Among the requirements for writing a paper in any of my philosophy courses, students find the following two very challenging: (1) absolutely no quoting or near verbatim paraphrasing; (2) treat the argument you object to with charity (if it’s weak, make it stronger than it is). The first rule keeps the kids from larding their papers with quotations. But it also prevents them from violating the second rule with the contextless citation: the “gotcha quote,” in other words. The “gotcha quote” is often the centerpiece of the political attack ad–“I voted for it before I voted against it.” People remembered the quote but they didn’t remember the context. The people who truck in such dishonest quote-picking out to be ashamed of themselves. Today George Will does both of those things–he lards his column with quotations maliciously selected in order to dismiss rather than seriously challenge the argument surrounding them–gotcha quotes in other words. He might as well read them aloud with that voice so often employed in the political attack ad. Here’s an example:
>The GOP, he says, courts whites “whose interests are overwhelmingly focused on tempering, if not altogether rolling back, the civil rights movement.” Please. Who favors rolling back guarantees of voting rights and equal access to public accommodations?
I don’t know George. Did Edsall give any evidence for this claim? I find it strange that you don’t offer any evidence to support your claim that no one does, especially when you cite a book about that topic. Perhaps you might have established your conclusion by demonstrating that Edsall has not offered any evidence for his claim. You could say that he tends to make wild accusations unsupported by any attempt at evidence. But you don’t say that and you don’t give any evidence that he doesn’t. Persons used to reading such books will be inclined to think that Edsall has offered evidence for his extraordinary claim. Even if they’re sympathetic to your view, they’ll realize that such things just don’t get said without reasons. Those reasons might be completely specious, but you can’t just dismiss them out of hand.
Conservative friends and fans of George Will please listen carefully. Such lazy and deceptive writing does not (1) establish the truth of the conclusions he argues for; (2) does not mean he’s wrong and (3) does not establish the truth of the opposite position (whatever that is). It only means he has wasted everyone’s time–especially yours, since you tend to agree with him and some of you look to him for supporting arguments. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we should expect better of the people who occupy the highest places in our civil discourse. You should expect better of your intellectual heroes. Juiced atheletes earn their disgrace, so should juiced writers.