The greatest non sequitur ever foisted

Charles Krauthammer, on Obama's speech of over a week ago:

The logic of Obama's address to Congress went like this:

"Our economy did not fall into decline overnight," he averred. Indeed, it all began before the housing crisis. What did we do wrong? We are paying for past sins in three principal areas: energy, health care and education — importing too much oil and not finding new sources of energy (as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf?), not reforming health care, and tolerating too many bad schools.

The "day of reckoning" has arrived. And because "it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we'll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament," Obama has come to redeem us with his far-seeing program of universal, heavily nationalized health care; a cap-and-trade tax on energy; and a major federalization of education with universal access to college as the goal.

Amazing. As an explanation of our current economic difficulties, this is total fantasy. As a cure for rapidly growing joblessness, a massive destruction of wealth, a deepening worldwide recession, this is perhaps the greatest non sequitur ever foisted upon the American people.

He said "logic" and "non sequitur," so we knew we were in for something good from the guy who thinks a slippery slope is a valid form of argumentation.  And indeed we were.  It seems that Krauthammer has just distorted what Obama said.  Distorting what somebody says in order to knock down the distorted version of what they say is a non sequitur.  To be specific, it's a straw man.  Here's the quoted passage in context: 

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. 

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation.  The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach.  They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.  Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure.  What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people.  I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament. 

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight.  Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank.  We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy.  Yet we import more oil today than ever before.  The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform.  Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for.  And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.  A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future.  Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market.  People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway.  And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Obama has clearly distinguished between the declining economy and "all of our problems."  In particular, the failing economy is just one of the problems we face.  So he is not making, in other words, the non sequitur of the century or whatever, since that isn't even close to the "logic" of Obama's argument.  Whatever the virtues or vices of Obama's proposals, they don't fail for this reason.  

To return to the theme of facts and inference, Karauthammer's claim about Obama's argument does not fall within the realm of plausibility–no fair-minded editor could claim that he has accurately represented what Obama said in his summary.  The Post really ought to have higher standards than this.  

3 thoughts on “The greatest non sequitur ever foisted”

  1. If the Post has shown us anything in the past two weeks, it is that any regard for truth, charity, and logical acumen is gone from there.   They.  Have.  No.  Standards.  None.  Any commentary from there should taken with the same regard you would give an undergraduate fallacies assignment.

  2. jcasey, maybe for Charles, “all our problems” equals the “declining economy”.  After all, isn’t that the American dream? Prosperity? “Survival”? It’s the economy, stupid ? 🙂

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