Epiphany

It was a close election. Very close. But you’d never know that from the tone of the election post-mortem across the conservative and non-conservative (that doesn’t mean “liberal”) punditocracy. While talk of “mandates” with 51 percent of the electorate is absurd on its face, equally ludicrous–but no less frequent–is the blizzard of simplistic explanations for why three percent of the popular vote, and more to the point, 136,483 (actually less when one subtracts unexplained votes for Bush) in Ohio went to the Republican candidate. With such slim margins, the cold analytical mind would shudder at grand explanations, epiphanies, and electoral exaggerations. Such a mind would have to conclude that such a slim victory precludes grand conclusions. Thus the following from E.J.Dionne in the *Washington Post*:

These numbers do not lend themselves to a facile ideological analysis of what happened. The populist left can fairly ask why so many pro-government, anti-corporate voters backed Bush. The social liberals can ask why so many socially moderate and progressive voters stuck with the president. The centrist crowd can muse over the power of the terrorism issue. The exit polls found that perhaps 10 percent of Al Gore’s 2000 voters switched to Bush. Of these, more than eight in 10 thought the war in Iraq was part of the war on terrorism.

But such a deep appreciation for the complexity of the 2004 electorate seems not to have had any effect on Dionne’s conservative *Post* colleague, George F. Will, for Will has wasted no time in reveling in the “epiphanies” of last Tuesday. We won’t waste the reader’s time with an exhaustive catalogue of them (the first of them is that Bruce Springsteen does not select the President, electoral votes do). Among other epiphanies we find the following:

While 44 percent of Hispanics, America’s largest and fastest-growing minority, voted for Bush, African Americans continued to marginalize themselves, again voting nearly unanimously (88 percent) for the Democratic nominee. In coming years, while Hispanics are conducting a highly advantageous political auction for their support, African Americans evidently will continue being taken for granted by Democrats.

Keep in mind that this is an epiphany, so we are meant to be surprised by some important bit of electoral analysis. Only a conservative would be surprised, however, that minority groups do not constitute a monolithic entity. Perhaps there is some reason beyond their willful marginalization (having voted for the candidate who received the second highest number of votes in the history of the United States and the one who won 48 percent of the popular vote constitutes marginalization in Will’s mind by the way) that explains how 88 percent of the African American vote went to Kerry. Maybe–and perhaps this is a stab in the dark–a large number of them–88 percent in fact–rightly or wrongly *believed* Kerry to be the candidate who best represented their economic interests, vision of the Presidency, moral values, view in the war on terror, or whatever other of the sundry *reasons* one casts a vote for President. And in fact, when it comes to divining reasons for votes from the non-minorities, Will doesn’t hesitate to assume there is some reason, some reasonable reason, for their voting:

Newsom’s [mayor of San Francisco] heavily televised grandstanding — illegally issuing nearly 4,000 same-sex marriage licenses — underscored what many Americans find really insufferable. It is not so much same-sex marriage that enrages them: Most Americans oppose an anti-same-sex amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is why it fell 49 votes short of the required two-thirds in the House and 19 short in the Senate. Rather, what provokes people is moral arrogance expressed in disdain for democratic due process.

On Will’s analysis, minorities get no special treatment. He doesn’t even wonder *why* they vote the way they do. That a certain group is reported to have voted en masse may certainly cry out for an explanation–just as the fact that all eleven proposals to ban same-sex marriages must be accounted for–but that explanation will perhaps best begin (and perhaps end) with one question: *why* did you (and 48 percent of the electorate) vote for the Democratic candidate?

When an opinion is just an opinion.

