Tag Archives: False Dichotomy

You justify your war with the analogies you have

Believe it or not, this is an argument for attacking Syria:

World War II began 74 years ago Sunday when German troops invaded Poland. The invasion conclusively discredited the concept of “appeasement” as a foreign policy for, well, the next 74 years. But if the U.S. Congress opposes authorization of the military mission to Syria that President Obama has now handed off to it, and if Obama uses that as an excuse to back further away from enforcement of his “red line,” the “A” word will likely come to dominate the international debate once again.

And Barack Obama, who in his first term was known as the vanquisher of Osama bin Laden, could come out of his second looking more like Neville Chamberlain.

I don’t want to overstate things. Bashar al-Assad, a tinpot dictator who is fighting only for his own survival, is no Hitler. He’s not set to overrun an entire continent. And the “lessons of Munich” and the dangers of appeasement are generally overdrawn. But, after all, it was Secretary of State John Kerry who lumped Assad with the Fuehrer on the talk shows Sunday, saying that he “now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein [who] have used these weapons in time of war.” (Technically, Hitler’s only use of gas was not on the battlefield but to kill millions in extermination camps.)

Gee, if “appeasement,” “Munich,” and “Hitler” are terrible analogies to the civil war in Syria, why use them?  My advice would be not.  But that’s why I don’t make the big money.

But in all seriousness, all the talk of Hitler and Munich and such  is really just to set up the mother of all slippery slopes (for those keeping track at home, that was a reference to Saddam Hussein of Gulf Wars I and II fame–he also used to be Hitler):

Yet that international order is what is now in some danger, 74 years later. After all, it was just this kind of war weariness that created Neville Chamberlain, and his foreign policy of “positive appeasement” as he called it, in the years after the terrible bloodletting of World War I. If one becomes unwilling to strike dictators and mass murderers, all that remains is to appease them.

Come to think of it, this is also a false dichotomy: there’s “appeasing” (giving in to expansionist and genocidal demands–here Assad has none that I’m aware of) and military strikes.  I can imagine one or two other possibilities.

It is invalid and holds no weight

So, I was derping around on the internets and I ran into an article with the following portentous title: "A Rational Basis for Marriage between One Man and One Woman."  Curious, I read on.  Here's how it begins:

It is imperative for Catholics to develop rational arguments to defend the institution of marriage in the public square. We live in a pluralistic society and, therefore, what we accept as revelation is not necessarily accepted by others. However, an argument grounded in right reason—without explicit recourse to revelation—is in principle comprehensible to all persons of good will.

I'm all in agreement.  It continues:

As we consider the current debate over marriage, it would be a mistake to underestimate the pedagogical function of the law and how a fundamental change in marriage law will result in a fundamental change in our understanding of the human person. What is at stake in the push to redefine marriage to include same-sex partners is not only the radical redefinition of marriage—but, also and necessarily, the radical redefinition of the human person and the entire range of relationships that constitute our basic experience as persons: male and female; husband and wife; mother and father; son and daughter; brother and sister.

Well, that's a bad sign–there's going to be a slippery slope!  But that's not what interests me about this piece.  It's the following two paragraphs (directly from above):

Marriage between one man and one woman is recognized as a public institution, with its attendant benefits and responsibilities, precisely because it serves the common good. Marriage offers the State its most necessary common good: bringing children into the world and raising them in a family that includes the love of their mother and father. The State needs people (citizens) in order to flourish: no people = no State. Under the principle of subsidiarity, the common good is better served when mothers and fathers raise their children, not the State.

Extending marriage to same-sex partners will redefine marriage in such a way that marriage will no longer be understood to have a direct relationship to the procreation and education of children. Bringing children into the world and raising them will be seen as extrinsic rather than intrinsic to marriage.[1] Openness to procreation will no longer belong to the very substance and definition of marriage. It will be reduced merely to an option for those couples who happen to want children.

