A non sequitur is another general cover all term for logical fallacy. It’s not true that every instance of failed reasoning (of premises that fail to reach their conclusion) is a non sequitur. Sometimes the premises are false (which happens to me all of the time, by the way). Sometimes the premises simply aren’t strong enough to support the conclusion–they’re not false, but they’re aren’t enough of them. When the premises are absurdly weak, or when their completely irrelevant, or otherwise contorted, then you have what logicians call a "non sequitur." To call something a non sequitur is a fairly serious charge. To level it means you think a person guilty of deception–either on account of ignorance or dishonesty. Now of course we do this all of the time, the name of this site, after all, is "TheNonSequitur" (someone owned the other domain). For the very large part, people we accuse of "non sequiturs" (for what that means for us precisely see here) fall into the latter category. They ought to know better. Many of them have had the best educations money can buy. Most of them have somehow been granted positions of prominence in national or even international publications.
So after all of that throat clearing, let’s get to today’s point. Charles Krauthammer, the man who thinks "slippery slope" is a bonafide form of reasoning, accuses someone (I’m not sure who) of one of "the great non sequiturs of modern American politics." Funny isn’t it. Because of course that accusation turns out itself to be a non sequitur. Here it is:
How did Obama pull that off? By riding one of the great non sequiturs of modern American politics.
goes like this. Because Obama transcends race, it is therefore assumed
that he will transcend everything else — divisions of region, class,
party, generation and ideology.
The premise here is true — Obama
does transcend race; he has not run as a candidate of minority
grievance; his vision of America is unmistakably post-racial — but the
conclusion does not necessarily follow. It is merely suggested in
Obama’s rhetorically brilliant celebration of American unity: "young
and old, rich and poor, black and white, Latino and Asian — who are
tired of a politics that divides us." Hence "the choice in this
election is not between regions or religions or genders. It’s not about
rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus
white. It’s about the past versus the future."
The effect of such
sweeping invocations of unity is electric, particularly because race is
the deepest and most tragic of all American divisions, and this
invocation is being delivered by a man who takes us powerfully beyond
it. The implication is that he is therefore uniquely qualified to
transcend all our other divisions.
It is not an idle suggestion.
It could be true. The problem is that Obama’s own history suggests
that, in his case at least, it is not. Indeed, his Senate record belies
I love the passive "it is assumed" as it suggests such grave intellectual irresponsibility–especially because of the issue of Obama’s race that precedes it. As even the partially informed voter can tell you, no one makes that argument. And Krauthammer doesn’t even bother to pin it on anyone. That’s what you call a "straw man." This happens when you either (1) pick the weakest form of an argument, knock it down, and claim to have knocked down the stronger version; or (2) you make up out of whole cloth (I always wanted to use that phrase) an absurdly weak argument for some position x, proceed to knock it down, and claim to have defeated any argument for position x. Krauthammer here is guilty of the second variety (unless he wants to scour the globe for the person who holds the "racial" view).
In all fairness, someone at the Post ought to stop him from doing this–he seems incapable on his own. Really. After all, he seems like an educated person, he’s got to know that you can’t go about making stuff up. It’s not so hard really. When he says "argument x is a huge non sequitur" he ought to ask himself "who makes it?" If the answer is "no one," then it’s not really anyone’s non sequitur (certainly not the greatest in American politics!).