When we envisioned this project and then began to work on it, we expected to spend our time roughly equally on editorial writers from all political orientations. It is, of course, readily apparent that our focus has primarily rested on four writers–David Brooks, George Will, William Safire, and Charles Krauthammer. These four are, of course, the most conservative of the opinion page writers of the country's two major dailies–The New York Times and The Washington Post. For the last two and half months, we have, therefore, spent most of our efforts criticizing conservative arguments. This probably gives the appearance of a certain "partisanship." This is not, however, our intention. Nonetheless, having read probably several hundred opinion pieces in the last two and half months from political opinion magazines as diverse as Pat Buchanan's *The American Conservative,* *The Nation* (the largest and oldest opinion weekly in the country), middle america weeklies likes *Time* and *Newsweek*, and newspapers from the flagships mentioned above to the *The Boston Globe,* *Chicago Sun Times,* and the *Cleveland Plain Dealer,* we are in a position to reflect on this appearance of partisanship. To do that, I think we need to address the question of the purpose of I have come to think of Maureen Dowd as the "purest" opinion writer around because her columns rarely involve explicit inference or argument. Instead, she largely describes her own reactions to the world, spicing it up a little with a few one-liners or cheap shots. This means that there is little in her columns for us to analyze, and also explains the impression that they are generally "fluffy" (leaving aside her hatchet jobs on Clinton and Monica from the 90's). There is, of course, implicit inference and the logic underlying her one-liners, but for the most part her columns remain somewhat impressionistic. At some point I will return to this and try to demonstrate it more rigorously. The first half of Brooks' column today (Source: NYT 11/02/04) is pure opinion. Brooks treats us to his reflections on the course of the campaign and his mild uncertainty whether his support of the Bush administration is wise or justified. >As I look back over the course of this campaign, I should confess I've gone through several periods convinced I should vote against President Bush. I know I'm not the only conservative to think this way. I look at my favorite conservative bloggers and see many coming out for John Kerry. I talk to my friends at conservative think tanks and magazines and notice that they are deeply ambivalent about the administration, even those who would never vote for a Democrat. This is part of Brooks' persona as the reasonable conservative who is more concerned with the merits of the various positions than with maintaining a strict party line–a persona that his columns over the last two and half months have given pleny of reason to doubt. Nonetheless, as his confession continues and he reveals his doubts about the Bush administration, we find nothing to analyze. Reporting the autobiographical facts about his personal beliefs does not involve argument or inference. For example to say as Brooks does: >I'm frustrated that Bush didn't build the governing majority that was there for the taking. is merely to report a psychological and biographical fact, which for the purposes of our analysis we assume to be true. Certainly Brooks wants to *explain* his frustration, but he does not need to *prove* it to us. Insofar as he remains at the level of his opinions and the explanation of his opinions there is generally little for logical analysis. But it is an entirely different matter to say as Brooks does later: > Then other considerations come into play. The first is Kerry. He's been attacked for being a flip-flopper, but his core trait is that he is monumentally selfish. Since joining the Senate, he has never attached himself to an idea or movement larger than his own career advancement. >It's not for nothing that people in Massachusetts joked that his initials stand for Just For Kerry. Or that people spoke of him as the guy who refuses to wait in lines at restaurants because he thinks he's above everybody else. Here he does more than report his belief that Kerry is "monumentally selfish." He attempts to provide the evidence that provides *reason* to believe that he is selfish. We have moved from reporting his opinions to attempting to establish the truth of an objective claim. It is at this point that our analysis is required. Does Brooks have good reason to believe that Kerry is "monumentally selfish?" Or more importantly, are the reasons that he advances sufficient to establish either the likelihood or the truth of that claim? He appeals here to two pieces of evidence: 1) "He has never attached himself to an idea or movement larger than his own career advancement." 2) People have the impression that he is selfish. We must now evaluate the strength of the inference from these two claims to the conclusion that "Kerry is monumentally selfish." As they stand they both suggest significant logical fallacies. In the first case, the fallacy of suppressed evidence, and in the second, appeal to unqualified authority (perhaps), or a sort of appeal to the people. Without thinking very long or spending any time with Lexis/Nexis, the first claim seems simply implausible, and certainly lacks any actual evidence to support it. It is, however, part of the attempt to portray Kerry (or Gore, or Clinton, or . . ..) as a cynical self-aggrandizing politician. This is common trope in political discourse and Brooks of course is willing to stoop to it. The second claim is an equally bad argument for his conclusion but a little harder to analyze. He seems to be arguing that "people" have the impression that he's the kind of guy who "refuses to wait in lines at restaurants." His only attempt to bolster this impression is to assert that "it is not for nothing that people . . ." have this impression. The fact that people believe something is not evidence that it is true, and not reason that we should believe it to be true. Of course, there may be reason to believe this, but Brooks does not provide that and so does not provide any reason to believe that "Kerry is monumentally selfish." Again we can see quite clearly that Brooks stumbles when he attempts to provide an argument for his beliefs. His arguments are consistently bad. His opinions may be true or may be false, just as they may be interesting or not. But when he remains within the domain of reporting his own opinions, we will find ourselves with much less to criticize–if he doesn't make arguments, then he can't make bad arguments. I will leave Brooks' editorial aside now, and end by briefly returning to the original question. But before I do that, I want to distinguish one other sort of opinion piece that we find more often I think being penned by the liberal or centrist commentators of the two major dailies. An example of this is today found from a right wing commentator, George Will. Rather than an "opinion editorial" in the pure sense delineated above, this might be referred to as a "reporting editorial." An example from the left-center occupants of the editorial pages might be Nicholas Kristof's recent reporting editorials from Afghanistan. Like pure opinion editorials these are concerned first of all with the reporting of facts rather than with argument and inference. George Will begins his piece today with a quick tour through the electoral almanac: >If, for the fourth consecutive election, neither candidate wins a popular vote majority, relax. There were four consecutive such elections from 1880 to 1892. In 1876 a candidate (Samuel Tilden) got 51 percent — and lost (to Rutherford Hayes). Six elections since World War II produced plurality presidents — 1948, 1960, 1968, 1992, 1996, 2000. Woodrow Wilson was consequential although he won his first term with just 41.8 percent and his second with 49.2 percent. Once again, there is nothing to contest as a matter of logic here–we assume that his facts are correct. The first half of the editorial continues in this vein, relating interesting parallels between past elections and possible outcomes today. The latter half of the editorial departs from this concern and highlights a number of things that Will wants us to "watch" such as Nevada and Maine's 2nd congressional district. Here he explains the reasons that these might be interesting without attempting to prove anything in particular. Here we move back in the direction of a "pure opinion" piece since in essence Will is saying "I think Nevada will be interesting to watch because. . .." It has been our impression over the last two and a half months that the these quartet of op-ed writers on which we have focused tend to spend more time arguing than opining. In contrast writers such as Dowd or Kristof *tend* to spend less time arguing than opining. Since the arguments offered by our quartet of writers are so often fallacious we are immediately attracted to analyze them. This is not to say that we do not have partisan tendencies or that we are not blinded to some fallacious reasoning by any number of psychological factors or beliefs. Nonetheless, our focus on this quartet is not a simple reflection of these things, but we believe a reflection of the failures of their arguments.

Nuisance

Though facts constitute one of the two essential features of any argument, we the editors of *The Non Sequitur* do not normally pronounce on questions of fact. We lack the resources to engage in the kind of rigorous fact-checking one finds at, for example, www.factcheck.org, and besides, we have made it our objective to focus narrowly on the way op-ed writers, politicians, and assorted others weave facts into inferences. In testing the strength or validity of inferences, we generally assume the facts to be as the writer alleges. For whatever the facts may be, they oftentimes cannot hide the howling non sequiturs a disconcerting number of these writers attempt to pass off as sound reasoning. Some non sequiturs, however, rely on shameless and obvious factual distortions or fabrications, so sometimes it is impossible for us to exclude the factual
concerns from our analysis of the logic of the inferences. The straw man argument, for instance, relies on a misleadingly weak version of an opponent’s argument, and uncovering this fallacy obviously requires that the critical reader to have some knowledge of the argument being attacked.
We find a string of such straw man arguments in Saturday’s *New York Times*.
David Brooks insults the Gray Lady’s honor and reputation by distorting the words of one of her own reporters in the assembly of one of the most rickety straw men we have seen in recent months. But, as we shall see presently, the straw man is only the first in a series of equally egregious fallacies.
First, the straw man.

The nuisance is back!

Remember when John Kerry told Matt Bai of The Times Magazine that he wanted to reduce the terrorists to a nuisance? Kerry vowed to mitigate the problem of terrorism until it became another regrettable and tolerable fact of life, like gambling, organized crime and prostitution.

That was the interview in which he said Sept. 11 “didn’t change me much at all.” He said it confirmed in him a sense of urgency, “of doing the things we thought we needed to be doing.”

