Well, Safire’s on vacation, so that makes the New York Times a little slow on Tuesdays. It may be the broken air-conditioning in my office this morning, but I decided not to troll the op-ed pages of the major dailies and instead jumped straight to a “sure-thing”–Tony Blankley’s Washington Times. And what do you know? We find Tod Lindberg in remarkable form today. His chosen routine begins with a well-executed “false dilemma,” gradually building with an increasing tempo through a series of implicit “tu quoque’s” and a “straw man,” he reaches the pinnacle of his routine–a rhetorical move, complicated and daring–a rhetorical ploy that perhaps has not yet been named.
First a sampling of his more pedestrian specious reasoning:
There are two possibilities: Either the Kerry campaign actually believes that the Bush campaign is behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth; or the Kerry campaign just think’s its good politics to blame the President personally for the Vietnam veterans who served in proximity to Mr. Kerry and have decided he is “unfit” to be commander in chief.
A fairly simple false dilemma, hinging on whether there are other alternatives–perhaps the Kerry campaign believes that the Bush campaign is “involved” or “has made it convenient” for this organization to receive funding etc.. Never mind the question of what might be meant by “blame the President personally for . . ..” If anything the Kerry campaign blames the president for the utilization of these people in a high-profile, well-funded, misleading hatchet job.
But the really great stuff is still to come: Lindberg wants to suggest that the Kerry campaign and liberals in general are obsessed with “conspiracy theories.” Now to claim that an explanation is a conspiracy theory is to cast doubt on the truth and plausibility of the explanation. Even further, a conspiracy theory is by connotation, at least, the product of a paranoid mind, and hence almost by definition false, and at least by definition, unjustified by the available evidence.
Well, how do you argue that an explanation is part of a conspiracy theory? Lindberg certainly does not actually address the truth or falsity of the claim that there are suspicious connections between the Bush campaign and S.B.V.F.T: He does not want to evaluate the evidence of connection:
“But the Swift Boat Veterans funder is from Texas! Mr. Bush wrote him a letter! If that’s not proof of coordination, what is? Well, proof of coordination would be proof of coordination, and this is no that.”
An exceptionally executed Straw Man fallacy! The judges could not be more impressed! As though the whole argument of the Kerry Campaign is the fact that the funder is from Texas!
Nevertheless, Lindberg needs to cast some doubt on the explanation, so he asks:
“But do Republicans think there is some vast left-wing conspiracy aimed at them?”
Of course, he will argue that they do not. The really clever thing here, is that by merely associating Democrats and Conspiracy theories, Lindberg is able to suggest that their explanation of the connection between S.B.V.F.T. and the Bush campaign is a conspiracy theory, and therefore their explanation of the connection between the Bush campaign and S.B.V.F.T. is false!
A daring argument! The judges are stunned with no words to describe it. Is it a sort of tu quoque? An ad hominem? An ad populum? A combination of all of these fallacies rolled into one stunning stunning display of specious reasoning!?
The argument appears to work as follows:
1. Republicans don’t cry “conspiracy theory.”
2. Democrats hold a conspiracy theory concerning the SBVFT.
3. Conspiracy theories are false, or unjustified by the evidence.
3. Therefore, there is no connection between the SBVFT and the Bush campaign.
The first claim is a sort of “appeal to the people” (ad populum). It claims the moral high-ground, implicitly suggesting by the contrast that Democrats do in fact cry conspiracy theory.
The second claim passes unsupported by any evidence: Given the definition of a conspiracy that he gives–“carefully coordinated activity in which each apparently separate part is in fact centrally directed and controlled?”–it strikes one as exceedingly unlikely that the Kerry campaign has asserted any such thing.
The third claim is virtually definitional.
Then, finally, the conclusion of a factual falsity–the message he wants to leave you with–there is no coordination between SBVFT and the Bush Campaign. Why? Because Republicans don’t cry conspiracy theory and Democrats do.
In fact, he has not provided a single piece of evidence for this claim!
It’s a fascinating argument–and in fact it really isn’t new. Tucker Carlson lives and breathes by it on CrossFire.
The question of how to classify the central fallacy is difficult. It is probably an ad hominem argument beginning from an ad populum that lays the psychological ground for the fallacious inference.
Bravo Mr. Lindberg!!