Strongly implies

Most of George Will's straw men are hollow men–enemies, usually "liberals" made up out of thin air, and made to hold views that would embarass a member of the communist party.  Today we are provided with a rare treat.  We can watch, almost in slow motion, the process of George Will-style straw manning.  We can see, in other words, how his dishonest mind distorts his opponent's words and then attacks them.  Today's column begins:

"Physician, heal yourself," said the founder of the church in which Roger Mahony is a cardinal. He is the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, and he should heed the founder's admonition before accusing Arizonans of intemperateness. He says that Arizona's new law pertaining to illegal immigration involves "reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation."

"Our highest priority today," he says, "is to bring calm and reasoning to discussions about our immigrant brothers and sisters." His idea of calm reasoning is to call Arizona's law for coping with illegal immigration "the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law." He also says that it is "dreadful," "abhorrent" and a "tragedy" and that its assumption is that "immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder and consume public resources."

The problem of illegal immigration is inflaming Mahony, who strongly implies, as advocates for illegal immigrants often do, that any law intended to reduce such illegality is "anti-immigrant." The implication is: Because most Americans believe such illegality should be reduced, most Americans are against immigrants. This slur is slain by abundant facts — polling data that show Americans simultaneously committed to controlling the nation's southern border and to welcoming legal immigration.

First off, note the classic ad hominem (tu quoque variety) flavor to the piece–"physician heal thyself" (but you haven't ha ha ha).   More basically, note that Mahoney (who shares a name with my cat), is talking about discussions of immigrants, not the particular immigration law in question.  For Mahoney, and for any third grader who can read his blog (he's got a blog), you can tell that he is referring to the general topic.  That may be a minor quibble, anyway.  Because the real distortion comes next. 

The clue to this is the twice-used "implication."  Now Will ought to know that the good Cardinal is not likely to make the claim that any law intended to reduce immigration is anti-immigrant simply because this one does.  That would be something like illicit subordination–concluding the universal proposition from the particular.  Ergo–that's Latin–the inference that most Americans are against immigrants does not follow from what Mahoney said. 

But the straw-manner is dishonest, and his objective is to close out the discussion of the opposition on their chosen position, and instead force them to defend, retract or respond to a weaker one.  Whatever they do–and I really don't know what the best way to reply here is–Will's monological tactic wins.  He controls the forum–the newspaper column–he can distort as much as he wants–until, of course, some adult at the Washington Post grows a pair. 

5 thoughts on “Strongly implies”

  1. Hi John. A nice observation about how straw-manning often relies on the monologicality of a context — not only is the man of straw not going to fight back, but nobody you're implying also holds the view is there to correct you.  A question, then: though a case for uncharitable misinterpretation can be made for dialogical contexts (e.g., for clarification), is there no such use for monological contexts? 

  2. I'd say no.  The absence of the opponent, and the desire to refute the opponent, only increase I think the requirement to be charitable.  Precisely because the opponent can't speak for herself, you have a responsibility to represent her views accurately.  But then again, there's always pedagogy.  I couldn't have gotten through the Meditations this semester without straw manning. 

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