Some say

Now that a Democrat is President, some Republicans and other conservatives have rediscovered the fine art of logical analysis.  I think that is something we ought to applaud.  But their memories are short and their skills are rusty.  Take for example the following pot-and-kettle peice from a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, Noam Neusner.  He writes:

Some people get quoted in presidential speeches by writing heartfelt letters to the president about personal loss, or by doing something heroic, like landing a plane in the icy Hudson River.

I just sit in the Oval Office, and mouth off to President Barack Obama, one inanity after the next. And sure enough, my words—word for word, mind you!—show up in his biggest speeches.

Who am I? Sotus—Straw man of the United States. I'm Mr. Obama's most trusted rhetorical friend.

In his speeches, Mr. Obama says there are "those" who suggest we "can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures." He suggests there are "some" who are content to let America's economy become, at best, "number two." He says that on health care, "some people" think we should do nothing.

Listen, there is no "some people." He's just quoting me, Sotus.

Like William Safire before him, Mr.Neusner confuses not naming your opponent specifically with the straw man (well, actually the hollow man).  They're different.  See, Presidents don't typically name their opponents in arguments.  George W.Bush, the man for whom the author of this clueless piece wrote words, did it all of the time–in speeches.  Sometimes, of course, and Mr.Neusner is right about this, the "some" is more fantastical than others.  Sometimes, however, the "some" is almost exactly the platform of the opposition.  Skipping a few paragraphs (as always folks, I expect you read the entire piece I discuss!):

And then there was the nice talk we had right before that historic January afternoon, when he was sworn in. I turned to him and said: "Mr. President-elect, our system of government can really only tolerate small plans, and limited ambitions." Think how good it felt to hear my own words echoing across the Mall: "There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done." Good one, Mr. President!   

As an assignment for the folks at home, try to identify whose views is accurately characterized by that bolded part.  For that matter, do that with the rest of this piece.  Just for fun.  And just to close out with a little bit of absolutely justifiable tu quoque:

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Guess who said that?  More here.

10 thoughts on “Some say”

  1. "See, Presidents don't typically name their opponents in arguments."
    I couldn't agree more. I personally dislike the word "some"; however, I think one can use it as long as the identity of "some" is obvious.

  2. What is the rhetorical difference between (a) "some say" and (b) "one could/might argue?" The latter is used by philosophers all the time. I recognize that there is a difference, but I can't really see what it might be. The former simply has a claim about the existence of the interlocutor, but they both seem to serve the same purpose: raising an objection that is worth countering. If (a) is followed by a claim that no one holds, or that is a distorted representation of some legitimate view, then it is a strawman. If (b) is followed by the same claim, it is not. What about (b) makes such a claim suddenly (apparently) legitimate, other than it's conditionality?

  3. Hey Jem,

    There could be no difference, if the interlocutor is a likely or plausible.  This is often but not always the case with Obama's "some says".  I think the one might could argue then absurdity would be the same as the hollow man some say.  I mean, what's the point of "one could argue that the Twin Towers were felled by government agents. . . "?

  4. Right, but the straw man/hollow man is a fallacy of ambiguity that requires there being a correct representation of an actual or possible (reasonable) argument in order for the ambiguity to take place. Whereas, the "one might/could" claim is evaluated based on the reasonableness of the counterargument in relation to the view being promoted, as in, "is it relevant to the conversation?" In it's absurd form, the fallacy committed would be what, then? A Red Herring?

  5. Well, typically the straw/hollow man is a fallacy of relevance. Now the relevance issue can be construed relative to particular arguments or to the general background of reasonableness presumed to obtain. I think the latter issue is relevant here.

  6. So, if I got this right, you're arguing that Obama's "some" is usually an accurate description of the "opposition" (whom?):
    "Sometimes, however, the "some" is almost exactly the platform of the opposition."
    But this is rife with problems. Defining the opposition isn't exactly easy. Is it the GOP, Heritage Foundation, Tea Party types, and/or FOX News? Do they have the same argument? Are there better forms of their argument? How does one determine whether the "some" is accurate? Scientific polling? More likely, we define the "some" from our own experience. 
    Defining the "some" from experience is difficult; something so immense is hard to judge. What you perceive as the "some" could be simply what you're looking for, like: "look there are certainly a lot of my type of car on the road today!" From my own experience, I know that people, including (of course) myself, tend to define the "some" of their "opposition" far less charitably than they define the group that they themselves make up. How are you certain (loose sense of "certain") that this isn't the case here? 
    (please excuse me if I accidently posted this twice)

  7.  You make a good point, Tristan, in that it may be difficult to determine who it is (and that there are several distinct opposition groups).  But it's only difficult when the "some" is a hollow man "some."  My own sense is that Obama's "some" is less inaccurate as a rule than Bush's, but, as you correctly point out, that is an empirical claim we can determine by a more comprehensive investigation.  In the article cited, for instance, I bet we can find mainstream Republicans holding some variation of all of the views he mentions–think, for instance, of the small government types ("government is the problem!" or "I'm from the government, I'm here to help!" "drown it in a bathtub" or "we have the best medical care in the world!").

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