A commenter points to this February Wall Street Journal piece by Karl Rove on straw men. I know. The very idea of that person criticizing anyone for slimy rhetorical devices is beyond ridiculous. But in the interest of fairness, let's discuss it anyway.
I should say first of all (I should repeat actually) that it's not much of an achievement to find "straw men" in anyone's "political advocacy" discourse. There is after all a rather significant difference between a pundit, writing in the calm, reflective light of reason, and a politician, advocating for this or that policy or action. While pundits represent ideological points of view, they do so on the assumption (I believe, at least) that the best arguments have compelled them. Politicians must be content, however, to achieve their policy objectives by moving people to action. This motivational discourse involves different rules. A politician, I think, of any variety, can be allowed to paint in broad strokes, especially when it comes to his opposition, without suffering the accusation of using a straw man.
This genre confusion, I think, is what drives Rove's inane piece. He confuses the broad strokes of a politician, in particular the use of "some," for straw man arguments. "Some" may signal a straw man, but it need not. Rove writes:
President Barack Obama reveres Abraham Lincoln. But among the glaring differences between the two men is that Lincoln offered careful, rigorous, sustained arguments to advance his aims and, when disagreeing with political opponents, rarely relied on the lazy rhetorical device of "straw men." Mr. Obama, on the other hand, routinely ascribes to others views they don't espouse and says opposition to his policies is grounded in views no one really advocates.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama told Congress and the nation, "I reject the view that . . . says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity." Who exactly has that view? Certainly not congressional Republicans, who believe that through reasonable tax cuts, fiscal restraint, and prudent monetary policies government contributes to prosperity.
Mr. Obama also said that America's economic difficulties resulted when "regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market." Who gutted which regulations?
Not naming one's rhetorical opponent in a political speech is not the same thing as a straw man. And besides, these and the rest of Rove's examples are not straw men, in that there are people, Republican people, who make arguments that the government never ever created one single job, and so forth (see chairman of the GOP, Michael Steele). Obama's not naming them does not entail he's making them up.
So, I would say, Obama (and Bush, etc.) deserve some leeway in the identification of their opponent, especially in the context of major political speeches. Does this free them from the responsibility of fairly characterizing their opponents? Obviously not. The boundaries of fair play are just somewhat broader.