Tag Archives: Weak man arguments

In their view, A is A.

No doubt many have now heard of the controversy surrounding Politifact's "Lie of the Year."  So has Politifact, apparently.  They respond to all of the very straightforward criticism with some very general points about how everyone is biased.  Then they remark:

PolitiFact had its latest brush with the Echo Chamber Nation this week. We gave our Lie of the Year to the Democrats' claim that the Republicans "voted to end Medicare." That set off a firestorm in the liberal blogosphere, with many saying that claim was not actually wrong. We've received about 1,500 e-mails about our choice and only a few agreed with us.

Some of the response has been substantive and thoughtful. The critics said we ignored the long-term effects of Rep. Paul Ryan's plan and that we were wrong to consider his privatized approach to be Medicare. In their view, that is an end to Medicare.

We've read the critiques and see nothing that changes our findings. We stand by our story and our conclusion that the claim was the most significant falsehood of 2011. We made no judgments on the merits of the Ryan plan; we just said that the characterization by the Democrats was false.

Our competitors FactCheck.org and the Washington Post's FactChecker had also said the Medicare claim was false — and this week both picked it for their biggest-falsehoods-of-the-year lists.

"In their view," is a pretty hilarious qualifier in front of the key point of factual disagreement.  After all, according to critics of Politifact, changing medicare from a single-payer government run system to a voucher-driven private system, which is absent the guarantees of the government system, is to end medicare.  Medicare is the government system; something else, not medicare, is the private system.  Sure, medicare will not end tomorrow on this plan.  But if you're under 55, it's ended for you.  It seems to me that they ought to respond, then, to those points.  They don't.  They point to their equally under theorized counterparts.  They argue:

First the truth: The budget plan that Republicans pushed through the House in 2011 would have radically changed Medicare in the future — for workers now under age 55. Starting in the year 2022, the GOP plan called for new Medicare beneficiaries to purchase private insurance with the help of federal subsidies.

But the plan would have continued the present Medicare system indefinitely for those now getting benefits, and also for all those who reach age 65 during the next decade.

But the truth didn’t stop Democrats from misrepresenting the proposal shamelessly to scare senior citizens and win election votes. They tested this tactic in a May 26 special House election in New York state, running ads accusing the Republican candidate of endorsing a plan that would “essentially end Medicare” and amount to “cutting benefits for seniors,” claims that were far from the truth.   

This is even worse than the Politifact piece, because they seem to get the basic idea, but deny it in the same sentence.  The rest of the piece is worse, as it then finds some weaker version of the "end medicare" meme, attacks that weak-man style, and concludes the whole thing is a lie. 

Now imagine this counter example.  We have a private insurance system in the United States.  Hurray for us, I know.  What if we replaced this private insurance system with a government single-payer system?  Would that amount to essentially ending private health insurance?  I imagine Politifact and FactCheck.org would answer no, as we would still have this private health insurance, only the government would pay for it, and it wouldn't be private.  This idea I can endorse.   

He’s a decent family man and citizen*

Shorter Charles Krauthammer: only liberals are bigotted enough to use ad hominem arguments. 

Todays' piece is a gold mine of fallacious reasoning.  One hardly knows where to begin (or where to end).  Now hold on objector, I'm going to prove that charge, just give me a minute.  The article begins by, on a very charitable interpretation, weak-manning the "liberal" position:

– Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.

– Disgust and alarm with the federal government's unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.

– Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.

– Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.

A sort-of caveat.  Columnists (given the absurd and arbitrary limitations on space which is as much their fault as anyone else's) have broad latitude to characterize their opponents' arguments in general terms.  But one can do this–I think at least–without sacrificing clarity, precision, and honesty.  (This one fails on all of those grounds). 

The weak man has it that in some forms someone in the opposition holds the view as described.  And indeed I bet I can find lots of people who fit the caricature Krauthammer draws.  Funny thing, however, without disgracing himself and engaging in obvious nutpicking, Krauthammer can't.  He doesn't name a single person or reference a single argument made by an actual person.  Moreover, the only things he attributes to a person are without meaningful context.

On all of the topics listed above, serious arguments have been made.  Just to take one for example because it's all anyone talks about anymore: Richard Cohen, Krauthammer's Post colleague (and frequent object of criticism here) had a piece up earlier this week about the Park51 Islamic Community Center project (which, by the way, IS NOT A MOSQUE NEAR GROUND ZERO).  Now he points out, correctly I think, that no small measure of opposition to the project is driven by old-fashioned bigotry against Islam.  Hell, a too-large percentage of Americans don't think a Muslim ought to be legally allowed to be President (and a number of Americans think the current President is a Muslim). 

But he also mounts an argument against the clearly non-bigotted:

This is not a complicated matter. If you believe that an entire religion of upward of a billion followers attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, then it is understandable that locating a mosque near the fallen World Trade Center might be upsetting. But the facts are otherwise. Islam was not in on the attack — just a sliver of believers. That being the case, those people with legitimate hurt feelings are mistaken. They need our understanding, not our indulgence.     

I think Cohen happens to be right.  But you'll at least have to admit that he doesn't resort to the bigotry charge.  Then again, maybe Krauthammer doesn't consider him part of the intelligentsia. 

Whatever the merits of Cohens argument, however, we have at least one easily found example of someone making a freedom of religion case for not disallowing the Park 51 project.  Sure it accuses people of ignorance.  But hey, that's what happens when you're wrong.   

*On the title: cf. John McCain's response to the 2008 accusation that Obama was an "Arab."