If you're playing along at home, the first paragraph seems to suggest that it's either Trad Marriage (by the principle of WTF) or the STATE RAISES YOUR BABIES.  It also seems to allege that there will be no babies without marriage.  But forget about that.  The second of the two rests on a couple of key instances of the passive voice: will be understood and will be seen.  Well, I wonder, by whom?  Let's rewrite the passage in the active voice:

Extending marriage to same-sex partners will redefine marriage in such a way that [rewrite: some people, catholics, etc. will no longer understand] marriage to have a direct relationship to the procreation and education of children. [rewrite: These people will see ] that Bringing children into the world and raising them [is] extrinsic rather than intrinsic to marriage.[1] Openness to procreation will no longer belong to the very substance and definition of marriage. It will be reduced merely to an option for those couples who happen to want children.

The passive voice just covers up all of the questions being begged.  Marriage, in its public legal sense, has many definitions.  In some states, this already includes same-sex marriages.  As a public institution, therefore, it has "no substance and definition" in some kind of robust metaphysical sense, as the use of the passive suggests.  People see marriage in all sorts of ways, and they define it as a public institution in different ways.  Some people may "understand it to be x" but that doesn't mean that they understand it correctly.  Nor for that matter does it mean that they aren't fully entitled to live it that way.

If you want to make openness to procreation a part of your marriage, then get married in a Catholic Church.  If you don't care, as some already don't, then don't.  Catholics do not own the definition of marriage as a secular and public institution.  If you're going to make an appeal to reason, right or otherwise, you cannot presume without argument that your view is the starting point.       


Just is

Yet again, in the can't tell if trolling category, we have Ross Douthat, New York Times Columnist, arguing for the death penalty.  It's the not fact of arguing for it (full and irrelevant disclosure: I think we're better off without it), it's the way he does.  His argument has all of the earmarks of a sophistry challenge:

This is a healthy fear for a society to have. But there’s a danger here for advocates of criminal justice reform. After all, in a world without the death penalty, Davis probably wouldn’t have been retried or exonerated. His appeals would still have been denied, he would have spent the rest of his life in prison, and far fewer people would have known or cared about his fate.

Instead, he received a level of legal assistance, media attention and activist support that few convicts can ever hope for. And his case became an example of how the very finality of the death penalty can focus the public’s attention on issues that many Americans prefer to ignore: the overzealousness of cops and prosecutors, the limits of the appeals process and the ugly conditions faced by many of the more than two million Americans currently behind bars.

Simply throwing up our hands and eliminating executions entirely, by contrast, could prove to be a form of moral evasion — a way to console ourselves with the knowledge that no innocents are ever executed, even as more pervasive abuses go unchecked. We should want a judicial system that we can trust with matters of life and death, and that can stand up to the kind of public scrutiny that Davis’s case received. And gradually reforming the death penalty — imposing it in fewer situations and with more safeguards, which other defendants could benefit from as well — might do more than outright abolition to address the larger problems with crime and punishment in America.   

That Troy Davis's likely unjust (and therefore actually unjust) execution inspired people to care about his fate is not an argument in favor of the death penalty anymore than the outpouring of blood donation and patriotism was an argument for 9/11.  Some in the public responded in the appropriate moral way to an atrocity.  Good for them.  But the atrocity is not the reason for their being moral.  Take away that atrocity and they can be moral about something else–like prison reform, about which many already care death penalty aside–Douthat's insinuation is a false dichotomy (it's either death penalty elimination or broader prison reform!). 

There's too much that's just awful here to comment on.  Here, however, is the worst of the worst:

Abolishing capital punishment in a kind of despair over its fallibility would send a very different message. It would tell the public that our laws and courts and juries are fundamentally incapable of delivering what most Americans consider genuine justice. It could encourage a more cynical and utilitarian view of why police forces and prisons exist, and what moral standards we should hold them to. And while it would put an end to wrongful executions, it might well lead to more overall injustice.

And thus the sophistry challenge.  Eliminating the big injustices would merely (albeit justifiably) undermine confidence in the unjust system.  That would be unjust. 

