Tag Archives: tu quoque

Million-dollar man

Students of Critical Thinking 101 know (or ought to know) that not all instances of the tu quoque are fallacious.  After all, someone’s hypocrisy on an issue is relevant insofar as it reveals that her proposal is insincere or too difficult or impractical to implement.

Talking Points Memo provides an example of both of these conditions:

More than a decade ago, Arkansas Rep. Josh Miller (R) was in a catastrophic car accident that broke his neck and left him paralyzed. Medicare and Medicaid paid the $1 million bill for his hospitalization and rehabilitation.

But this week, as the Arkansas legislature has debated continuing its privatized Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, Miller has remained steadfast in his opposition.

The Arkansas Times highlighted the contrast in a Thursday report. The alternative newspaper reported that Miller receives ongoing coverage through the government programs, including Medicaid-covered personal care assistance.

The Times asked Miller, 33, about this apparent contradiction: Shouldn’t someone who has experienced the benefits of health insurance, including insurance paid for by the government, understand the importance of expanding those benefits to others?

The difference, he said, is that some of the 100,000 people who have gained coverage through Arkansas’s Medicaid expansion don’t work hard enough or just want access to the program so they can purchase and abuse prescription drugs.

“My problem is two things,” Miller said. “One, we are giving it to able-bodied folks who can work … and two, how do we pay for it?”

The accident that paralyzed Miller occurred about 11 years ago, the Times reported. He was driving with a friend, alcohol was involved, but Miller said he couldn’t remember who was driving. When he arrived at the hospital with his life-changing injuries, he was uninsured.

In case you don’t know, Medicaid expansion consists in extending the benefits of Medicaid (federal health coverage for the poor) to those working poor people (138 percent of the federal poverty line) who would otherwise be too poor to afford insurance, but too, er, rich to qualify for Medicaid.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (at the link), this would account for half of the uninsured people in America.

According to Miller, these people–mostly people who work low-paying or minimum wage jobs–ought not to have health insurance (and thus health care) while he, uninsured twenty-something drunk driver, ought to.  Indeed, the latter’s needs are to be protected against incursion by the needs of the former.  If only some of them were drunk drivers, then maybe he’d be more sympathetic.

A foolish consistency*

Here is an extreme libertarian type (wrongly identified, I think, as a Tea Party type by Gawker, etc.), Greg Collett, father of 10, from Utah, going all Ayn Rand on social programs he makes use of.  Which is to say: “I’m against Medicaid, but I use it for financial reasons” (or something, because he doesn’t really say why).  He writes:

The vast majority of the comments directed towards me try to paint me as a hypocrite for being a limited government advocate and having my kids on Medicaid. My political beliefs are certainly not popular, and in this case, there are many people in the liberty movement who want to take me to task. Again, we are dealing with a situation where people have been socialized into believing a lie.

Let me set the record straight. Yes, I participate in government programs of which I adamantly oppose. Many of them, actually. Am I a hypocrite for participating in programs that I oppose? If it was that simple, and if participation demonstrated support, then of course. But, my reason for participation in government programs often is not directly related to that issue in and of itself, and it certainly does not demonstrate support. For instance, I participate in government programs in order to stay out of the courts, or jail, so that I can take care of my family; other things I do to avoid fines or for other financial reasons; and some are simply because it is the only practical choice. With each situation, I have to evaluate the consequences of participating or not participating.

Collett is a kind of anti-government purist (all government taking is theft, essentially).  He doesn’t personally carry health insurance, but he uses government programs (Medicaid but not public schools–you really have to read the manifesto) to cover his children.  Children are expensive, sickness is expensive and can be financially devastating.  His choice of Medicaid to cover his children  (as well as his choice of becoming a foster parent to eight children) demonstrates that perhaps his insistence that government leave this role is not actually feasible.  It’s nice, in other words, to have ideals, but seriously, they have to be practical.

And this is a critical point about non-fallacious tu quoques.  They do not demonstrate that your beliefs are false.  They demonstrate that your beliefs may be too hard to put into practice if not even you, ardent exponent of milking your own cows, cannot do it.

*Here’s the rest of the Emerson passage (from “Self Reliance”):

 A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored  by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a  great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself  with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words,  and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though  it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be  sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be  misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and  Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every  pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be  misunderstood.

Tu quo… um, what?

