Surely there is a word—if there isn’t there ought to be—for misapplying right back at your accuser a criticism hurled at you in debate. I’m thinking, for instance, of an argument between a rail-thin person and a very fat person. The rail-thin person calls the very fat person “fatso” and the very fat person replies, “No, you’re the fatso!,” when the more appropriate rejoinder would be “string beam!” or “bulimic!” or “bag o’ bones!” or some such. If both parties are very fat, then an exchange of “fatso!” is unimaginative and childish (“I know you are but what am I?”), but at least it isn’t illogical. I’m talking about something else—a debate between asymmetrical parties using inappropriately symmetrical language. I’ve been in arguments like this, and can report that it’s very trying to have to pause and say, “Look, I am an individual with my own faults and frailties. Criticize me if you like, but at least customize it!“

We need a word for this fallacy. Maybe the Germans have one?

Anyway, I thought of it during this exchange in the Feb. 22 GOP debate in Arizona:

Romney: Just a—just a brief comment. Senator, I just saw a YouTube clip of you being interviewed where you said that you personally opposed contraceptives but that you—you said that you voted for Title X. You...

(Crosstalk.)

Romney: But you used that as an argument, saying this is something I did proactively. You didn’t say this is something I was opposed to; it wasn’t something I would have done. You said this—you said this in a positive light, “I voted for Title X.”

(Laughter.)

Santorum: I think it’s—I think I was making it clear that, while I have a personal more objection to it; even though I don’t support it, that I voted for bills that included it. And I made it very clear in subsequent interviews that I don’t—I don’t support that...

(Booing.)

... I’ve never supported it, and—and have—and on an individual basis have voted against it. That’s why I proposed Title XX to counterbalance it. 

So I—you know, Governor Romney, I can just say that—that, you know, we were talking about this issue before of, you know, religious conscience and protections. But this is—the whole reason this issue is alive is because of the bill that you drafted in Massachusetts, Romneycare, which was the model for Obamacare and the government takeover of health care. 

What we have here is Mitt Romney, who is often called a hypocrite (not least for opposing Obamacare even though it was modeled on Romneycare), saying, “No, no, no, I’m not the hypocrite—Santorum’s the hypocrite.” And indeed, Romney has caught Santorum in an inconsistency—bragging to Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning that his vote for Title X proves he isn’t anti-contraception while apologizing to movement conservatives (like those in the debate audience) for the very same vote—explaining that he actually opposes contraception and voted for Title X only because it was "included in an appropriation bill” that included “a whole host of other things.” 

What Romney doesn’t grasp is that Santorum’s hypocrisy in this instance is good news, not bad news. Because Santorum’s sincere beliefs are extremist and frightening, the last, best hope for the republic in a Santorum administration would be that he turn out to be a raging hypocrite. That he would sell out his social conservatism and govern from some point at least an inch or two closer to the center. Romney’s hypocrisy, on the other hand, is bad news, because it suggests that he has no core at all and would govern as a soulless opportunist. Romney’s hypocrisy is a liability. Santorum’s on the other hand, is a little ray of hope: a faint hint that, under President Santorum, virtue might pay tribute to vice. It isn’t a very bright ray of hope; as various commentators, including Ruth Marcus and Joan Walsh, have pointed out, the greater likelihood is that President Santorum would be every bit the social conservative that he said he was at the debate. Interestingly, the headlines on both columns play up Santorum's flip-flops—i.e., his hypocrisy--because that's a more familiar journalistic groove than the idea that Santorum’s truer self is the extremist, not the conciliator. (The late journalist Murray Sayle once said that there were only two news stories: “We name the guilty man” and “Arrow points to defective part.” Actually, there’s a third: “Actions contradict rhetoric.”) Romney would be wise to stop trying to ...

Damn. we really do need a word for this.