If it’s on a spectrum, it doesn’t mean anything

Phyllis Schlafly is a culture warrior.  Long ago, it was about the Equal Rights Amendment.  Nowadays, it's about gender.  Her recent post at the Eagle Forum is about an Oakland elementary school that had a presentation about gender identity.  It was paid for by the California Teacher's Union. 

The major message was that "gender identity" means people can choose to be different from the sex assigned at birth and can freely "change their sex." According to Gender Spectrum, "Gender identity is a spectrum where people can be girls, feel like girls, they feel like boys, they feel like both, or they can feel like neither."

Yep.  That's why there were terms like 'tomboy' and 'girlyboy' and so on.  Schlafly knows about those things, for sure.  Surely she's not objecting to the fact that someone's saying something true. She's objecting, instead, to how this is being presented.

Kindergartners were introduced to this new subject by asking them to identify toys that are a "girl toy" or a "boy toy" or both, and whether they like the color pink. They were read a story called "My Princess Boy.". . . . The lessons seem more likely to confuse the kids about who they are and, indeed, Gender Spectrum boasted that its goal is to confuse the children and make them question traditional ideas about who is a boy and who is a girl.

It is the confusion that's objectionable, you see.  That is, it can't be that Schlafly is objecting to it being made clear that some people are tomboys, it's that it is being taught that it's OK.  That, she thinks, is confusing.  Her thought seems to be: if you are going to educate children, it cannot be in the form of showing them that things are difficult, complex, and confusing.  That's bad. 

I'd like to know what Schafly thinks about teaching long division to third graders, because when my kid was in third grade, she had more trouble with remainders than she did with the idea that her classmate had two moms.  Oh, and she still had to do the long division — being educated means that you have the cognitive tools to face confusing facts, not deny them. 

But, you know, it's never really about the children with Schlafly.  It's all dogwhistling for cultural conservatism.  And the destruction of the intelligibility of sexual reality.  Ready for the conservative culture-warrior dogwhistling money shot?

Gender Spectrum is determined to make children think that boy and girl don't mean anything anymore, and that it's no longer normal to believe people are born male or female or have different roles.

Phew!  Now, I don't think that's possible, if they are on a spectrum.  Otherwise, it wouldn't be a spectrum.  Schlafly's point is confusion. An analogy: Black and white are on a spectrum, and you can have lots of things in the penubral space between the two.  But for it to be a penumbra, the two must be different.  The point of gender spectrum is that there isn't one way to be a girl or a boy.  But that doesn't mean the terms don't mean anything.  It's just that many of the things that we'd thought distinguished the two are irrelevant (playing with trucks, for example) and that a person's sex doesn't determine where that person is on the gender spectrum.  Sure, it's complicated and confusing.  But, geez, the only things that aren't complicated and potentially confusing are the mindsets of conservatives.  Well, to clarify, they aren't confusing, but they are all too often confused.

Something had to be done

Richard Cohen, (allegedly) liberal columnist for the Washington Post, writes a column in favor of the Libyan military intervention.  Unfortunately, he's spent enough time around his right-wing counterparts at that paper to believe that making a rhetorical case against his alleged opponents and their alleged views is sufficient for making an affirmative case for his position.

This is oh so tiresome.  To be clear, however, sometimes making a negative case is sufficient, especially when your view is the presumptive one.  For instance, I'm going to continue believing that the Holocaust happened until the denier positively prove that it didn't.  Debunking the denier in this case is sufficient. 

In the case of military intervention, however, especially lately–thinking of Iraq and Afghanistan–the burden of proof is much much higher.  War of this sort has recently proven very costly for little known benefit.  There exist, in other words, very good reasons in the dialectical atmosphere for not going to war.  If, then, you're going to make a case both for military intervention and against all of those good reasons.  It's not enough, in other words, to make a case against a bunch of real or imagined weak views.

