? Why should I be different?

    I Got Bupkis, Fomenter of The Easy Solution... (8e2a3d)

  17. Often can’t manage that in a run-on sentence.

    Learn French.

    Everything written in French is a freaking damned run-on sentence. Apparently L’Académie Française placed a moratorium on excessive use of periods (defined as more than one usage in two hundred words) a few hundred years ago.


    I Got Bupkis, Fomenter of The Easy Solution... (8e2a3d)

  18. Willard on the base:

    “It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments.”

    The corollary is “It is very hard to bore the base into stolid indifference”.

    gary gulrud(MN#6, Anabaptist) (1de2db)

  19. Did he actually say that? That’s such a tone deaf statement it makes “you have no heart” sound like the Gettysburg Address.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  20. Mr. Potatohead has enemies:

    Allan was Dole’s whip and is a tax collector for the Welfare State, preferring to eliminate entitlements than dismantle crippling, counterproductive government he’s worked hard to establish.

    A flaming A-hole.

    gary gulrud(MN#6, Anabaptist) (1de2db)

  21. 20. Indeed, he is “not willing to light his hair on fire”:

    Seriously, this guy has no monitor of his mouth whatever. Shrub stuttering malapropisms was a friggen orator by comparison.

    gary gulrud(MN#6, Anabaptist) (1de2db)

  22. Maybe the reason other candidates don’t blurt out things like that is because it doesn’t even occur to them to exploit conservatives like that.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  23. “Maybe the reason other candidates don’t blurt out things like that is because it doesn’t even occur to them to exploit conservatives like that.”

    Dustin – Short memory. Other candidates like Perry and Huntsman just insult conservatives who hold positions other than theirs.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  24. Romney pointing out the obvious – END OF THE WORLD, EXPLOITATION!!!!!

    Exhibit A – Excitable Boy

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  25. Romney on the lowest move yet:

    ‘Romney, who until he made an unsuccessful run for Senate in 1994 had spent his adult life as a registered independent. “When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I’d vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican.”‘

    Bag of bricks.

    gary gulrud(MN#6, Anabaptist) (1de2db)

  26. I’d vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican.‘

    Wow. Romney calls this action disgusting today. That’s going to go in the Obama arsenal of flip flops. It’s no wonder this strange strain of hyperpartisanship equals such low support among independents.

    Maybe the reason other candidates don’t blurt out things like this is because they are less cynical. I don’t think it’s sheerly a matter of slick. I don’t think Newt or Santorum are even close to slick, and their gaffes (while pretty bad sometimes) are not cynical. In fact, their gaffes are often the exact opposite of cynical.

    How can Romney defend this? He has told us this behavior is outrageous and disgusting. I guess one way to defend it is to just ignore it and hope the media keeps telling us how unelectable social conservatives are.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  27. And to be clear, Romney is correct that this is wrong. I don’t think disgusting or outrageous are correct… I think that is just Romney trying to sound convincing about how he’s against something he used to boast doing himself.

    I do think, however, that Santorum campaigning for democrat votes in the GOP primary is wrong. Par for the course this primary, so I don’t feel any sympathy for Santorum’s opponents, but it’s still wrong.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  28. Talking Points Memo! eleventy truthy!!!!!

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  29. Santorum now regrets his “throw up” comment on JFK. This highlights how Rick’s propensity for going overboard often obscures and renders meaningless what are valid points.

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  30. Obama’s Gallup approval slips back down to 43%, with 50% disapproval…

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  31. I didn’t realize Romney boasted about that in 2007.

    And I’d heard someone explain that Romney supported Tsongas because Romney cares about the balanced budget. Not so, according to Romney. He just wanted to screw the democrats into nominating the weakest candidate… cancelling out someone’s God given vote for a legitimate Democrat victory.

    But Romney yesterday said raiding the other party is outrageous and disgusting. Was he lying then, or is he lying now?

    Romney’s contention that his vote for Tsongas was a vote for the weakest opponent for Bush – a phenomenon that political scientists refer to as “raiding” – surprised Professor William Mayer of Northeastern University in Boston.

