Cut and run

Before he was swept up in a spam patrol sweep, a loyal reader of ours suggested we take a look at the Power Line Blog. He wrote:

>I would like to request that this blog focus a bit on another blog for the purpose of identifying and analyzing the methods of argumentation used there. The blog is Powerline and it is a conservative blog of some influence, although I cannot for the life of me determine why it should be so. In particular, please look over the posts of one of the site’s main contributors: Paul Mirengoff. He has been the subject of a previous post on this blog when he co-authored a Wash Post editorial. I think his posts are rife with certain techniques that debaters often use and which are used to hide some very interesting logical flaws, albeit always that easy to spot. The manner in which he consistently dismisses those with a viewpoint of which he disapproves strikes me both as unresponsive and as an ad hominem approach to argument. I’d be most appreciative of anyone’s observations here — I’ve no particular subject matter or viewpoint at stake here, but I am more than a little puzzled as to why Powerline is given so much credence in the blogosphere and elsewhere.

We’re generally not interested in blogs–it’s all we can do to read the op-eds of the major daily newspapers. As a way however of apologizing to this loyal reader, here’s a quick analysis of a brief Powerline passage:

>The fact that half of all deaths caused by terrorists last year were in Iraq is consistent with what the terrorists themselves often tell us: Iraq is the central front in the global war against Islamic terrorism. The old Andrew Sullivan would have understood that this means we should fight to win in Iraq, not cut and run.

Nevermind that Iraq hadn’t been a central front in the war on terrorism until we made it so by showing up there. The more interesting claim is the second–we should fight to win, not cut and run. “Cutting and running” has all the air of the straw man/false dichotomy. “Cutting and running” is not a strategic manuever; it is hasty, cowardly, and as a result ill-conceived. It is not a policy that any serious person advocates, or should be considered to advocate. So for that reason the powerline blogger blogs against no one. The false dichotomy consists in the implicit claim that the only alternative to “victory” (whose definition is always shifting, by the way, but that is another matter) is cowardly retreat. The alternative to victory, however, is defeat. A road that many claim we have already chosen. But that, again, is another matter.

2 thoughts on “Cut and run”

  1. Thanks for the quick analysis of what seems to me is a very common technique in the discourse of unreason promulgated by blogs like Powerline.

    It’s been my experience that two techniques — the ad hominen attack and the straw man argument — comprise the lion’s share of the moves I’ve found on these blogs.

    I’m grateful for your pointing out the use of the false dichotomy, (in the example above between victory and “cutting and running”) as this seems to be a common technique, too.

    I think another example of a false dichotomy would be the belittling of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution as “beside the point” in a post-911 world. Is that correct?

    One last question: is the assertion “We’re going to fight them over there so we don’t have fight them here” an “appeal to fear”? It seems to me it could also be an “appeal to valor,” too.

    Would apprciate hearing your thinking on this.

  2. the total and intentional misreading of the Constitution is not the creation of a false dichotomy; it’s the absence of such a choice! at least with the dichotomy, we have a choise. in the post 9-11 America, our rights are quite simply stripped away, no questions asked. we are not offered the choice of “with us or against us” or anything of the neo-con, laughably dichiotomous ilk. we just get our rights dictated to us now. by the media, by our schools, by our internet–when we refused to decrie the partriot act, we resigned our rights. perhaps i am now committing the slippery slope fallacy, but, hey, i’m just a commenter, right!?

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