Someone ought to tell Richard Cohen this.  He writes:

We heard some of those same sentiments expressed by opponents of U.S. intervention in Libya. I do not liken the situation there to the imminence of the Holocaust, only the startling willingness of good people to mask their cold indifference with appeals to fiscal prudence or something similar. Commentator after commentator, person after person, told me that the United States had no business interfering in Libya — that it needed an exit strategy or permission from Congress, and that if the United States could not intervene everywhere (Newt Gingrich mentioned Zimbabwe, manufacturing a civil war just for the occasion), then we could not intervene anywhere. This, somehow, gets stated as if were a logical principle — do nothing unless you can do everything.

With the possible exclusion of Newt Gingrich, those unnamed people don't count here–even if they were real.  He continues:

Still, a better question is: How much will it cost to save lives? That, after all, is what this operation is all about — the prospect that Moammar Gaddafi was going to settle the score in the most horrific way imaginable. Based on his record and the clear indication that he is crazy, a bloodbath was in prospect. What should the world have done? Nothing? Squeeze Gaddafi with sanctions, seize his Swiss accounts and padlock his son’s London townhouse? None of these measures would have had immediate impact. Sanctions are a slow-working poison. A bullet was needed.

This shocking indifference to the consequences of doing nothing, or doing something so slowly it was effectively nothing, was suddenly in the air — the so-called realist argument. Sadly, the message was coming from the surprisingly cold heart of liberalism. The Nation magazine, the reliable voice of the American left, put it this way: “Given our massive budget deficits and bloated Pentagon spending, never has there been a better time for America to end its role as global policeman in favor of diplomatic and economic multilateralism.” In other words, we gave at the office.

Arguments — good arguments — can be made in opposition to the Libyan intervention. Maybe it will make things worse. Maybe we’ll get bogged down and have to stay for years. Maybe the rebels are the really bad guys.

On the other hand, lives were clearly at stake and something had to be done. The world could not simply shove its hands in its pockets and stand by as some madman had his way with people in his grip — in spirit, a reprise of the Evian conference. The Libyan intervention established a precedent: There is such a thing as the international community and, as inchoate as it may be, it will insist on certain minimum standards even for dictators: Your people are not yours to kill.   

In light of Cohen's support of the Iraq war ("only a fool or possibly a Frenchman. . . "), he really ought to think twice before writing this sort of crap.  The Nation said a lot more than "we gave at the office."  In fact, in the article he cites (or click here), they make another telling point:

Furthermore, as we should have learned from the Iraq War, the use of military force can have all kinds of unintended consequences. We may be going to war to prevent civilian casualties, but even the most prudent use of air power is incapable of doing that. The likelihood of US or coalition forces killing civilians will only increase if Qaddafi’s troops solidify their hold on Tripoli and other cities; urban warfare is notoriously messy. The UN resolution forbids foreign occupation, so what will we do if Qaddafi hangs on and the conflict settles into a grinding civil war, with all its attendant chaos and bloodshed? Mission creep seems to be an inevitable feature of this kind of intervention.

These are at least worthwhile practical considerations–completely ignored by Cohen in his rush to do something.  Cohen here combines all of the worst traits of the overheated pundit–he makes a negative case when he needs an affirmative one, he invents opponents and gives them stupid arguments, and, when confronted with a live argument, he misrepresents its strength.  

And of course, there's the false dichotomy–something's having to be done doesn't entail you've exhausted your non-military options.  Don't people ever learn?

The simple reason there is no simple reason

David Brooks illustrates today that there's a simple, singular reason people employ the oversimplified cause argument scheme:

Over the course of my career, I’ve covered a number of policy failures. When the Soviet Union fell, we sent in teams of economists, oblivious to the lack of social trust that marred that society. While invading Iraq, the nation’s leaders were unprepared for the cultural complexities of the place and the psychological aftershocks of Saddam’s terror.

We had a financial regime based on the notion that bankers are rational creatures who wouldn’t do anything stupid en masse. For the past 30 years we’ve tried many different ways to restructure our educational system — trying big schools and little schools, charters and vouchers — that, for years, skirted the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student.

I’ve come to believe that these failures spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. We have a prevailing view in our society — not only in the policy world, but in many spheres — that we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.