We remember that too, and like all those gifted with high-speed–nay any speed–internet, we are also capable of checking to see whether Brooks *charitably* or *accurately* represents the Democratic candidate’s words. For there are various degrees of straw man argument. Some rely on factually correct, but unfair or uncharitable, interpretations of an opponent’s words or meaning; others depend on simple distortion or outright fabrication. The more common version of the fallacy, and the hardest to detect, is the first. But Brooks commits the second. In original *Times* article, Kerry had quite a bit to say about terrorists and terrorism, and on any reading, he does not come across as anything remotely like the detached and effete intellectual of Brooks’ portrayal who was unaffected by 9/11, who wants to “mitigate” the problem of terrorism rather than obliterate terrorists, and worst of all, who claims that *Bin Laden* is a nuisance.
First, let’s look at the claim that 9/11 didn’t change Kerry much at all since, as a matter of fact, this comes first in the article. This otherwise trivial fact about the order of Kerry’s statements underscores Brooks’ context-free selective quotation of them. For the sake of charity, completeness, and honesty, we will provide ample context.

This is the Republican line on Kerry — that he lacks guts. Kerry’s often wobbly attempt to be both like and unlike Bush in his approach to terrorism and the war in Iraq enabled the Bush team, by the time Kerry and I spoke in August, to portray him, devastatingly, as a ”flip-flopper” who careens from one position to another. In our conversation, Kerry seemed unusually sensitive to these allegations, to the point where he seemed unwilling to admit to having evolved or grown in the way that politicians — or human beings, for that matter — generally do. When I asked Kerry how Sept. 11 had changed him, either personally or politically, he seemed to freeze for a moment.

”It accelerated — ” He paused. ”I mean, it didn’t change me much at all. It just sort of accelerated, confirmed in me, the urgency of doing the things I thought we needed to be doing. I mean, to me, it wasn’t as transformational as it was a kind of anger, a frustration and an urgency that we weren’t doing the kinds of things necessary to prevent it and to deal with it.”

As you can see, the entire passage relates quite a different picture. Rather than a man who is unaffected by 9/11, we find one with *anger*, a *sense of urgency*, and *frustration* at the failure to address the problem of terrorism. Brooks omits these terms from his analysis and so presents a man blithely unperturbed by an event of which he himself was a witness, and perhaps, a target.

Now for the question of “mitigation.” Brooks takes this to mean Kerry is weak and uncommitted to the fight against terrorism. We should note that the word “mitigation” appears *nowhere* in the article, and even a cursory reading of it will show that it does not fairly characterize Kerry’s position with regard to the war on terrorism. First, a little context of our own. When asked whether the war on terrorism is really a war, Kerry said:

”There’s a danger in it,” Kerry said, nodding. ”But it’s real,” he went on, meaning the war itself. ”You know, when your buildings are bombed and 3,000 people get killed, and airplanes are hijacked, and a nation is terrorized the way we were, and people continue to plot to do you injury, that’s an act of war, and it’s serious business. But it’s a different kind of war. You have to understand that this is not the sands of Iwo Jima. This is a completely new, different kind of war from any we’ve fought previously.”

Kerry told me he would stop terrorists by going after them ruthlessly with the military, and he faulted Bush, as he often does, for choosing to use Afghan militias, instead of American troops, to pursue Osama bin Laden into the mountains of Tora Bora, where he disappeared. ”I’m certainly, you know, not going to take second seat to anybody, to nobody, in my willingness to seek justice and set America on a course — to make America safe,” Kerry told me. ”And that requires destroying terrorists. And I’m committed to doing that. But I think I have a better way of doing it. I can do it more effectively.”[emphasis added]

In the article that Brooks cites as evidence that Kerry wants to “mitigate” the terrorist problem, Kerry says quite clearly that he is committed to “destroying terrorists.” He says nothing to the effect that he wants to deal softly with actual terrorists. Finally, let’s see whether Kerry called Bin Laden a nuisance.

But when you listen carefully to what Bush and Kerry say, it becomes clear that the differences between them are more profound than the matter of who can be more effective in achieving the same ends. Bush casts the war on terror as a vast struggle that is likely to go on indefinitely, or at least as long as radical Islam commands fealty in regions of the world. In a rare moment of either candor or carelessness, or perhaps both, Bush told Matt Lauer on the ”Today” show in August that he didn’t think the United States could actually triumph in the war on terror in the foreseeable future. ”I don’t think you can win it,” he said — a statement that he and his aides tried to disown but that had the ring of sincerity to it. He and other members of his administration have said that Americans should expect to be attacked again, and that the constant shadow of danger that hangs over major cities like New York and Washington is the cost of freedom. In his rhetoric, Bush suggests that terrorism for this generation of Americans is and should be an overwhelming and frightening reality.

When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ”We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” Kerry said. ”As a former law-enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling. But we’re going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.”

The nuisance remark not only clearly refers to the ultimate objective of the war on terrorism (not its actual present day state), but appears in fact to be more optimistic than the President’s own claim that the war on terrorism cannot be won. A rigorous application of Brooks’ interpretive strategy necessitates and equally brutal interpretation of the President’s remark. He might say, for instance, with regard to Bin Laden’s recent video release, “there goes that Bin Laden again, the guy who has defeated us (since we cannot win) in the war on terrorism.” And that remark wouldn’t even take that much–or any–distortion. If we cannot win the war on terrorism, then the uncaptured Bin Laden is the victor. While such a remark would be patently uncharitable, and for that reason simply unacceptable in serious debate, it would not rest on a fabrication of Bush’s comments. Since it is obvious that none of Brooks’ characterization of Kerry actually applies to him, the conclusion he draws simply does not follow:

Well, the Osama bin Laden we saw last night was not a problem that needs to be mitigated. He was not the leader of a movement that can be reduced to a nuisance.

Few people would disagree with that, least of all John Kerry. Even Cornel West–no right wing intellectual he–the other night called Bin Laden a “gangster” who needed to be–note the phrase–“brought to justice.” But there’s more to Brooks’ argument. His completely dishonest rendering of Kerry’s position on terrorism constitutes one half of a Brooksian false dichotomy:

One of the crucial issues of this election is, Which candidate fundamentally gets the evil represented by this man? Which of these two guys understands it deep in his gut – not just in his brain or in his policy statements, but who feels it so deep in his soul that it consumes him?