    “That would have been a strange election to have done that in, in the sense that Paul Tsongas was obviously going to carry his home state” of Massachusetts, said Mayer. Tsongas won the Massachusetts primary with 66 percent of the vote.

    Ohhh, OK. No problem. Romney was dishonest then, in 2007, when he wanted the GOP nomination the first time. He was not actually attempting to manipulate the democrats. He was simply a democrat voter.

    It is rarer still, he said, for an independent, as Romney was, to “raid”: “If you’re so determined to help George Bush in 92 that you’re willing to vote for Paul Tsongas, it probably means you weren’t an independent.”

    Oh, so Romney was dishonest to claim he was an independent.

    What’s amusing is it’s always Romney who has these evasive and odd rewrites of the past. You don’t hear Newt rewrite his baggage. He just says he was wrong to support the ind. mandate. He just says he was wrong in some of his personal choices.

    How many times have you heard some excuse or wild explanation or theory to explain how Romney’s record isn’t what it so blatantly appears to be?

    Maybe the dog liked it up there on the roof.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  32. EPIC flail.

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  33. It’s interesting how factual criticisms of Romney, often showing his evolutions on issues to be cynical, cannot be effectively defended, forcing Romney’s loyal to find less compelling rebuttals.

    I think it would be more fun supporting Santorum in November. I wouldn’t be supporting a center-left position (if you still think Romney is sincere in the primary, here’s your sign), and the attacks wouldn’t be so frustrating to defend against. I can only imagine all the new wrinkles on partisan faces if we have to explain all these flip flops. Just seems stressful.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  34. Go for it, Sparky! You and the mouse in your pocket!

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  35. btw, these comments are my reaction to Patterico’s post. I’m trying to keep things civil and factual, and not to burn people (even if I think they might benefit from that). I appreciate feedback from folks who have maintained my respect.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  36. Exhibit A>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  37. Just let the primaries play out and trust that the voters will pick and nominate the most conservative fellow who has a chance of beating Obama.

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  38. “A lot of Santorum defenders are noting Reagan Dems. There’s difference b/w crossover appeal & voting for u to mess with GOP primary.”

    – Philip Klein

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  39. “My Democratic friends will vote for Santorum”

    – Michael Moore

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  40. “Obama, Michael Moore Stump For Santorum In Michigan

    It’s almost as if they think Santorum represents Obama’s best hope or something.”

    – Ace

    Colonel Haiku (0da124)

  41. “We want the activists of the party, the people who make up the backbone of the Republican Party to have a say in who our nominee is as opposed to a bunch of people who don’t even identify themselves as Republicans picking our nominee… I don’t like that. I believe that states should only allow Republicans to vote in Republican primaries… It’s the Republican nomination, not the independent nomination or the Democratic nomination… If you’re a Democrat and you want to be a Democrat, then vote in the Democratic primary, not the Republican. If you want to vote in the Republican Party then become one.”

    – Rick Santorum on January 29, 2012

    Colonel Haiku (893374)

  42. #36 Comment by Dustin — 2/28/2012 @ 10:25 am,

    Without commenting on the candidates or the issue I would just like to say that the difference is obvious and commend you for keeping to the high road. The difference that becomes more apparent with each post makes an eloquent statement in itself.

    Machinist (b6f7da)

  43. Aaaand that’s why I immediately click on a Machinist comment in the sidebar whenever I see one. Class personified, sir.

    Leviticus (870be5)

  44. Thank you Sir, but I think we agree that it is Dustin who deserves the salute.

    Machinist (b6f7da)

  45. “He just wanted to screw the democrats into nominating the weakest candidate… cancelling out someone’s God given vote for a legitimate Democrat victory.”

    Dustin – So the vote for Tsongas is consistent with the explanation given in comment #27. Was Mitt addressing soliciting other Republicans to vote in Democrat primaries or just talking about himself?

    “And I’d heard someone explain that Romney supported Tsongas because Romney cares about the balanced budget.”

    Do you have a citation for this or is it like your RomneyCare being $20 billion in the hole that you used for months.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  46. Machinist,

    We do. He has comported himself with a perseverance that I could not muster.

    Leviticus (870be5)

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