That simple reason is that we believe some kind of Brooksian dichotomy: people are either x or y, etc.  My question: so we've been making dichotomies (I don't think we have–Brooks has), and this is too simple, and this is the simple reason why there is no simple reason.  This refutes itself.

False trichotomy

I'm puzzled by the point of this David Ignatius piece about the Haitian earthquake.  He rightly condemns Pat Robertson (see here) for having a poor explanation for the earthquake's striking Haiti, but then he does the old columnist trick of finding people with an opposing viewpoint who assert something equally dumb.   They must teach this move in columnist school, because they all at one point or another will do it.  He writes:

An extreme example of this desire to "explain" tragedy was the Rev. Pat Robertson's statement a day after the quake. He said that Haiti had been "cursed" by God because its people "swore a pact to the devil" two centuries ago through voodoo rites.

There are secular versions of this same desire to interpret horrifying events. Looking at the devastation, some observers have seen the effects of Haiti's class system, with poor people suffering disproportionately, as reported by The Post's William Booth ["Haiti's elite spared from much of the devastation," news story, Jan. 18]. Richard Kim blamed harsh international loan policies for Haiti's chronic poverty in a Jan. 15 post on the Nation's Web site.

Other commentators have drawn different lessons. David Brooks faults Haitian culture. "Some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them," he wrote in the New York Times. Anne Applebaum argued in The Post that this was "a man-made disaster" and that the earthquake's impact "was multiplied many, many times by the weakness of civil society and the absence of the rule of law."

There's some truth in all of the secular explanations. But they leave out the most painful and perplexing factor we encounter whenever terrible things happen: bad luck. The same problem arises when catastrophic events befall people we love — a life-threatening disease, say. We look for a rational explanation of why this person got cancer, but his neighbor, who has all the same risk factors, didn't. Often, the most honest answer is: It just happened.

I think the Reverend Robertson meant to point out the cause of the earthquake.  The fellows in the second paragraph highlight things which exacerabated the misfortune of the earthquake.  They don't allege, as the last paragraph asserts, that bad luck played no role in the occurence of the earthquake.  I don't see how they could.

Not even Ignatius, however, believes his own silly but-one-the-other-handing.  For he concludes (after a trip back to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755) by affirming the very same lessons he rejects:

The hero of the Lisbon tale was the man who led the relief efforts, the marquis of Pombal, who served as prime minister under King Joseph I of Portugal. Pombal had no use for the anguishing debate. He famously said: "What now? We bury the dead and feed the living." And he did just that, rapidly disposing of the corpses, seizing stocks of grain to feed the hungry and ordering the militia to halt looting and piracy. Within a year, the city was being restored.

I will think of Pombal as I watch the reconstruction of Haiti. His response to imponderable devastation was to rebuild, boldly and confidently, making sure the new buildings could withstand a future quake.

"Nature has no meaning; its events are not signs," concludes Neiman. Earthquakes are not evil; evil requires intent; it is what human beings do. The response to inexplicable events is not debate but action.

Good for Pombal–he recognizes that the human element (poverty, inequality, corruption, etc.) makes such misfortunes worse–which is nearly exactly what the secular types were saying.

Anyhoo.  I think this is a fairly common form of argument.  It consists in creating an unrepresentative dichotomy (not a false one in the classical fallacy sense), in order to make the case for a third, more reasonable option.  In that sense it does represent a kind of false trichotomy, where strawmanly false extremes imply a kind of third non-extreme way. 

