Sun Tzu teaches that one of the most important aspects of positioning is managing information. The key is making the perspective we use seem reasonable. Language offers a lot of methods for doing this. In responding to McCain's criticism of Obama's position on withdrawing from Iraq as "being willing to lose a war to win an election," Obama's response is very clever. He says:
"I don't run that kind of campaign and frankly that's how political campaigns have been run in recent years, but I believe that the American people are better than that...If we think we can use the same partisan politics where we just challenge our opponent's patriotism in an election, the American people will lose."
First, the statement avoids directly confronting McCain's charge that Obama's work for withdrawal in Iraq were motivated by politics by casting it simply as a challenge of his patriotism. This is not a straw-man argument, but a true statement. By McCain's standards, abandoning Iraq was a unpatriotic act, a violation of America's principles. However, the subtle point is here that by Obama's standards, it was not. In Obama's and his supporters' view, being in Iraq was the violation of America's principles. (Though an argument could be made that if Iraq had been a Democratic president's war, that support would have been more not less political. The majority of Democrat Party is, at its heart, an "anti-war" party.)
But this statement does something even more clever and subtle. It suggests a trick that Obama often uses. The formulation is this: "Since I haven't criticized by opponent for XYZ, my opponent cannot criticize me for XYZ." While on the surface, this seems logical, it is actually quite silly. In this case this statement suggests, "Since I wouldn't criticize McCain for his lack of patriotism, he shouldn't criticize me." However, no one could or would criticize McCain's patriotism so the formula levels an uneven playing field.
And, even though it sounds reasonable, it is also quite funny. It is the basis for a joke. A minister lectures a drunk on his drinking habits. The drunk comes back, "My drinking habits? What about your drinking habits?" The minister responds, "Me? Why I have never touched a drop!" "So we don't agree on drinking," the drunk says triumphantly. "And if I don't criticize your opinions on alcohol, you shouldn't criticize mine!"