Given Brooks’ silly caricature of John Kerry, he probably means Bush (and not, by the way, the Bush who “isn’t all that concerned with Bin Laden”). Nevertheless, it’s certainly possible, and, discounting the many distorted, selectively quoted, or just plain fabricated statements on the matter, very likely that Kerry both understands the problem of terrorism as a policy issue *and* “deep in his gut”.
This false dichotomy aside, we still might wonder how we know that Bush is the right man for the war on terrorism. Is it because he has demonstrated unrivaled acumen in prosecuting the war? Because he has enlisted–not alienated–the world’s support in it? Because he has actually captured the individual who plotted and financed 9/11? Because he demonstrated unwavering support and cooperation with the 9/11 commission in an effort to understand the causes of 9/11? Because he selflessly refused to exploit 9/11 for short term partisan political gain? Because he courageously took on those countries responsible for the actual financing of al Qaeda? Or is it perhaps because the Gallup poll indicates that people *think* that he is? If you chose the last one, you’d have been right:

It’s quite clear from the polls that most Americans fundamentally think Bush does get this. Last March, Americans preferred Bush over Kerry in fighting terrorism by 60 percent to 33 percent, according to the Gallup Poll. Now, after a furious campaign and months of criticism, that number is unchanged. Bush is untouched on this issue.

Need we bother to mention that just because people believe that Bush is better that he actually *is* better at it? While it may be true that most Americans think the affirmative of whatever the Gallup question actually was, this demonstrates only that they think that. If that sounded pointlessly circular, and it was meant to be that way. Whether Bush actually is the right man for the job, whether his gut feeling and his policies are more effective is a question that must be settled on an appeal to the relevant evidence, and the people’s impression, positive or negative, is not relevant evidence.
We could continue, but time and space constraints force us to stop here. Allow us dear reader to close with the following observation. We had cause to wonder in recent days whether Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, a fake news program on Comedy Central, was right when he said partisan hacks were hurting America. They seem indeed to go beyond being a simple nuisance. Given a public forum for rational, informed, and honest discussion of matters fundamental to the existence and flourishing of our democratic institutions, they all too often opt to repeat shallow and dishonest partisan talking points. While it may not be hurting America, it certainly doesn’t help.

Some and all

In the simple logic of many pundits, you’re either a liberal or a conservative. Conservatives reject anything that’s “liberal” and liberals likewise reject–or should reject–any utterance of a “conservative.” In the simple logic of George Will, anything that is not a complete government giveaway to the poor with no strings attached (or a thievish taxing of the rich) is “conservative,” no matter how many liberals support it (or variations of it). Since any such program is conservative, any liberal who does not reject it outright is not challenging conservativism. And thus the failure to challenge the conservative program is a victory, nay a “triumph” for conservativism, and a defeat for “liberalism.” Take the following for instance:

John Kerry’s campaign shows that liberalism remains merely reactive, and reconciled to many of conservatism’s triumphs. Kerry complains about No Child Left Behind and the USA Patriot Act but does not call for repealing either. For all of Kerry’s histrionic sorrows about “the rich” being too laxly taxed, his proposal to raise the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent accepts Ronald Reagan’s revolution in lowering the rate from 70 percent. And Kerry has not proposed even a mild modification of modern conservatism’s largest legislative achievement, the 1996 welfare reform that repealed the 1935 Social Security Act’s lifetime entitlement to welfare.

There is an odd categorical logic to this claim. The first sentence–which is the conclusion of the argument–claims that *All* “liberalism” (whatever that means, see previous posts) is reactive. The evidence for this is a series of points about *some* of Kerry’s positions. Never mind the fact that Dennis Kucinich would justly recoil at the suggestion that Kerry is “liberal.” Notice how the strength of the conclusion (*Liberalism remains merely reactive*) rests on a narrowly selected range of domestic issues–the No Child Left Behind Act, the USA Patriot Act, taxation, and welfare reform. On Will’s formulation, Kerry’s stated campaign positions range from measured agreement to silence.

For Will’s conclusion about “liberalism” to follow he would need to do more than this. First, he would have to take into consideration that Kerry in the current election has the role of *challenger*. As challenger, his posture might seem “reactive,” because, in fact, that’s just what one might expect of a candidate who is challenging a President who has had four years with a friendly Congress and Supreme Court. Whatever one’s position on the current President, Bush has left his opponent with much to respond or react to.

Second, Will would need to examine a greater range of domestic issues. Even a poorly informed voter knows that Kerry has made concrete policy proposals regarding health care, education, and the environment that go beyond simple reactions or slight modifications of Republican or conservative achievements. The sample of issues here examined, in other words, does not warrant the universal categorical assertion that all liberalism is reactive.

Third, and most importantly, Will needs to show why it must be the case that Kerry must completely reject every policy proposal vaguely associated with conservative politicians. Perhaps, one might suggest, Kerry agrees with some, but not all, of the policy in question. Or perhaps he even agrees with it entirely. His failure to reject it outright does not necessarily constitute a victory for conservatives, and consequently render liberals reactive, it might be a victory for those who do not confine their minds to the simplistic and vaguely defined labels of punditology.

Entity multiplication

It’s not exactly a question of logic, strictly speaking, but the dictum *entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem* or *pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate* might aptly characterize what is wrong with George Will’s Sunday op-ed in the *Washington Post*. Even though such hefty Latinisms are no doubt familiar to the typical Will reader (cf his recent “Pennsylvania *est omnis divisa in partes tris*”), for the sake of those not used to Will’s Latin, it means, in paraphrase, “the simpler explanation is probably the better.” And that is just what we found in Sunday’s post; complicated explanations when simpler ones would probably do.

Part of the problem with the coming election, as Will sees it, consists in the “fraud-friendly” voter registration systems, such as the National Voter Registration Act, and their effect in a couple of key states–in particular, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In the wake of such measures, Will worries that

perhaps we should not be surprised that . . . since 1995, Philadelphia’s population has declined 13 percent but registered voters have increased 24 percent. Are we sure we should be pleased?

The unexamined belief that an ever-higher rate of voter registration is a Good Thing has met its limit in the center of the state that this year is the center of the political universe — Ohio. The Census Bureau’s 2003 estimate is that in Franklin County — Columbus — there are approximately 815,000 people 18 or older. But 845,720 are now registered.

A simple explanation quickly presents itself: voters whose status has changed–they moved, died, or went to prison–remain on the voter rolls. And, oddly, this is exactly what Will reports. However sufficient this explanation seems to be, Will immediately suggests something more sinister to be afoot:

One reason for such unacceptable numbers in various jurisdictions across the nation is that voter rolls are not frequently enough purged of voters whose status has changed. For example, in 2000, the Indianapolis Star’s Bill Theobald reported that “hundreds of thousands of names, as many as one in five statewide” were improperly on Indiana registration rolls “because the people behind those names have moved, died or gone to prison.” Unfortunately, there is reluctance, especially among Republicans, to support measures that might appear to have a “disparate impact” on minorities and therefore be denounced as racist.

