Someone quipped the other day that whatever we do in the wake of Saturday's massacre (not tragedy), we must not consider what might have caused it. And so, George Will:
It would be merciful if, when tragedies such as Tucson's occur, there were a moratorium on sociology. But respites from half-baked explanations, often serving political opportunism, are impossible because of a timeless human craving and a characteristic of many modern minds.
Well, I say all men by nature desire to know. I'd also say the very frequency of mass casualty attacks means they fall into the "things deserving explanation category." It's "tragedies" plural, after all.
Who can blame George Will (and the rest of the pack of Wapo conservatives); no one likes to be associated with psychos. As someone else quipped (on twitter of all places): if they're looking for advice on how to manage the unjust assocation, maybe they can ask Muslims. If someone holds beliefs remotely similar to yours, after all, you're guilty unless you spend all day every day distancing yourself from them. Well, that's the way it is for Muslims, at least.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make today was already made by smarter and more articulate people. So I'll just repeat most of what they said.
While calling for caution, honesty, and rigor in attributing specific causes to the events in Tucscon, George Will casts caution to the wind in interpreting the words of others. He writes:
Three days before Tucson, Howard Dean explained that the Tea Party movement is "the last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity." Rising to the challenge of lowering his reputation and the tone of public discourse, Dean smeared Tea Partyers as racists: They oppose Obama's agenda, Obama is African American, ergo . . .
Let us hope that Dean is the last gasp of the generation of liberals whose default position in any argument is to indict opponents as racists. This McCarthyism of the left – devoid of intellectual content, unsupported by data – is a mental tic, not an idea but a tactic for avoiding engagement with ideas. It expresses limitless contempt for the American people, who have reciprocated by reducing liberalism to its current characteristics of electoral weakness and bad sociology.
By way of analogy, which is a kind of argument, I might pick out eleven words from Erick Erickson or Glenn Beck, or whoever, that suggest one ought to take up arms against the government. But that wouldn't be fair, would it? Well in their case it just appears to be plainly true. Anyway, the point is that Dean was making a more nuanced point that Will's slimy quotation suggests. And so we have, I think, the beginnings of a classic representational form straw man. It begins with pure distortion directly attributed to someone else. But this one has, I think, a key feature of the fallacious straw man–the employment of the distortion to close the argument–which is exactly what Will does. It's not enough, in other words, that Dean's contribution to the Tea Party discourse blows. He's also a moron for offering it, a moron not worthy of further serious intellectual engagement.