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Situation: There are two political opponents running for the same position. In politician #1's commercial, he attacks #2 by pointing out flaws in his campaign or history. #2's attack is more clever. He "takes the high road" by saying that he'd never stoop so low as to attack his opponent, while this itself is an attack as it implies his opponent is beneath him, since he has gone so low as to directly attack him.

What's this type of attack called?

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Feel free to re-tag, couldn't think of what would make the most sense. – Cyclone Apr 26 '11 at 20:56
single-word-requests indeed! Thank you ;) – Cyclone Apr 26 '11 at 21:14
Personally I think it's just a bowlderisation of take the [moral] high ground. – FumbleFingers Apr 26 '11 at 23:56
@FumbleFingers So it's been turned into a heavy rock? :) – user3217 Apr 27 '11 at 7:19
In you example, I don't think #2 is taking the high road (having a higher moral standard). He is pointing out that #1 is stooping low, which is somewhat ad hominem just like #1. For #2 to take the "high road", ignoring the ad hominem might work (it might not be the best strategy, but that's another story). – Mitch Apr 27 '11 at 18:34
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's called paralipsis. It's when you draw attention to something by claiming to ignore it.

I'm not suggesting my opponent is a racist, but...

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That's not quite it, this is like saying your opponent called YOU a racist and you saying that you would never say something that low about someone else. – Cyclone Apr 26 '11 at 21:08
As others have suggested, the opponent appears to be taking the high road, and on the surface that's what he's doing, but in essentially telling people he's taking the high road, he's not. He's trying to seem like he's not attacking his opponent, while actually attacking him. If he were truly taking the high road, he wouldn't mention what his opponent did. He would talk about his own issues. – Sam Apr 27 '11 at 14:14

You could classify this, potentially, as subterfuge:


an artifice or expedient used to evade a rule, escape a consequence, hide something, etc.

Which leads us to expose the meaning of artifice:

  • clever trick or stratagem; a cunning, crafty device or expedient; wile.
  • trickery; guile; craftiness.
  • cunning; ingenuity; inventiveness: a drawing-room comedy crafted with artifice and elegance.

So that one might say:

His subterfuge led to the questioning of his opponents scruples.

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Taking the high road is an example of appeal to motive argument, which is one of many logical fallacies that fall into the red herring category.

There are really two arguments at play here. The big-picture argument is over which candidate is a better choice for the position in question. To this argument, both candidates have given specific arguments. Candidate #1 is saying "#2 is a poor choice because ....", and Candidate #2 is saying "#1 is a poor choice because he would stoop so low as to say these things".

The more specific argument is the one that Candidate #1 has started. He has argued that certain specifics of candidate #2's platform or history are bad. Candidate #2 has offered a red herring in response to that argument.

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There's a wonderful excerpt about the earliest use of eirôneia by David Wolfsdorf's "The Irony of Socrates":

In discussing cunning intelligence among the Greeks, Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant cite the following description of the fox from Oppian's treatise On Hunting. When he sees a flock of wild birds, the fox crouches low to the ground and pretends to be asleep so that when his unsuspecting prey approach him, he can effectively spring upon them. The fox's hunting tactics well illustrate the concept of eirôneia in it's earliest usage; eirôneia is the use of deception to profit at the expense of another by presenting oneself as benign in an effort to disarm the intended victim. (emphases are mine)

so although our concepts of irony (dramatic, situational, Socratic etc.) are derived from eirôneia, Wolfsdorf had to make a distinction because our current usage of irony does not have the element of deception in it. Encyclopedia has at at least two entries about it but you have to get around the pay wall.

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It's probably a specific kind of irony (intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning). Socratic irony? (I know you're looking for a single-word, but is a succinct phrase OK?)

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Attacking by saying "I'm taking the high road", is not actually taking the high road (note the lack of quotes). It is rather an ad hominem attack, attacking the merits of the campaign rather than of one's political platform (this is not literally ad homminem which really mean s in argumentation saying things about the argumenter rather than the argument itself; ).

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