Tag Archives: hollow man argument

I’m a Ford truck man, I don’t compromise

I’m going to guess that our five-minute gun debate after a national travesty is already over. One the gems of this debate was this argument over at Fox News (via Crooks and Liars)

“He passed everything,” Gorka agreed. “Let’s be really clear about this. We could get a magic wand and the president could make all legally-owned weapons disappear in America, [but] jihadis will keep killing Americans on U.S. soil.”

Gorka pointed to an issue of Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine: “There’s a giant poster on one of the pages that says, ‘Use your F-150 to kill the infidel.'”

“They will kill us with whatever tools they need,” he shrugged. “Pipe bombs are illegal in America, it is illegal to construct a pipe bomb. What did the Tsarnaev brothers do in Boston? Did it stop them from building pipe bombs. It didn’t.”

“So, the idea that legislation or focusing on a tool, a weapon or an explosive is going to mitigate this threat or make it disappear, again, is fantasy land.”

This poor guy can’t even get the talking point right (cars and explosives are already highly regulated).

Anyway, it seems the claim goes like this. Unless addressing the legality of something completely eliminates the possibility that this thing will ever happen, it is worthless to try. Eliminating guns will not eliminate terrorism, so it is worthless to eliminate guns.

That’s no one’s argument, of course.

Fill in your own counterexample.

Don’t strawman me… I was strawmanning, myself

(Former) Governor Mike Huckabee has been criticized for the things he’s said about women and birth control.  Here’s the line folks are focusing on:

They cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government

The reply is that the Governor did say those words, but the quote is “taken out of context”. As it turns out, the context is that of attributing this view to Democrats.  Here’s Matt Lewis at the Daily Caller clarifying the situation:

If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because [DEMOCRATS BELIEVE] they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.

The context of the quote, I think, is correct in terms of the Daily Caller’s clarification. The video HERE.  Huckabee isn’t stating his own view, he’s making it clear what he thinks that Democrats think about women and birth control.  So to criticize him for holding this view is a form of straw manning.

That’s better, but not dialecticaly.  The defense is that the view in question is not one he takes himself, but one he attributes to his opponents on birth control.  (He follows these sentences with a call for further debate on the issue, clearly calling attention to the fact that he sees his opponents as having a wildly indefensible view.)  Note that the address was not to a mixed audience wherein a liberal might say back: that’s not our view, Governor.  The issue isn’t about controlling libido, but having the right to manage when and by whom one has a child.  Isn’t that an important issue?  Ever notice how straw-manning is easier when your opponent isn’t in the room?

So in defending himself against being strawmanned, Huckabee reveals himself  the straw-manner.

To use the full taxonomic vocabulary: My hypothesis is that Huckabee was hollow-manning (nobody on the Democrat side has had a thought like that, right?), and the defense is a form of iron-manning.

First, get some straw…

We’ve pretty regularly noted that you can tell a straw man fallacy is coming when the speaker starts the windup for attributing views to his opponent by saying, “Some folks who believe X say…”  or “You know what all those X-ists say about this…”  What generally comes is a view nobody even recognizes as their view, or if it is, it’s only from the least capable of those who hold X.  And so we’ve been calling these hollow and weak men.

Now, what happens when the speaker’s on a roll?  It’s not just a one-off, but a series of these straw-man constructions.  For example, take Marta Mossburg’s “The Real ‘War on Women'” over at the American Spectator.   There are at least three in quick succession.

First, there’s the implication that Democrats who use the expression ‘The Republican War on Women’ don’t care at all about the way women are oppressed around the world.

When Terry McAuliffe, the governor-elect of Virginia,  relentlessly battered his Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli for waging a “war on women,”  these innocent babies, teenagers and wives often attacked by their families and given no protection under the law throughout many countries in the world were not on his mind, however.  Not even remotely.

Second, there’s the implication of reverse racism in describing the progressive view:

It also fits in nicely with the progressive narrative that history is moving irrevocably forward to some ideal – which does not include stodgy white men.

And third, there’s the simple imputation of sheer craven rhetorical objectives to their opponents:

The success of the “war on women” trope should make Republicans realize that they are fighting progressives for whom the idea of truth is an outdated relic of a racist, homophobic, misogynist past to be discarded in favor of tactics that allow them to win elections and sway opinion.

Now, sometimes, the writing in politico magazines isn’t about making arguments.  Sometimes, it’s just about reminding people what’s at stake, motivating them to go out and win, galvanizing the side.  But here’s the thing: dog-cussing your opponents like this makes it very hard to intellectually engage with them afterwards.  It inculcates a habit that Talisse and I have been calling the No Reasonable Opposition perspective on the issues at hand.  And when you don’t see the opposition as reasonable, you don’t work on developing good arguments, and when you don’t work on good arguments, you don’t maintain your best reasons.  And then you become, ironically, just like the folks you were dog-cussing.