This is a red herring. The question seems to be why–in one county in Ohio–so many people seem to be on the voter rolls. The simple explanation, people have changed their voting status, is converted into a concern–by someone in Indiana–that the Republicans are afraid of being called racists for purging the voter rolls. Before diverting out attention from the integrity of the voting process to the far more interesting (however groundless) reverse racism accusation, Will should follow through on the simpler explanation: what evidence is there for the claim that outdated voter rolls leads to electoral fraud? Will offers none. In fact, for someone to commit fraud, she would have to vote in more than one county on election day. And for this to amount to anything, thousands of people would have to do the same thing, fraudulently (voting in several counties or states by absentee voting or just by doing a lot of driving). It would have to be a plot of enormous complexity and secrecy for it to pretend to have any effect on the outcome of the election.

Against the existence of a plot of such devious and gratuitously baroque complexity, one might say that both political parties have perhaps come up with an equally sinister, but much simpler, scheme: register people to vote.

Stopping President Bartlett

The last week there has been a lot of talk about fear-mongering. The conservative punditry, almost phalanx-like, exercised a concerted attack on Kerry designed to caricature a number of his arguments as manipulative appeals to fear. The appeal to fear can be a form of fallacious argument, though it is not always enumerated in canonical lists (Douglas Walton has a good discussion of this in *Scare Tactics*). It has a structure similar to the structure of argument *ad baculum* (the appeal to force). By producing in the listener fear of some consequence, the arguer is able to persuade the listener of some unjustified claim. Perhaps we could schematize it as follows:

1. If you do X, then Y will occur.
2. Y is very bad.
3. Y is such as to produce legitimate fear for you.
4. Therefore, you should not do X.

Not all arguments with this form will be fallacious. In fact, as it stands this is can be a perfectly legitimate argument (premise 3 is unnecessary and we need to add a premise that Y is more undesirable than X).

Nevertheless, there are specific dangers concealed within the appeal to fear that we need to watch for. Appeals to fear have a tendency to involve a false dichotomy because of the first premise. This is why they often take the form of a proffered choice: Abstinence or Death! The connection between X and Y becomes a necessary and exclusive connection. In logical terms this is an inference from “If X then Y” to “X or Y.” Unfortunately, these two sentences have different truth conditions and so are not logically equivalent.

To evaluate arguments that appeal to fear we need to ask at least two questions:

1. Is the fear of Y reasonable?
2. And is the connection between the act and the result necessary?

Such complicated analysis is probably unnecessary to diagnose the fallacies in Krauthammer’s “Sacrificing Israel” (Source: NYT 10/22/04). In a nutshell, Krauthammer argues, if Kerry is elected, Israel will be destroyed.

Before turning to the argument such as it is, we might wonder whether Krauthammer has confused Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett with John Kerry, since in the season premiere of the *West Wing* we find the president seeking peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis as a response to a terrorist attack on U.S. officials. Perhaps this is the origin of this almost bizarre argument today.

>The centerpiece of John Kerry’s foreign policy is to rebuild our alliances so the world will come to our aid, especially in Iraq. He repeats this endlessly because it is the only foreign policy idea he has to offer. The problem for Kerry is that he cannot explain just how he proposes to do this.

Since he has not explained how he will do this, Krauthammer argues:

>In what currency, therefore, would we pay the rest of the world in exchange for their support in places such as Iraq? The answer is obvious: giving in to them on Israel.

So the argument takes the form:

1. If elected, Kerry will seek international cooperation on Iraq.
2. The only way to achieve this is to sacrifice Israel’s interests.
3. Sacrificing Israel’s interests is really bad.
4. The reader (should be) is afraid of this.
5. Therefore, we should not elect John Kerry.

Now the problematic premises are 2 and 4. The questions are thus whether the only way to achieve international cooperation is by sacrificing Israel’s interests, and whether it is reasonable that someone fears that this will come about as a result of Kerry’s election.

In order to justify his 2, Krauthammer argues that international cooperation will come at the price of re-engaging in the peace process.

>”Re-engage in the peace process” is precisely what the Europeans, the Russians and the United Nations have been pressuring the United States to do for years. Do you believe any of them have Israel’s safety at heart? They would sell out Israel in an instant, and they are pressuring America to do precisely that.

For Krauthammer the “peace process” is not in Israel’s interests, and so engaging in it is selling out Israel. Why?

>Do not be fooled by the euphemism “peace process.” We know what “peace process” meant during the [Clinton Administration] –a White House to which Yasser Arafat was invited more often than any other leader on the planet. It meant believing Arafat’s deceptions about peace while letting him get away with the most virulent incitement to and unrelenting support of terrorism. It meant constant pressure on Israel to make one territorial concession after another — in return for nothing. Worse than nothing: Arafat ultimately launched a vicious terror war that killed a thousand Israeli innocents.

I don’t want to contest Krauthammer’s claim about the number of visits Arafat made to the White House, but in the absence of evidence it seems a little implausible. More importantly, this is a wild caricature of the efforts of the Clinton administration and one that cannot be taken seriously. We must, at least, remember that Barak (no moderate on Israeli security) found the process congenial, while the Palestinians found it ultimately dangerous to their interests (primarily through concerns of Bantutisation of the West Bank).

There is little reason to believe that engaging in the peace process is equivalent to sacrificing Israel. The false dichotomy implicit raises its head most clearly right here. In effect, Krauthammer is arguing:

A. “either engage in the peace process, or protect Israeli interests.”

But this is simply a false dichotomy. Israel engaged in the peace process *and* was protecting its interests during the Clinton era and there is good reason to believe that not only are the two disjuncts compatible, but that ultimately the only way of attaining the latter is to engage in the former.

Krauthammer can advance such an obviously fallacious argument for two reasons: First, he is appealing to the fear of certain constituencies; Second, he collapses the distinction between means and ends. The goal of peace is desirable, some means to peace (i.e., surrender) are not desirable. The question is always how to attain the desirable end through acceptable means. This is politics.

