I was out of town for the weekend when Helene Cooper's abysmal analysis piece (On Obama's "straw men") appeared in the New York Times, so I'll pretty much just point everyone to discussions of it elsewhere. It seems to have been largely written by Fred Barnes, a conservative columnist who has long been griping about Obama's alleged tendency to attack straw men. Perhaps we ought to remember that the 2008 Presidential campaign pitted Obama against a set of candidates for whom the term "straw man" described their owns positions on most issues. Nonetheless, Cooper writes:
WASHINGTON — Democrats often complained about President George W. Bush’s frequent use of a rhetorical device as old as rhetoric itself: creating the illusion of refuting an opponent’s argument by mischaracterizing it and then knocking down that mischaracterization.
There was much outrage in 2006, for example, when Mr. Bush said that when it came to battling terrorists, “I need members of Congress who understand that you can’t negotiate with these folks,” implying that Democrats backed talks with Al Qaeda. That assertion was promptly, and angrily, disputed by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Now that there is a new team at the White House, guess who is knocking down straw men left and right? To listen to President Obama, a veritable army of naysayers has invaded Washington, urging him to sit on his hands at the White House and do nothing to address any of the economic or national security problems facing the country.
“There are those who say these plans are too ambitious, that we should be trying to do less, not more,” Mr. Obama told a town-hall-style meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 18. “Well, I say our challenges are too large to ignore.”
In order for an argument to be a straw man (speaking generally), it has to be (1) actually advanced as stated by no serious party in the current discussion and (2) a silly view no one would hold anyway (there are variations on this–the weak man and the hollow man). As the following link will show, Cooper's article doesn't establish that either of the two requirements (and both are necessary, but not independently sufficient) have been met. The press, for instance, spoke endlessly about whether Obama was "doing too much." Two seconds of googling will give you tons of examples. For more, see here.
When I say this stuff is not hard, I'm serious. It's not.