Tag Archives: straw man fallacy

Two wrongs of straw

Kellyanne Conway has had a hard couple weeks.  She had the ‘alternate facts‘ brouhaha, then she had the case where she made up a massacre in Bowling Green.   That then yielded a refusal by  a number of news outlets to interview her.  CNN’s ran for 48 hours. She had a credibility deficit.

Jonah Goldberg, over at National Review Online has come to Conway’s defense saying that she is “good at her job, and the media hates her for it.”  You see, she’s regularly been sent on a tough mission – to defend Trump’s policies against a media set on interpreting everything they say in the worst possible light.

President Trump’s surrogates, including Vice President Mike Pence, have mastered the art of defending straw-man positions that don’t reflect the actions and views of the president himself.

Just for clarity’s sake, it’s worth noting that I don’t think Goldberg is holding that Conway must defend straw man positions, but rather she must defend against straw men of her positions.  It has been a bit of a pet peeve of mine to see the language of informal logic abused, but this one is a doozy!  Regardless, the point is a fair one.  If folks have been getting the views and policies wrong, it’s the job of the communicators to set the record straight.

But it’s here that Goldberg switches gears – you see, if you must defend against those who straw man in hostile fashion, then you, too, must fight dirty. And a lesson from history is a case in point.

In 2012, Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s national-security adviser, flatly lied on five Sunday news shows, saying that the attack on the Benghazi compound was “spontaneous” and the direct result of a “heinous and offensive video.” No one talked of banning her from the airwaves. Nor should they have. Here’s a news flash for the news industry: Birds are gonna fly, fish are gonna swim, and politicians are gonna lie.

This, of course, is a curious line of argument, since the lies made the administration’s position (in both cases!)look considerably worse.  Who needs a straw manner in one’s opposition when one is doing such a bang-up job oneself?

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.

Meat stoking, plenty of it

I've been thinking of the reverse straw man for a bit now.  Following the suggestions of some friends and commenters at the Mid South, one variation of the too charitable straw man we might call the "iron man."  This is when someone's weak argument–or some weak arguer–is made stronger by irrelevant and inappropriate charity.  Too often this inappropriate charity comes from people who ought to know better.  And trolls depend on troll enablers.

The Onion, of all places, seems to get this.  Here's their take on Michelle Bachmann:

Michele Bachmann Announces Bid To Be Discussed More Than She Deserves In 2012

That pretty much sums it up.  Bachmann makes Bush look like Aristotle.  Not iron-manning every incoherent utterance.  I heard this yesterday on NPR:

ELLIOTT: I think the reception that Minnesota Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, got here. She was really the star of the day. The crowd even sort of mobbed the stage when she finished her speech. And she really gave this conservative crowd just what they were looking for: plenty of meat stoking the anti-President Obama fervor that was rumbling through the crowd.

She attacked the president's health care overhaul. She attacked his energy policy, as well as his handling of the economy.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): We know what works. It's cutting spending. It's growing the economy. It's doing what free markets do, and what economic superpowers do. And Mr. President, you're no economic superpower.

I think it's a stretch to call this an "attack" on the President's handling of the economy.  Maybe it would be more appropriate to say that she said words which on the most charitble interpretation were probably meant as criticism of Obama on the economy.  Anything more would be iron-manning.  The sample clip doesn't begin to make sense–it begs the question (it's growing the economy!), ignores basic economics (cutting spending!), and it equivocates on "economic superpower" (in the first it's a property of nations, then it's denied of Barack Obama).