Worse than the logical confusion is Krauthammer’s manipulation of the fears of some readers. It is only on this basis that Krauthammer can make his strikingly fallacious argument appear even slightly reasonable.

Off the trail

Today George Will seems to argue against the “reckless” charges about the “certainty” (his term) that there will be problems recording the perhaps 110 million votes in the coming election.

The charges are couched in the language of liberalism: much talk about voters’ rights, no talk about voters’ responsibilities and dark warnings of victimization — “disenfranchisement” and “intimidation.”

We recently discussed Will’s straw man version of the sloppy class term “liberalism,” so we direct the interested reader to that discussion.
The interesting variant on this argument here is that Will purports to show the recklessness of the charges of “disenfranchisement” and “intimidation” by distracting the reader with an argument against the incompetent use of punch-card ballots. This voter incompetence results in two well-known errors: overvotes and undervotes. To buttress this claim Will points out the various sorts of things voters can do to avoid undervoting or overvoting–read the instructions, double check the ballot for dimpled, hanging or pregnant chads. Despite the snide tone of Will’s analysis, there does not seem to be anything wrong with the suggestion that voters be circumspect in the exercise of their constitutional right. Nor do we think that anyone (even liberals) would seriously suggest that the voter has some minimal responsibility for ensuring that she casts her vote properly.

So Will has perhaps earned the conclusion that irresponsible or sloppy voting does not constitute “disenfranchisement” or “intimidation.” Such charges, as Will correctly points out, require much more by way of evidence. Unfortunately, aside from his brief and problematic discussion of possible disenfranchisement in Ohio, Will never seriously considers what the actual evidence for such heavy language might be. Perhaps he might have considered the secretive and seriously flawed felon list in Florida–remember Florida?–that kept enough voters from the polls to swing the election to George W. Bush. Despite having failed to consider the serious and well established charges, however, Will claims no one has demonstrated that “intimidation” and “disenfranchisement” have taken place or will take place and that “liberals” who make such charges do not understand that rights come with responsibilities.

The critically minded reader will not be fooled, however, by the powerful scent of Will’s red herring, for she will know the real issue is not incompetent voting, but the systematic or just plain incompetent efforts of some state officials to keep some voters from the polls. And she will notice also that Will, despite his whining about whining liberals’ whining, has done nothing to show that this is not the case.

Desperately seeking Plumbers

It might almost be comical to watch pundits scramble to accuse the Kerry campaign of fear-mongering, if their arguments were not so well coordinated. William Safire (Source: NYT 10/20/04) suspiciously repeats David Brooks' accusations of fear-mongering (on social security, stem cell research, the draft, and the Mary Cheney non-issue (Safire replaces the last with a "flu crisis" argument)) (Source: NYT 10/19/04). As was said yesterday in this space: "It’s not worth it to descend into the fray on the merits of these points." And given the bar set by Dick Cheney for cynical fear-mongering this year– "If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again: that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States"–it's hard for anyone to get themselves terribly upset by the Kerry campaign's legitimate political concerns. Perhaps this is the reason that the Mary Cheney story seems to trump even these substantive issues that could be debated. The consistency between the two is at least clear. They are both parts of a concerted attempt to paint Kerry as an opportunistic and unscrupulous politician unfairly attacking the president. The fact that there are good reasons to be concerned about these four points of policy is irrelevant for Brooks and Safire: They need only caricature the arguments to draw the conclusion that they want to draw about John Kerry's motivations and character. It is an interesting argument for a number of reasons. The pundits take an articulated and reasonable concern about Bush's policy or intentions, replace it with a straw man caricature that seems so baseless and perverse that the only reasonable inference must be that Kerry is unscrupulously attacking the president. For example, Safire writes:

You a youngster? The fearmongers noticed an urban legend floating around the Internet about a "January surprise" to bring back the draft and throw you into the first wave into Falluja. Never mind that it won't happen, because the military knows that a volunteer army works best; the scare tactic is sure to whip up the old fears in the young voters.

I'm not sure how Paul Krugman feels about his columns being described as "an urban legend floating around the Internet," but the attempt to trivialize the argument by impugning its source is transparent and not worth taking seriously. Safire also offers a reason for rejecting the likelihood of the draft–that the military doesn't want it because a volunteer army works best. (Compare with Brooks' even sillier claim "Given the nature of military technology, it doesn't make sense to bring back the draft.") But clearly, the concern with the draft is not unfounded and rhetorical. Krugman offers a clear and rigorous argument for worrying about the draft. It certainly does not prove that there will be a draft, but instead argues that (a) there is a severe shortage of soldiers at present, (b) we are already "conscripting" soldiers against their will through various "backdoor" mechanisms, and (c) whether by Bush's choice or not we cannot rule out the possibility that we will need more troops during a second Bush term (Source: NYT 10/19/04). But neither Brooks nor Safire want to engage in the debate about the issue. Their interest in the point is only to represent it as a baseless argument, which allows them to bring into question Kerry's motivations (despite Brooks' denial–"I'm not trying to make a moral point here about sleazy campaigning"–a classic rhetorical move, "praeteritio" in which you mention something by stating that you are not going to mention it: "I am not going to dirty the campaign by talking about my opponent's felony conviction." This allows you both to claim the moral highground while simultaneously engaging in the negative attack). To do this, they represent the arguments underlying these policy concerns as entirely empty and trivial. This is to commit the "straw man" fallacy. I had originally intended to address Safire's editorial about Mary Cheney (Source: NYT 10/18/04) The same analysis holds for this argument, even if it is not aimed at a policy dispute. In essence, the mention of Cheney's daughter's sexual preferences is taken as a sign of the campaign's unscrupulous tactics. Safire argues that (a) the mention was calculated and deliberate, (b) it was revelatory to the public at large, (c) it's purposes were cynical and political. Even granting both (a) and (b) (which if we were concerned with evaluating the truth of these premises would give us significant pause as Safire gives little reason to be persauded of these two claims. See Media Matters for a discussion of this.), there is little to worry about until we consider the justification for (c). This is twofold:

One purpose was to drive a wedge between the Republican running mates. President Bush supports a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a union of a man and a woman; Cheney has long been on record favoring state option, but always adds that the president sets administration policy. That rare divergence of views is hardly embarrassing.

