We’ve pretty regularly noted that you can tell a straw man fallacy is coming when the speaker starts the windup for attributing views to his opponent by saying, “Some folks who believe X say…” or “You know what all those X-ists say about this…” What generally comes is a view nobody even recognizes as their view, or if it is, it’s only from the least capable of those who hold X. And so we’ve been calling these hollow and weak men.
Now, what happens when the speaker’s on a roll? It’s not just a one-off, but a series of these straw-man constructions. For example, take Marta Mossburg’s “The Real ‘War on Women’” over at the American Spectator. There are at least three in quick succession.
First, there’s the implication that Democrats who use the expression ‘The Republican War on Women’ don’t care at all about the way women are oppressed around the world.
When Terry McAuliffe, the governor-elect of Virginia, relentlessly battered his Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli for waging a “war on women,” these innocent babies, teenagers and wives often attacked by their families and given no protection under the law throughout many countries in the world were not on his mind, however. Not even remotely.
Second, there’s the implication of reverse racism in describing the progressive view:
It also fits in nicely with the progressive narrative that history is moving irrevocably forward to some ideal – which does not include stodgy white men.
And third, there’s the simple imputation of sheer craven rhetorical objectives to their opponents:
The success of the “war on women” trope should make Republicans realize that they are fighting progressives for whom the idea of truth is an outdated relic of a racist, homophobic, misogynist past to be discarded in favor of tactics that allow them to win elections and sway opinion.
Now, sometimes, the writing in politico magazines isn’t about making arguments. Sometimes, it’s just about reminding people what’s at stake, motivating them to go out and win, galvanizing the side. But here’s the thing: dog-cussing your opponents like this makes it very hard to intellectually engage with them afterwards. It inculcates a habit that Talisse and I have been calling the No Reasonable Opposition perspective on the issues at hand. And when you don’t see the opposition as reasonable, you don’t work on developing good arguments, and when you don’t work on good arguments, you don’t maintain your best reasons. And then you become, ironically, just like the folks you were dog-cussing.
To the three straw men here, it’s worthwhile to say the following. 1. The “Republican War on Women” trope was about a series of elections and domestic policy, not about foreign policy. You focus on what’s different between the two candidates and parties in that argumentative context and about the things they will determine – to talk about the treatment of women around the world is not what that discussion is about. (One might call this, by extension, a form of red herring.) 2. There’s a difference between having less (unearned) influence and having no influence – if everybody gets a fair shake, there are going to be fewer white guys at the top. It shouldn’t be hard to see that. 3. As to the cravenness view of one’s opponents, I’ll simply say that if you, yourself, aren’t very good at constructing good arguments, you won’t be very good at detecting them, either.