I thought this segment of the Daily Show underscored just what distinguishes it from much of the rest of Cable TV media.  Despite being a comedy show, they somehow managed, by the art of just stopping and thinking for a second, to show just how awful an arguer Paul Ryan is.  For Ryan, the former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, accused Obama of straw manning him in his inaugural address.  From the Washington Post:

“I think when the president does kind of a switcheroo like that, what he’s trying to say is that we’re maligning these programs that people have earned throughout their working lives,” Ryan said. “So, it’s kind of a convenient twist of terms to try and shadowbox a straw man in order to win an argument by default, is essentially what that rhetorical device is that he uses, over and over and over.”

Yes, I found that incoherent as well.  In any case, the Daily Show pointed out in exquisite detail just how accurate Obama had been in referring to (without naming) Ryan.  Here’s Jonathan Chait doing the same thing.

Obviously Obama hasn’t done anything wrong.  So Ryan’s accusation of fallacy is specious.  Worse, it’s a akin to flopping: calling foul when there isn’t one is itself a kind of fallacious move, an attempt to sidetrack the conversation.  It deserves its own name.  Anyone?

Flopping is annoying in sports and it’s annoying in argument.  There should be some kind of penalty.


3 thoughts on “Flopper”

  1. I’ve seen this several times recently, a preemptive, fallacious accusation of a straw man. Michael Gerson tried the same tactic with Obama’s inauguration speech. In another case (on Facebook), the accuser had initiated the “debate” with one of those political meme pics; it offered a false analogy on gun control (arguably a straw man, and mildly inflammatory), and had one of his points rebutted with an on-target reductio ad absurdum, which he then incorrectly labeled a straw man. He was wrong (and the whole thing was ironic), but he was sincere (nice guy with dumb politics). In Ryan’s case, knowing his track record (and that he’s used this tactic before), I’d say bad faith is in play.

    I agree there should be a term, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a catchy one. “Flopping” probably works. I’m not sure “Crying Scarecrow” (crying wolf/straw man) rolls off the tongue, and you may need a general term for any incorrect accusation of fallacy. I’ve used “Rove Reversal” for “accusing your opponent of what you’re guilty of,” but I’m not sure that’s ideal here.

  2. Hi Batocchio,

    Thanks for the comment–“Crying scarecrow” is perfect, I think. Flopping works by analogy. As to the other part of your comment, I think you also raise an interesting point about straw manning. Perhaps it is a natural tendency for the holder of a losing position (any position) to cry scarecrow, as a defeated position can never be her position–her position is smart and made sense to them. So if you show for instance that it’s mathematically impossible that the 47 percent of Romney fame not include people living on justly earned (though paltry) Social Security (as well as others), you will claim that you did not mean them, because that sounds bad. This is pretty much what Ryan is doing. In this environment, however, critical engagement will never work. One will wonder why she should bother.

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