Dear Readers–been off for a bit, usual excuses.
Writing for the New York Times, Peter Baker alleges that "Obama fills in the GOP's blanks." Ok, that's the title of the article, but I didn't find anything in the article that made that same decisiive point. It's an interesting one, because it alleges Obama is a serial hollow manner:
WASHINGTON — In speech after speech lately, President Obama has vowed to oppose a Republican proposal “to cut education by 20 percent,” a reduction that would “eliminate 200,000 children from Head Start programs” and “reduce financial aid for eight million college students.”
Except that strictly speaking, the Republicans have made no such proposal. The expansive but vague Pledge to America produced by House Republicans does promise deep cuts in domestic spending, but it gives no further detail about which programs would be slashed. So Mr. Obama has filled in his own details as if they were in the Republican plan.
Let's say it's the case that there exists no Republican plan to cut spending on education by 20 percent. Obama's attacking that claim would amount to a hollow man–attacking an argument no one actually makes.
Not every employment of the hollow man scheme is fallacious, however. I think this is a good example of a non-fallacious use. Let's say for the sake of argument that there exists a non specific plan to cut domestic spending (which includes education among other things) "deeply." In the absence of detail, the critic of this plan is forced to "extrapolate" or as I would say, "infer" which programs would receive cuts (and how much).
So the critic–Obama in this case–infers. His move is a fair one, as it asks for clarification of something admittedly vague. In a direct dialogical exchange, this would be a perfect opportunity for the Republicans to clarify their position. Near the bottom of the article, the author finds that they do:
That means, the White House said, that the $100 billion cut would amount to a 20 percent reduction in domestic programs, so it is fair to extrapolate the effects on education, Head Start, college aid and other programs. Republicans said they could choose to cut more deeply in some programs while sparing others, so education would not necessarily be cut 20 percent. At the same time, they do not rule it out.
So his hollow man, which admittedly is an argument made by no one, turns out not to be illegitimate. The counter move–logically at least–ought to be a claim that they will not cut education by 20 percent, or that the programs in question will remain in place. But they havent' (in this article) done that. They can't even deny that Obama is wrong. This seems like a perfect use of the hollow man.