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."


2 thoughts on “He’s a decent family man and citizen*”

  1. I think you hold a obvious double standard. 
    For you, conservative portrayals of liberal views typically are "weak-manning" and "nutpicking".
    Also, for you, liberal portrayals of conservative views typically are sound and legitimate criticisms. (Because, I mean, after all, Rush Limbaugh said so, right?)
    I think a lot the criticisms made here ostensibly are about the form of the argument but in actuality are disagreements about the facts of reality. What is a fair portrayal of a liberal views? What is a fair portrayal of conservative views? I think those are complicated questions that are often oversimplified here.
    For clarity, not that it matters, I'm a fan of the website; I just often disagree with the arguments made here.  

  2. You raise an interesting point, but I disagree.  Rush Limbaugh is a de facto spokesperson for the Republican Party.  My evidence for this is that anyone who has criticized him has had to apologize immediately.  Glenn Beck, unfortunately, has legions of followers, Sarah Palin is popular among 37 percent of them.  They are nuts, but there isn't any picking.

    Now it turns out that their views are weak–I think and you think–but they're too representative to be "weak mans."  That's just they're view.  Now in this case CK names some arguments which I admit people have made.  But these are not, on any honest interpretation of the facts, the best arguments the alleged liberal intelligentsia has to offer.  Nor are they offered by spokespeople of the RL or SP popularity or calibre.  They're offered by anonymous bloggers or commenters on blogs. 

    You're right, of course, that these are questions of empirical judgement.  Of course they are.  These are informal arguments, they necessarily involve those kinds of questions.  And besides, the difference between a straw man and fair criticism is mostly context. 

    My argument here, as I tried but perhaps failed to make clear here, is that at least the Newspaper pundit ought to have a higher standard for public discourse.  If CK wants to attack nameless commenters, then why doesn't he just troll on someone's blog?

    Now I appreciate your being a fan here.  But if you think CK is not straw manning here (weak man style), then the burden's on you. 

    General "you're biased" criticisms are lame–and besides, read the section called "our bias."

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