Tag Archives: Reince Priebus

Tu Quoque, Mr. President

I’ve been wondering for a while about what exactly gets shown with tu quoque arguments.  Is it that the premise is false, or no longer justified?  Since it’s an ad hominem form of the argument, perhaps it is more just a case against the people speaking, perhaps that they don’t understand their own case or aren’t sincere.  Or is it that they have a double standard. I think that, depending on the setup, these are all on the table.  Though the last one, the attack on the ethos of the speaker on the other side using a double standard is the most likely and most argumentatively plausible.

Here’s why.  When we charge tu quoque, it’s often a culmination of a series of argumentative exchanges.  Sometimes over years.  What we’ve got then is a lot of evidence about the person’s argumentative and intellectual character.  The tu quoque is a kind of caught-red-handed moment you serve up to show that the person’s not an honest arbiter of critical standards.  That they play fast and loose, and always to their own advantage, with evidence, degrees of scrutiny, and what’s outrageous or not.

Amanda Terkel at Huffpost, with “Trump Administration Absolutely Outraged Someone would try to Delegitimize a President” has an interesting tu quoque with the Republicans about the recent accusations that the current President isn’t legitimate.  Take, for example, John Lewis saying, in response to the challenge that The Russians had interfered with the election:

I do not see Trump as a Legitimate President.

The result was that the Republicans responded pretty harshly (including Trump’s tweet).  But then they complained about the negativity in the media about the Presidency, and Reince Priebus (ex-RNC Chair, now Trump’s Chief of Staff) complained that

There’s an obsession by the media to delegitimize this president, and we are not going to sit around and let it happen. . . .You didn’t have Republicans questioning whether or not Obama legitimately beat John McCain in 2008

But wait, Amanda Terkel points out.  Trump very famously was a birther.  And so had been on a years-long de-legitimating campaign.

So what follows?  A regular phenomenon with tu quoque arguments is that pointing out the hypocrisy is the end of the game.  No conclusions are offered, and so it goes with the Terkel piece.

Again, my thoughts have been that a conclusion about the target proposition very rarely can be supported by the tu quoque, but some cases are relevant to the issue.  Again, if the challenge is to the sincerity or the intellectual honesty of a speaker, especially with double-standards, there are conclusions we can draw.  But does the fact that it’s politics make it worse or better?

Get back on board the f*cking boat

Some fun iron-manning.  The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, compared Barack Obama to Francesco Schettino, the tripping-onto-the-lifeboat captain of the doomed Carnival Cruise Liner, Costa ConcordiaHe said:

In a few months, this is all going to be ancient history and we're going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino, which is President Obama who's abandoning the ship here in the United States and is more interested in campaigning than doing his job as president," Priebus said on CBS' "Face the Nation.

The analogy doesn't make any sense (remember this is the party of Sarah Palin, someone who actually fits Schettino's profile much more closely) even as puerile name-calling.  Enter now the iron men:

BRZEZINSKI: That was disgusting. I'm sorry — take it back. You all screwed up in a big way. You sat in a room and said, "Oh, this would be so cool to say. Ha, ha, ha." You slapped your knees and then you went out on the air and you spit that you, you vomited that out, and you made a fool of yourself. Does anyone want to add anything?

KINGSTON: I don't know that you can say that was anything but an independent contractor using his own words and his own writing.

KINGSTON: There is name-calling there, and I don't appreciate the name-calling anymore than you do. However, there is also a point under it. The president does, in the State of the Union address, kind of revert back to kind of a lot of small ball items and isn't really handling the big issues of the day. Right now on the payroll tax cut, which isn't a huge deal, seems to be his biggest focus

Of course there's a point under it.  There always is.  But that's not the issue here in this discussion at all.  Now also notice what the point was: the President's State of the Union contained actual policy proposals, much like Schettino had actual command of the ship.  What was the analogy again?