Tag Archives: Ad Hominem

Argumentum ad dictum

I can think of the Latin for "bumper sticker" (argumentum ad scriptum bigae in posteriore?).  But Bill Kristol gives us another example in today's Times (see here for another):

But the next morning, as I drove around the Washington suburbs, I saw not one but two cars — rather nice cars, as it happens — festooned with the Obama campaign bumper sticker “got hope?” And I relapsed into moroseness.

Got hope? Are my own neighbors’ lives so bleak that they place their hopes in Barack Obama? Are they impressed by the cleverness of a political slogan that plays off a rather cheesy (sorry!) campaign to get people to drink milk?

And what is it the bumper-sticker affixers are trying to say? Do they really believe their fellow citizens who happen to prefer McCain are hopeless? After all, just because you haven’t swooned like Herr Spörl doesn’t mean you don’t hope for a better world. Don’t McCain backers also have hope — for an America that wins its wars, protects its unborn children and allows its citizens to keep more of their hard-earned income?

But what if all those “got hope?” bumper stickers spur a backlash? It might occur to undecided or swing voters that talk of hope is not a substantive plan. They might be further put off by the haughtiness of Obama’s claim to the mantle of hope. This hope restored my spirits.

Before they fell again. Later that day, I read a report of a fund-raising letter from Obama on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, arguing that “We must have a deadlock-proof Democratic majority.”

Someone once claimed that all arguments are "ad hominem."  By this he obviously didn't mean that all arguments commit the fallacy of the same name, but he meant rather that all arguments are directed at some particular person's beliefs.  Regardless, the same principles of charity would apply.

Now this isn't the worst of Kristol's argument, as it is merely a set-up for an even sillier claim [continuing directly]:

Yikes.

But then it occurred to me that one man’s “deadlock-proof” Democratic majority is another’s unchecked Democratic majority. Given the unpopularity of the current Democratic Congress, given Americans’ tendency to prefer divided government, given the voters’ repudiations of the Republicans in 2006 and of the Democrats in 1994 — isn’t the prospect of across-the-board, one-party Democratic governance more likely to move votes to McCain than to Obama?

These are all certainly reasons related in the right kind of way to the conclusion (they won't elect Obama), but Kristol is guilty of two big mistakes.  The first is a priorism–while the evidence he mentions relates to the conclusion (even though the claim about the dissatisfaction with the "democratic" congress is misleading), the availability of empirical data makes such recourse to a priori notions unnecessary.  One can, in other words, track poll data now–poll data which paints a rather different picture (so he at least ought to argue against that).  Second, the repudiation of majorities 12 years a part does not demonstrate much (it's only two instances) about American distrust of one-party rule–besides, in neither of those years were their Presidential elections.

**update: here's someone's suggestion for bumper sticker: adfixum in obice.

You make me so mad

The proliferation of global warming deniers occupying the highest echelons of the Republican political and intellectual structure (need they be listed here?) notwithstanding, Al Gore is really partisan–and on top of that, some environmentalists seem not to value people more than plants.  So if anyone is responsible for the failure of environmentalism, Michael Gerson argues, it's them.  While we're at it, if anyone is responsible for the failure of women's rights, it's those annoying feminists:

Some Republicans and conservatives are prone to an ideologically motivated skepticism. On AM talk radio, where scientific standards are not particularly high, the attitude seems to be: "If Al Gore is upset about carbon, we must need more of it." Gore's partisan, conspiratorial anger is annoying, yet not particularly relevant to the science of this issue.

This points, however, to a broader problem. Any legislation ambitious enough to cut carbon emissions significantly and encourage new energy technologies will require a broad political and social consensus. Nothing this complex and expensive gets done on a party-line vote. Yet many environmental leaders seem unpracticed at coalition-building. They tend to be conventionally, if not radically, liberal. They sometimes express a deep distrust for capitalism and hostility to the extractive industries. Their political strategy consists mainly of the election of Democrats. Most Republican environmental efforts are quickly pronounced "too little, too late."

Even worse, a disturbing minority of the environmental movement seems to view an excess of human beings, not an excess of carbon emissions, as the world's main problem. In two recent settings, I have heard China's one-child policy praised as an answer to the environmental crisis — a kind of totalitarianism involving coerced birth control or abortion. I have no objection to responsible family planning. But no movement will succeed with this argument: Because we in the West have emitted so much carbon, there needs to be fewer people who don't look like us.

Human beings are not the enemy of sound environmental policy; they are the primary reason sound environmental policy is necessary.

If the movement to confront climate change is perceived as partisan, anti-capitalist and hostile to human life, it is likely to fail, causing suffering for many, including the ice bears. And so the question arises: Will the environment survive the environmentalists?

Now in some respect this might be sound practical advice.  But really, I think Gerson has blamed the unreasonable excesses of the Conservative movement on their perception (which is in reality a caricature) of the environmental movement.  That caricature, of course, exists primarily in their minds.  Sure, you can find some pretty jerky environmentalists, but you need not consider them the key representatives of the movement.

Credibility

Challenging someone's credibility when that person's credibility is relevant to whether or not one should believe him or her does not constitute an ad hominem attack.  Someone ought to tell John Bolton, whose credibility in matters of foreign affairs ought to have suffered for the Iraq debacle.  Well, someone did.  An interviewer asked whether Americans would be rightly skeptical of the administration and its minions'  claims about Iran's military intentions.  And here is how Bolton responded:

Absolutely not! And by the way, the credibility point is an ad hominem reference. And certainly ad hominem attacks in American politics are nothing new.  But to address the merits of the argument requires a response on the merits, not an ad hominem attack.

No it's not an ad hominem attack.  An ad hominem argument uses irrelevant information about the person making an argument to discredit them–whether one should believe Bolton's doomsday rhetoric about Iran is certainly relevant.  

You can hear the audio here

Racial interpretations

Kathleen Parker–yes, the one of blut und boden–wonders:

Can we critique the issues—and the man—without resorting to racial interpretations and recriminations? If McCain wins, can his victory simply be a loss for Democrats—and not a loss specifically for African-Americans?

The answers to those questions will be the measure of whether we have really progressed to the point we claim.

This is not directed at herself of course.  For the other day she wondered whether Obama had enough generational equity to be truly American.  His family had not poured enough into the soil.  She wrote:

It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.

Some run deeper than others and therein lies the truth of Fry's political sense. In a country that is rapidly changing demographically—and where new neighbors may have arrived last year, not last century—there is a very real sense that once-upon-a-time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity.

We love to boast that we are a nation of immigrants. But there's a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines back through generations of sacrifice.

Contributing to the growing unease among yesterday's Americans is the failure of the federal government to deal with illegal Immigration. It isn't necessarily racist or nativist to worry about what these new demographics mean to the larger American story

I can't really see the "issue" in that.

This is because this remark is directed at Democrats.  Can, in other words, Kathleen Parker and her friends say racist things without fear of being called racists. 

This, she thinks, is progress.