To the three straw men here, it’s worthwhile to say the following.  1. The “Republican War on Women” trope was about a series of elections and domestic policy, not about foreign policy.  You focus on what’s different between the two candidates and parties in that argumentative context and about the things they will determine – to talk about the treatment of women around the world is not what that discussion is about.  (One might call this, by extension, a form of red herring.)  2. There’s a difference between having less (unearned) influence and having no influence – if everybody gets a fair shake, there are going to be fewer white guys at the top.  It shouldn’t be hard to see that.  3. As to the cravenness view of one’s opponents, I’ll simply say that if you, yourself, aren’t very good at constructing good arguments, you won’t be very good at detecting them, either.


At least it’s an ethos

The other day George Will countered the claim that high voter turnout is a sign of civic health by reminding everyone that Nazis came to power as a result of high voter turnout.  An observant commenter at Media Matters noted correctly that Hitler’s party lost the 1932 Presidential election 53-36.  More telling, however, is how the Nazis won a majority of seats in the March 1933 election:

Six days before the scheduled election date, the German parliament building was set alight in the Reichstag fire, allegedly by the Dutch Communist Marinus van der Lubbe. This event reduced the popularity of the KPD, and enabled Hitler to persuade President Hindenburg to pass the Reichstag Fire Decree as an emergency decree according to Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. This emergency law removed many civil liberties and allowed the arrest of Ernst Thälmann and 4,000 leaders and members of the KPD[4] shortly before the election, suppressing the Communist vote and consolidating the position of the Nazis. The KPD was “effectively outlawed from 28 February 1933”, although it was not completely banned until the day after the election.[5] While at that time not as heavily oppressed as the Communists, the Social Democrats were also restricted in their actions, as the party’s leadership had already fled to Prague and many members were acting only from the underground. Hence, the fire is widely believed to have had a major effect on the outcome of the election. As replacement, and for 10 years to come, the new parliament used the Kroll Opera House for its meetings.

They won, in other words, by voter suppression (more on that later).  Anyway, an even more silly part of Will’s argument comes earlier:

The poet Carl Sandburg supposedly was asked by a young playwright to attend a rehearsal. Sandburg did but fell asleep. The playwright exclaimed, “How could you sleep when you knew I wanted your opinion?” Sandburg replied, “Sleep is an opinion.”

So is nonvoting. Remember this as the Obama administration mounts a drive to federalize voter registration, a step toward making voting mandatory.

What to call this move?  On the one hand, it’s a slippery slope: “a step toward making voting mandatory.”  But that is silly, as having an election is a step toward making voting mandatory.  A step toward making voting mandatory as such would be something like this: The Obama administration will now require proof of voting in order to qualify for a gay marriage.  Since obviously gay marriage will be required of everyone who shows proof of firearm non-ownership, and proof of firearm non-ownership will be required of everyone, ipso facto, you get the idea.

Aside from the slippery slope, Will is attacking a hollow man: no one has advocated making voting mandatory.  So why does he say this?  Here’s his justification:

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of Holder’s civil rights division, rightly says that voting too often is “an endurance contest” involving a long wait in line, frequently because of questions about voters’ registrations. But the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spa­kovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, says:

“One of the reasons that state voter registration rolls are in such poor shape today — with large numbers of voters who are dead, have moved or are noncitizens — is because of the restrictive standards imposed by the federal government in 1993 by the National Voter Registration Act. That law made it very difficult to remove ineligible voters. Local jurisdictions were sued so often by the Justice Department when they tried to remove ineligible voters, many stopped trying to clean up their lists at all. That is why there are many places around the country where the number of registered voters is greater than the Census says there are individuals of voting age.”

Notice the perverse dialectic by which Washington aggrandizes its power: It promises to ameliorate problems exacerbated by its supposedly ameliorative policies. Notice, too, the logic of Perez’s thesis that “our democracy is stronger when more people have a say in electing their leaders.” Therefore the public good would be served by penalizing nonvoting, as Australia, Belgium and at least 10 other countries do. Liberals love mandates (e.g., health insurance). Why not mandatory voting?

No, that is not the logic of Perez’s thesis, that’s Will’s distortion of his logic.  But look at the claim about the insurance mandate.  For Pete’s sake, the health insurance mandate originated with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and it was implemented by Mitt Romney, when he was Republican Governor of Massachusetts.  This is evidence that liberals love mandates.   Worse, and returning to the theme of voter suppression, Will’s authority that the voting system is a wreck is the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky: the very fraud responsible for the myth of voter fraud.