An interesting weak man argument

Jonah Goldberg has a nice piece over at National Review Online about the way the recently upheld Affordable Care Act has been received at National Public Radio.  He picks out Julie Rovner's question about whether there are really any losers in the decision.  She eventually concludes that there aren't any.  Goldberg can't hold himself back:

It is an interesting perspective given that this is arguably the most controversial law in our lifetimes. It nearly sparked a constitutional crisis, helped cause the Democrats to lose their majority in the House, and, despite herculean efforts by the president to “sell” the law . . .  And yet, according to Rovner, the law creates only winners if properly implemented. Why on earth are its opponents so stupid?  For the record, there are losers under Obamacare. Here’s a short list: ….

He then goes on with your expected list (taxpayers…it's a tax, you see, Catholics who see part of the law as subsidizing condom use, and people at the bottom of the slippery slope of medication rationing).  This, so far, isn't what's good about Goldberg's column.  In fact, so far, it's just his usual schlocky version of what a dumb person would think a smart person would say about the issue and about the opposition.  But then he surprises:

Obamacare defenders have responses to these objections, and critics have responses to those responses. Still: Serious people do believe that the law creates — or just might create — losers, a fact Rovner might have mentioned.

I don’t mean to pick on Rovner. Her views on Obamacare don’t strike me as exceptional so much as typical — typical of a liberal Washington establishment that still seems incapable of grasping what the fuss is about.

This is nice, except for his saying that he doesn't mean to 'pick on' Rovner.  That, of course, is ridiculous — he's making an example of her. That's not wrong, nor is it worth making a big deal about not doing it.   Rather, what's nice is that Goldberg sees that this isn't the best the other side can do in the debate, but that it's typical of what the other side does in the debate.  That's a good observation, one that shows some real self-awareness and also dialectical sensitivity.  You have to disabuse your audience of the bad but widely made arguments before you can get to the good but infrequently given arguments. 




3 thoughts on “An interesting weak man argument”

  1. Except… I think Goldberg was actually trying to argue that Rovner's arguments, so predictable and mundane that "critics [already] have responses to those responses", are the best that "Washington establishment" liberals can muster – that as a class they're too stupid (his word) or too blind (a charitable expansion of his assertion) to see the truth that's right in front of them.

  2. Hey Aaron, this seems accurate observation.  As if to say: I know this isn't the best the opposition can do, but so why don't they do better? 
    This is the trouble with seeing some versions of weak manning as dialectically useful: they, to play their appropriate role, must focus on the worst of the other side to address them, and in the process risk painting the other side with the wide brush.  I think Goldberg is more careful about the generalizing move than you see it as — he tries to restrict the point to the rhetorical move made by Rovner and her ilk, not to the state of the art on the issue.  But this may be a 'methinks he doth protest too much' moment on my part.

  3. Scott,

    Yours is an interesting and I think correct observation about Goldberg's dialectical move.  If only people such as him did this more often, we'd have better arguments. 

    Goldberg's move would be even stronger if he were honest about how Obamacare came to be: it came to be as the law Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats could support, but not the one liberals wanted.  Typical liberals do not embrace it without skepticism or cautious pragmatism.  This does not mean Rovner's "view" (if you can call it that) is not weak.

    In the end, the Liberal Washington Establishment wonders why Mitt Romney's plan wasn't good enough, or why it is socialism, or fascism, or whatever the leading Republican types said it was. 

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