When the argument is not the argument

Misrepresenting someone’s position is usually a no-no.  Two quick reasons: first, a critique of the misrepresentation reveals nothing about the view; second, the misrepresentation deprives the person making the argument of critical input.  Naturally, this second violation assumes people make arguments in order to receive critical input from others (which is dubious, but nonetheless important).

The problem with this is that people sometimes do not argue for their real positions.  They argue, rather, for positions they can defend, hoping that this defense will cover their real view or that it will distract or wear down attackers. Sorry for the war metaphor here (I’ve been thinking about this lately and will have something on it later).

The “covering strategy” is to assert entirely general principles that may not apply in your case.  This strategy is somewhat akin to the question-begger which avoids the controversy by taking two steps back. Perhaps this is why so many fruitless public debates center around various parties claiming their view is consonant with some or other founding principle. What’s at issue is usually rather the application of the founding principle to the specific case.

Something like this, I think, is at play in the Indiana case.  Mike Pence, the Governor of Indiana, claims that this law has nothing to do with discriminating against gay people. That, of course, is preposterous, and worthy of an Onion article.

There’s no question that the view the Indiana law and its supporters clearly advocate is an unpopular one.  It’s also pretty clear that people are going to heap piles of scorn upon them.  It might also be true that they think their view isn’t going to get a fair hearing from the crowd gathered to hear it.  I’m not sure, however, if any of these things is sufficient to justify the shifting strategy they’re employing. For one, such disingenuousness is shielding themselves from criticism relevant to their view.