The sleazier purpose of the Kerry-Edwards spotlight on Mary Cheney is to confuse and dismay Bush supporters who believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, to suggest that Bush is as "soft on same-sex" as Kerry is, and thereby to reduce a Bush core constituency's eagerness to go to the polls. If these were the motivations, then perhaps Brooks was right yesterday to question the Kerry campaign's competency. Fortunately, Safire saves the Kerry campaign from Brooks' accusation by quoting Margaret Carlson's analysis:

[they] "realize that discussing Mary Cheney is a no-lose proposition: It highlights the hypocrisy of the Bush-Cheney position to Democrats while simultaneously alerting evangelicals to the fact that the Cheneys have an actual gay person in their household whom they apparently aren't trying to convert or cure."

This is a much more plausible explanation of their motivations: Unfortunately for Safire it isn't "sleazy" or unreasonable. It is clear, and almost uncontroversial, that part of the Republican strategy for this election has been to motivate the homophobic members of its base by foregrounding the specter of gay marriage spreading from Massachusetts into the heartland. Thus, highlighting the hypocrisy underlying this pandering is not at all unreasonable or immoral. In fact, the only way to suggest that it is immoral is to paint Mary Cheney as a victim of scurrilous attacks: Hence Lynn Cheney's aggrieved mother act. Unfortunately, Mary Cheney is an out homosexual who has worked for the campaign. She is not a poor defenseless child, but in fact a political operative. There is little reason to cast this tactic–even granting the truth of Safire's premises–as "cheap and tawdry." Certainly Safire's suggestion that this amounts to a "dirty trick" borders on the comical when we compare it with the tactics of his old boss's Plumbers.

Damned if you do

In the category of just plain bad arguments, David Brooks, never one to let down the logical analyst, argues that the Kerry campaign has been “incompetent, crude and over-the-top” in this the final phase of the campaign. Brooks offers the following four points as evidence for this claim: Bush will cut social security benefits; Bush will reinstate the draft; The Mary Cheney remark; and finally, Christopher Reeve would have walked again.

It’s not worth it to descend into the fray on the merits of these points. For, first of all, they have been hopelessly deprived of context, and every reader of Brooks knows just how much context Kerry tends to give his points (and how bad that fact usually is). Second, and more importantly, the Bush campaign probably has a better response to them than the ones Brooks provides. In each case, Brooks has Bush simply assert the opposite or claim its ridiculous. Unless the Bush campaign simply asserts its own unique and unverifiable version of reality, they have to have a better response than this. That response, along with Kerry’s real contextualized comments, deserves more fair consideration than Brooks pretends to offer here. Third, Brooks himself says *his* aim is not to discuss the morality of facts and arguments in political campaigns but rather what the incompetence of these charges as *campaigning* says about the *campaigner* and his *campaign*. The problem is not in other words the supposedly baseless and false charges (the truth), it’s the competence of the baseless and false charges (the lie). The problem with Kerry lately then, is that some other baseless and false charges would have been more *effective* as *lies*.

And Brooks does not hesitate to suggest which strategy would be more efficacious:

Bush’s key vulnerability is that people fear he is in over his head. By lashing out wildly, Kerry muddles all that. Instead his blunderbuss approach suggests a candidate devoid of perspective, driven by unattractive and naked ambition.

Aside from telling incompetent falsehoods, Kerry has failed to narrow those same incompetent falsehoods in on a single theme: Bush’s intellectual incompetence. Kerry’s strategy instead reveals him as an incompetent distorter of facts; his “blunderbuss” approach to distortion fails to mask his “unattractive and naked ambition.” Let’s put aside for a moment the morally repugnant claim that Kerry be a better and more effective liar, and focus on the notion that Kerry should hone his message to focus on the single theme of Bush’s intellectual incompetence.

By way of explaining the reasons Kerry has chosen the blunderbuss route, Brooks claims:

Why is he doing this? First, because in the insular Democratic world, George Bush is presumed to be guilty of everything, so the more vicious you can be about him, the better everybody feels.

This is truly mystifying. Brooks has just claimed that “Bush’s key vulnerability is that he is in over his head.” It seems to us that his being “guilty of everything” is a consequence of his being in over his head, and attacking Bush the person for being in over his head is the very advice Brooks has just given. The accusation of being “in over your head,” after all, constitutes a personal attack. So Brooks has argued that the Democrats are incompetent prevaricators, and if they want to win they should attack Bush on a single theme (his incompetence). But attacking Bush for his incompetence (perhaps by giving arguments or distortions to the effect that the consequences of his being in over his head will be a disaster for the solvency of social security, draft age young men and perhaps women, the rights of homosexuals, and finally the progress of scientific research) is vicious.

There is simply no way that Kerry can come out ahead in Brooks’s argument. For if he does not attack Bush for his intellectual failings, he’s incompetent; and if he attack him on these grounds, he’s vicious, and incompetent. So the result of Brooks’s argument is that if Kerry does not want to be incompetent, he must be incompetent. Whatever the virtues or vices of Kerry’s campaign, there is no doubt that this analysis of it is fundamentally contradictory. And anything that is fundamentally contradictory really is incompetent.

Outrage is not an argument

Among the pundits, Charles Krauthammer has a particular authority on questions of bio-medical ethics. As a member of the president’s commission on Bioethics and a medical doctor, he displays a level of scientific understanding and a grasp of the philosophical analysis of the relevant moral concerns which is not generally considered a necessary prerequisite for the national publication of one’s opinions.

This doesn’t stop him, however, from running afoul of the canons and standards of argumentation with which we concern
ourselves here.

Last Friday (Source: WaPo 10/15/04) he jumped on the Senator Edwards bashing bandwagon with an editorial on stem cell research and Edwards’ sloppy comments during a speech earlier last week in Iowa. Here’s the relevant sentence from the speech:

>”If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

It was undoubtedly a poorly formulated claim on an issue that the Kerry campaign has been treating with some degree of care. Krauthammer doesn’t, however, give any credit to Edwards’ intentions.

>In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.

So Krauthammer argues that John Edwards deliberately raised false hope in the catastrophically afflicted for personal gain. We can concede the further, seemingly uncontroversial, claim that such an act is “despicable.” Whether such a “despicable” act is a disqualification for the vice-presidency is a question we cannot address here.

Krauthamer thus needs to show (1) intention to deceive and to profit from the deception and (2) the falsity of the hope.

In a presidential campaign it is easy to infer the second part of (1) from the very fact that Edwards said what he said as a candidate. He seeks to profit from everything he says. But it is much harder to show that Edwards intended to deceive, or to raise “false hope.” Before we turn to consider whether these are “false hopes” or not, it is worth commenting on this political rhetoric.