Here’s the setup for a meta-tu quoqueStage 1: A makes crazy claim.  Stage 2: B criticizes A for crazy claim.  Stage 3: A defends A’s claim by noting B’s criticism is based on a double-standard. Stage 4: B notes that A, in charging a double-standard, employs a double standard. I’ve noted elsewhere here at the NS that some forms of double-standard arguments are relevant and argumentatively appropriate.  (And John, Colin, and I also published a paper on it a year ago.)

OK, so here’s application.  Stage 1:  Brian Kilmeade of Fox News said he wouldn’t support the Syrian opposition groups, because they say “Allahu Akbar” when they score military successes.  Stage 2: John McCain criticizes Kilmeade for Islamophobia.  (Here’s the Huffpo review of the exchange.)  Stage 3: George Neumayr at AmSpec defends Kilmeade noting that McCain’s criticism deploys a double standard:

When Fox News host Brian Kilmeade said on Tuesday that he didn’t want to back Syrian rebels who scream “Allahu Akbar!” after bombing buildings, McCain, revealing the Islamophilia behind America’s Arab-Spring foreign policy, replied that those chants don’t bother him. “They are moderates,” he said, dismissing the chants as no more “offensive” than a Christian who says “thank God.” Too bad Kilmeade didn’t ask McCain to give examples of Christians yelling “thank God” after slitting someone’s throat.

The first trouble is that Kilmeade is taking the speech act performed after a horrible deed to be identify the perpetrator as representative of the group that speech act indicates.  So because a Muslim terrorist says “Allahu Akbar” after a terrorist incident, those who say “Allahu Akbar” are dangerous radicals.  McCain’s reply is by way of counter-examples – Christians say “Thank God” all the time… that’s what the phrase is analogous to.  Neumayr’s case is that McCain’s double standard is not to take extreme behavior as representative.

Here’s stage 4: Religious man murders his friend after his friend tells him he’s an atheist.  We don’t take that as representative, do we?

Civility for jerks

Mallard Fillmore’s got a nice way to capture the civility problem — with a straw man followed by a  tu quoque!

fillmore

If President Obama charged the Republicans with wanting to kill the elderly and starve the poor, I don’t remember it.  In fact, the only kill the elderly lines I remember were the old ‘death panel’ charges a few years back. (This, then, is more likely a hollow man.) So a hyperbolic line of argument to begin, but doubling down with the fallacies is… well… uncivil?

A few months back Rob Talisse and I took a shot at making the case that civility wasn’t a matter of being nice and calm, but a matter of having well-run argument.  That sometimes requires goodwill, but more importantly civility is a matter of being able to argue appropriately when everyone in the conversation hates everyone else.

An argument that will not die

There seem to be two very crappy albeit popular arguments against increasing marginal tax on people making over a certain very high dollar figure (let's call it "the Buffett rule").  I am not aware of any good arguments against the idea, but if you are, feel free to direct me to them in comments.

One argument involves denying that the Buffett rule will solve the debt problem.  Another argument consists in pointing out that no one has voluntarily given extra money to the US Treasury.  The first argument is something of a weak or hollow man, depending on how it's deployed.  It's a weak man if someone makes this claim among many others; it's a hollow man if no one, as I suspect is the case, has actually made this specific argument.

The second of the two arguments, a textbook tu quoque, got another shot at life yesterday from the ever clueless Chris Wallace:

[I]f I may, David, the question I have for you is: if the president feels so strongly about tax fairness, is he going to he contribute money to the Treasury and they have a special department just for this, to help with the deficit?

What would make the President a hypocrite in this circumstance is if he advocated for higher taxes on earners such as himself and then refused to pay.  Not, as Wallace seems to suggest, that he isn't currently just donating money to the Treasury. 

I don't know how this stuff gets into people's brains.  But Wallace gets paid a lot of money, and he went to Harvard.  Doesn't Harvard owe us some kind of apology?

May cause a sudden drop in blood pressure

More fun with conditional hypocrisy, courtesy of the Virginia Senate:

The bill, SB484, says pregnant women must be given an opportunity to view the ultrasound image prior to an abortion and requires abortion providers to keep a copy in the patient’s file.

"I view this as a serious women's health issue," Vogel said on her website. "At a minimum, ultrasound is necessary to determine gestational age and that there is no anomaly that could affect the health of the mother or outcome of the procedure."

Pro-abortion rights advocates consider the ultrasound provision a tactic to add cost and inconvenience to the process with the goal of getting women to change their minds.

