Tag Archives: Elizabeth Warren

Iron man versus straw man

Here is serial straw manner George F.Will on Elizabeth Warren, candidate for Senate in Massachussetts:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith) a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts. Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

In large part the straw man diagnosis is purely factual: does arguer A hold position p?  You merely have to go and check (um, editors?  fact checkers?).  Rarely does a serial straw manner such as Will make it so easy.  For Will's favorite straw man version is the hollow man–the variety of the straw man which attacks positions no arguer is alleged to hold.  Here we have Warren's actual words.  Sensisble or not (hey, I think they are and I've been making that argument for years, before it was cool), she is not asserting anything like what Will is saying.  

Worse than this, is the way Will poses the iron man–the egregiously charitable reading of his own team's view–next to the straw man of the other team.  Few in the Republican establishment seem to endorse that part about paying it forward via taxes, or that social infrastructure spending, education spending, etc., serves the purpose of individual striving.

See other commentary here, here, and here.