She blinded me with ethics

There's a certain laughable cluelessness about George Will.  One can seriously wonder whether he really knows that most of his columns advance the shakiest and silliest of arguments.  The same is not true of Charles Krauthammer, his arguments advance a fairly malicious brand of sophistry–in particular, the sophistry of wrongly or dishonestly (i.e., by distortion) claiming others guilty of sophistry.  See for instance his column on Friday (cf., the greatest non sequitur ever foisted)

Today the topic is stem cells.  Two things.  Krauthammer is not incapable of making a reasonable argument, and the stem cell issue deserves to be approached with some amount of seriousness.  Having said that, it seems that Krauthammer in his most recent column does not approach the issue very seriously.  Here's the first bit of unseriousness:

I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix. Moreover, given the protean power of embryonic manipulation, the temptation it presents to science and the well-recorded human propensity for evil even in the pursuit of good, lines must be drawn. I suggested the bright line prohibiting the deliberate creation of human embryos solely for the instrumental purpose of research — a clear violation of the categorical imperative not to make a human life (even if only a potential human life) a means rather than an end.

On this, Obama has nothing to say. He leaves it entirely to the scientists. This is more than moral abdication. It is acquiescence to the mystique of "science" and its inherent moral benevolence. How anyone as sophisticated as Obama can believe this within living memory of Mengele and Tuskegee and the fake (and coercive) South Korean stem cell research is hard to fathom.

The first part of the second paragraph is false in the sense that Obama does not leave the matter entirely to scientists.  But the second part is a bit of ridiculous hyberbole of the slippery slope variety: if we leave the matter entirely to scientits (who are amoral!), we will get Joseph Mengele (that's a very swift violation of Godwin's law by the way).  Here, for reference, is the relevant section of Obama's speech:

I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society. 

Moving on to the more malicious bits.  Here's Krauthammer again:

That part of the ceremony, watched from the safe distance of my office, made me uneasy. The other part — the ostentatious issuance of a memorandum on "restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making" — would have made me walk out.

Restoring? The implication, of course, is that while Obama is guided solely by science, Bush was driven by dogma, ideology and politics.

It's not a stretch to suggest that the Bush administration had a particular disdain for science and scientists who disagreed with their policy agenda.  See The Republican War on Science, 238ff, for why someone might plausibly assert such a thing about the Bush administration (so spare us the feigned shock please).  But more specifically, the "implication" (that's a logic term) is not that Obama is guided soley (you'll see what he does with this in a moment) by science.  That is an overly strong and decidedly uncharitable version of the claim Obama is making.  Continuing:  

What an outrage. Bush's nationally televised stem cell speech was the most morally serious address on medical ethics ever given by an American president. It was so scrupulous in presenting the best case for both his view and the contrary view that until the last few minutes, the listener had no idea where Bush would come out.

Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values." Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

Does he not think that a cloned human would be of extraordinary scientific interest? And yet he banned it.

Is he so obtuse as not to see that he had just made a choice of ethics over science? Yet, unlike Bush, who painstakingly explained the balance of ethical and scientific goods he was trying to achieve, Obama did not even pretend to make the case why some practices are morally permissible and others not.

This is not just intellectual laziness. It is the moral arrogance of a man who continuously dismisses his critics as ideological while he is guided exclusively by pragmatism (in economics, social policy, foreign policy) and science in medical ethics.

Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible. Obama's pretense that he will "restore science to its rightful place" and make science, not ideology, dispositive in moral debates is yet more rhetorical sleight of hand — this time to abdicate decision-making and color his own ideological preferences as authentically "scientific."

No straw man has been identified, however: Obama has argued that the choice between the two is false, so naturally he does not choose between the two! (See the quote above).  Besides, Obama obviously does not share (see quote above) Krauthammer's nihilistic conception of science, nor does he intend to allow such a science to exist or flourish on the federal dime.  Obama has made it pretty clear that he thinks Bush's restrictions, however surprisingly or drammatically delivered, to be out of sync with where we are scientifically and ethically.  Such an argument, outlined earlier in the speech, does not entail now that anything goes or that there is no moral basis for his view–that would be a falsely dichotomous understanding of ethics and a complete distortion of what Obama said.  The weirdest thing about all of this is that Krauthammer seems to agree with Obama's position.

In any case, it is obvious that the issue of stem cell research is a morally intricate one–one that deserves more serious discussion than Krauthammer would allow.