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, was dismayed enough by the bill's progress that she tried to amend it so men seeking prescriptions for erectile dysfunction medication such as Viagra would be required to undergo a rectal exam and cardiac stress test.

She said that's "only fair, that if we're going to subject women to unnecessary procedures, and we're going to subject doctors to having to do things that they don't think is medically advisory."

Howell's amendment ought to help people visualize how such a bill would affect their own administration of their privates, were certain facts different. 

The amendment was defeated, but so was the bill. 

Analogy and hypocrisy

Cal Thomas thinks Newt Gingrich is being unfairly criticized for his consulting work for Freddie Mac.  The charges of hypocrisy, he holds, are off base.  Here's the defense:

That Gingrich took money from Freddie Mac, an agency he now derides, may seem like hypocrisy to some, but not to me. I, for example, think the Department of Agriculture should be closed, though I once worked for them. I also received a student loan, which I repaid, though I am now critical of how some of the government's student loan programs are run. I attended public schools, but believe parents ought to be able to send their kids to a private school if it promises to offer a better education. Am I hypocritical?

I wonder what Thomas would have to say to someone who said: Yes, all that is hypocritical.  Now, it may be the case that Thomas worked for the DOA and thereby learned that they don't do anything worthwhile.  So he believes that the agency should be shut down.  He may have taken a student loan because it was a sweet deal.  Now he sees that the government shouldn't give such sweet deals, because it can't be on the hook for the loans.  And it may be the case that he attended a public school, but because there were no other options.  So he now believes there should be private school options, too.  That's the story to tell.  In these cases, we have someone who was part of the system being criticized who saw something negative about it and now has critical things to say.  That's perfectly intelligible. And it's not hypocrisy. (My own view is that he's not a hypocrite, just wrong)

But are these cases analogous to the Gingrich case?  I don't think so, as Newt knew what Freddie Mac was about before he took the consulting job. He had choices of alternatives as what companies or corporations to be an advocate for.  If he's hired as a consultant, he should be knowledgeable enough to know what he's getting into. Thomas may not be a hypocrite for the incongruity between his past and his current views, but that's not enough to get Newt off the hook for the hypocrisy charge.

But now a broader question:  of what relevance is the hypocrisy charge against Gingrich, to begin with?  There's already so much about the guy I don't like, the fact that he's a hypocrite about this is not very important.  But I think the importance of the point is more for deep red Republicans.  Hypocrisy, especially on an issue like this at a time like this, is really important to anyone who is looking for the right (right-wing) fiscal conservative.  If Newt has a history of getting into bed with failed companies  that contributed to the mess, it's harder to sell him as someone who can fix it.  The issue, really, isn't his hypocrisy, but his judgment generally. 

Scare quoque

Mallard Fillmore's recent take on the President's rhetorical strategies:

This is an argument about arguments — namely, that scare tactics are bad, but it's worse to be a hypocrite about using them.  So the score tally goes:  Republicans -1 for using scare tactics, Obama +1 for chastising them for using the tactic.  Obama -1 for using scare tactics, and -1 for being a hypocrite about using them.  (And +1 for Fillmore for pointing out the scare tactic, and +1 for pointing out the hypocrisy.)

Now, a question.  Surely arguing that policy X will have bad consequences (or not following policy X will have the bad consequences) appeals to people's fears, but (a) so long as those things are bad and worth fearing, and (b) X is a crucial element in either avoiding or bringing about those consequences, aren't arguments from fear also good arguments from prudence?  The scare tactic is not composed of simply pointing out that something bad will happen if we don't do something — it's comprised in shutting down discussion about what is the best way to avoid the bad consequences.  Take for example the insurance salesman who says something like: people your age often can get sick and die with no warning — that's why you need St. Bartholomew Insurance to take care of your family if that happens.  The fact of the sudden death may mean that you should get insurance, but it certainly doesn't mean that you should get St. Bartholomew Ins.  We don't get why the Republicans or Obama are using scare tactics here, but it is a real question for us when we're being scared to accept a conclusion that doesn't follow.

Time to employ the tu quoque

Short items today.

First, according one study, half of the recipients of social programs (including various tax credits) in the US do not know or believe they are participants.  As they continue to demand the government get their hands of their Medicare, or that the government stop treating social security like its some kind of government program, one may without reservation employ the tu quoque.

Second, hipster baby might inspire a new response to the ultra conservative pro-life types: I was gay before I was born.  Then again, perhaps the science is not clear on that, as the careful (though oddly selective) skeptic Tim Pawlenty proclaims.