When did you stop beating your wife?

Michael Gerson provides some examples of the elusive complex question fallacy.  After a column devoted to examining whether Obama is really a "centrist" (by looking at the exclusive evidence of whether he has voted against his party on any issue–not his stated policies), Gerson writes:

These are welcome gestures, but they are not policies. Perhaps Obama is just conventionally liberal. Perhaps he has carefully avoided offending Democratic constituencies. Whatever the reason, his lack of a strong, centrist ideological identity raises a concern about his governing approach. Obama has no moderate policy agenda that might tame or modify the extremes of his own party in power. Will every Cabinet department simply be handed over to the most extreme Democratic interest groups? Will Obama provide any centrist check on liberal congressional overreach? 

In other words Gerson hasn't done nearly enough (even on the relaxed standards of Charity one would expect from him) to show that Obama is some kind of "extremist."  He takes it that the absence of one kind of evidence against that view is sufficient to establish it.  So what results is a kind of argumentum ad ignorantiam which sets up two complex questions.  Nice form.

2 thoughts on “When did you stop beating your wife?”

  1. Even if Obama is not a “centrist”, why would that matter? There is an underlying assumption here that states that being centrist is better that being more to the right or more to the left. It all comes back to that scary word: “extremist”. It’s a cheap form of attack. He knows people associate extremism with terrorism and the rest of …isms.

  2. Funny you say that BN, because the first version of this post focused on that notion.  Some in blogosphere call that presumption “Broderism”–the idea that (a) centrism is absolutely desirable because (i) the center is the right way to go or (ii) most Americans are centrists.

    But this is especially funny coming from someone who worked for the most partisan White House in recent memory (if not history).  Now after nearly eight years of relentless partisanship in the White House, those partisans are crying about partisanship.

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