Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pauses during an interview in his Capitol Hill office on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 in Washington.ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Earlier Wednesday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina declared to reporters that the U.S. should consider a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Why? Because Russian President Vladimir Putin might grant NSA leaker and current airport resident Edward Snowden asylum there, according to The Hill's interviews with the senator. That's a fair enough point if you view such an action as a big slap to the U.S. government.

But is it Nazi bad?

"If you could go back in time, would you have allowed Adolf Hitler to host the Olympics in Germany? To have the propaganda coup of inviting the world into Nazi Germany and putting on a false front?" Graham told NBC.

And here's the lesson for all you aspiring politicians: Be sure to follow any comparison to Hitler with an assertion that the comparison you just made is not, actually, the case.

"I'm not saying that Russia is Nazi Germany," Graham continued, "but I am saying that the Russian government is empowering some of the most evil, hateful people in the world."

So Russia is not Nazi Germany, but if you follow my logic ...

It's a classic "smear and caveat," as National Journal's Ron Fournier would call it. In June, Fournier called out Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., for doing something similar when talking about the Internal Revenue Service scandal with CNN. Issa didn't invoke Hitler, but he used the technique in a much more subtler way. Make an assertion, then back away from that so you can't be called out on it.

"Well, first of all, we're looking at the IRS for how big the problem is," [Issa] replied. "As you know as late as last week the administration is still trying to say there's a few rogue agents in Cincinnati when in fact the indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington."

Note what Issa is doing. He does it all the time--start an unsubstantiated allegation with an absolute declaration ("when in fact") and follow it with weasel words ("the indication is"). This smear-and-caveat technique allows him to ruin reputations without being called a liar.

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This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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