Now you tell me

In today's New York Times David Brooks argues that Sarah Palin does not have the experience to be Vice President and therefore President.  He joins a growing chorus (he says) of conservative pundits who make this argument.  I can't say of course that I disagree with him or them.  But my interest in punditry here has little to do with agreement or disagreement.  For even in getting to this obvious conclusion, that Palin does not have the requisite experience to be a candidate for such an office, Brooks still encounters logical difficulty.  He cannot escape what has become the single most defining rhetorical trope of his intellectual career–the dichotomy. 

Brooks's dichotomies are not always fallacious ones–it's more often the case in fact that they are not.  A false dichotomy, the reader may remember, suggests two radically opposed and exhaustive possibilities, one completely ridiculous, one your view, as a means of suggesting your view has a kind of deductive support.  On further reflection, of course, one finds there are many shades of opposition to your view, so therefore the dichotomy, and the force it gives your position, is false.  So, for instance, you either endorse constitutional overreach, or you support the enemy and are thus a traitor.  Since one does not want to be a traitor, one finds one must support constitutional overreach.  But then it occurs to one that maybe there are other alternatives to constitutional overreach, so one discovers the dichotomy is false.  That's the fallacious false dichotomy.  Don't get me wrong, Brooks does it a lot.  Today, however, it just the rhetorically false dichotomy.  He writes:

There was a time when conservatives did not argue about this. Conservatism was once a frankly elitist movement. Conservatives stood against radical egalitarianism and the destruction of rigorous standards. They stood up for classical education, hard-earned knowledge, experience and prudence. Wisdom was acquired through immersion in the best that has been thought and said.

But, especially in America, there has always been a separate, populist, strain. For those in this school, book knowledge is suspect but practical knowledge is respected. The city is corrupting and the universities are kindergartens for overeducated fools.

The elitists favor sophistication, but the common-sense folk favor simplicity. The elitists favor deliberation, but the populists favor instinct.

This populist tendency produced the term-limits movement based on the belief that time in government destroys character but contact with grass-roots America gives one grounding in real life. And now it has produced Sarah Palin.

People may think this has a kind of sophistication to it–wow Brooks can really distill cultural, economic, and political tendencies can't he!–but it's rather a silly way of looking at complex historical, cultural, etc., phenomena.  He has, in other words, just pulled this out of his ass.  A minimum of inspection will reveal these things are hardly as opposed as he suggests–especially the small town/big city dichotomy.  

Where he gets into logical trouble today is elsewhere, however.  He continues the narrative that Democratic elites' main objection consists in the fact that Palin does not eat arugula:

Palin is the ultimate small-town renegade rising from the frontier to do battle with the corrupt establishment. Her followers take pride in the way she has aroused fear, hatred and panic in the minds of the liberal elite. The feminists declare that she’s not a real woman because she doesn’t hew to their rigid categories. People who’ve never been in a Wal-Mart think she is parochial because she has never summered in Tuscany.

Look at the condescension and snobbery oozing from elite quarters, her backers say. Look at the endless string of vicious, one-sided attacks in the news media. This is what elites produce. This is why regular people need to take control.

These two paragraphs distill the Palin/McCain campaign's political strategy: call everyone who disagrees with Sarah Palin a cultural elite, characterize the media as the enemy, and so forth.  It's one massive straw man.  But as long as they keep fighting it, the media will keep covering it, remarking on McCain's brilliant strategy in attacking the straw man, and in knocking him down, all the while they will keep asking why Obama can't get them interested in a real fight, and why this makes Obama weak.

But back to Brooks.  Having repeated eight years' worth of straw men, he joins the opposition and claims their arguments, repeated anywhere and everywhere for the last eight plus years, as his own:

And there’s a serious argument here. In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward argues that the nation’s founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin.

But before I get to those, I should remark that the above argument would be a false dichotomy.  There's an obvious middle ground between a separate class of executives and caricatured portraits of mountain folk.  But I digress, back to Brooks's agreement with everything he has ridiculed:

I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.

And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

Yes.  And I think of all of the energetic sophistries Brooks has produced in favor of this ineptness.