Politicians like to talk about ends and not the means to attain them when they are campaigning. To put it simplistically, means are boring and often difficult to understand, while ends are inspiring and seductive. From Kennedy’s call to land a human being on the moon, the war against terrorism, or the goal of bringing democracy to the middle east, politicians propose lofty goals leaving the implementation to the policy makers. Hopefully those ends are attainable and beneficial. But there is nothing unusual about politicians promising great benefits that are just down the road–in fact, if they were to abstain from this it isn’t entirely clear what they could still talk about.

But, perhaps there is something particular about the case of the “catastrophically afflicted”? The hopes and desires of the catastrophically afflicted are presumably much more easily played upon by the unscrupulous than our desires to reach the moon (as shown by the failure of Bush’s Kennedy act earlier this year). I cannot easily determine whether promising jobs, affordable housing, or health care, are more like the case the the catastrophically afflicted than the desire to go to the moon. Nevertheless, until we decide whether Edwards was fostering a “false hope” or not we can leave this question aside.

Krauthammer “deconstructs” Edwards’ “outrage” with three points:

>First, the inability of the human spinal cord to regenerate is one of the great mysteries of biology. The answer is not remotely around the corner. It could take a generation to unravel. To imply, as Edwards did, that it is imminent if only you elect the right politicians is scandalous.

This involves a significant mis-characterization of Edward’s claim. He is certainly not arguing that the mere fact of electing Kerry will solve the “great mysteries of biology.” He is, of course, arguing that the ability of researchers to do so has been hampered by Bush’s appeasement of the religious right: Electing Kerry will result in a policy that does not depend upon particular religious beliefs, but instead secular arguments about the status of and necessary protections for embryos. And this in turn, if we believe some scientists working in the field, could bring about clinical trials of some therapies by the end of the decade. Admittedly not imminent, and admittedly not certain, but also not quite as absurd as Krauthammer endeavors to make it seem.

>Second, if the cure for spinal cord injury comes, we have no idea where it will come from. There are many lines of inquiry. Stem cell research is just one of many possibilities, and a very speculative one at that. For 30 years I have heard promises of miracle cures for paralysis (including my own, suffered as a medical student). The last fad, fetal tissue transplants, was thought to be a sure thing. Nothing came of it.

Certainly we do not know what the outcome of this research will be, and Edwards is wrong to state the outcome so assertorically. Nonetheless, there seems good reason to believe that promising therapies may be derived from this research, and that clinical trials of some therapies could begin within a decade. Even Christopher Reeve–who is supposedly being exploited by this sentence–said that with increased funding it is possible–according to unnamed researchers–to have clinical trials for therapies for spinal injuries in six or seven years. (On this, see the discussion of the California stem cell funding ballot initiative in the recent issue of the New Yorker.)

But, this is a matter for experts to decide. If the therapies are unlikely then we should reject funding *on that basis* not on the basis of a religious view that life begins at conception. As they stand, Krauthammer’s arguments look like either arguments from ignorance or fairly weak inductions. We do not know for certain whether the therapies derived from this research will be useful. But from this claim we cannot conclude that therefore the hope is “false” as Krauthammer wants. Only perhaps that Edwards should be more measured and state the point in terms of possibilities not necessities.

So there doesn’t seem to be good reason to believe that Edwards is fostering “false hopes.” Undoubtedly he is fostering hope, and the ground of the hope (that we will discover these cures) should not, perhaps, be promised. But neither of these things make the “hope false.” Or more precisely, neither of the arguments that Krauthammer advances are strong enough to show that the hope is false.

Edwards did not formulate this cautiously and the picture he draws is easy to caricature. Nonetheless, his intentions seem somewhat clear. Bush has limited access to stem cell lines and federal funding. Kerry would reverse that decision, enabling researchers access to the funding that is needed to determine whether these therapies will be available or not. In this case, Edwards is arguing in favor of a means (looser strictures on funding for stem cell research) on the basis of the promise of what might be attained.

The third criticism that Krauthammer advances is the weakest:

>Third, the implication that Christopher Reeve was prevented from getting out of his wheelchair by the Bush stem cell policies is a travesty.

There are two concerns with this. First, there seems no reason to think that this is an “implication” of what Edwards said. Second, contrast this with Reeve’s own words several years ago: “If we’d had full government support, full government funding for aggressive research using embryonic stem cells from the moment they were first isolated, at the University of Wisconsin in the winter of 1998, I don’t think it unreasonable to speculate that we might be in human trials by now,”

Krauthammer’s point here, however, is to defend the Bush position against the suggestion that it has retarded the development of useful therapies. He does this by arguing that there is no ban on stem cell research and that there is not that much likelihood of many of these therapies being developed from stem cell research. On this question we would need to ask the researchers who are affected by the Bush policies, few of whom seem to agree with Krauthammer on either of these points.

But more to the point, Krauthammer himself supports a position essentially identical to Kerry’s and opposed to the Bush administration’s, though he seems to bend over backward to allow his conservative friends to have some purchase on the issue, requiring that their religiously motivated views be treated with an undue degree of respect in this political debate, (and has even attempted to fashion a “secular” argument against stem cell research which he himself does not seem to find convincing (the centerpiece of which is a fairly bad slippery slope argument that is easily countered, see his argument in the New Republic in 2002).
 
So what is Krauthammer’s argument ultimately? It seems to be that the Kerry campaign wants to use the stem cell research issue for their own political ends. Since the justification of their policy is the possibility of therapies that will help the catastrophically afflicted, their arguments, however carefully they are formulated, will always run afoul of Krauthammer’s concerns. But this does not seem to be a reasonable restriction on political argument. Policies must always be justified by their promise, whether that promise is certain or not.

Perhaps then we are brought back to the wisdom of Bill Clinton–“it all depends on what ‘is’ means”: a sentence perhaps only a lawyer or a philosopher could love. Nonetheless, it contains a lesson that it would behoove Edwards to learn. If he had had said “may possibly walk” rather than “will walk,” there would be less for his political opponents to latch on to in order to divert the debate on this important question of policy. Then we would be having a conversation focussed on the substantive differences between and relative merits of Bush’s and Kerry’s policies, rather than on the supposed immorality of the use of these differences in a stump speech.

Your argument is invalid

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