Category Archives: Politicians

Logical fallacies straight from the horse’s mouth.

Speak directly to the folks

Bill Kristol barely makes sense even when he's shilling for his candidate:

As for the campaign, Palin made clear — without being willing to flat out say so — that she regretted allowing herself to be overly handled and constrained after the Republican convention. She described the debate on Thursday night as “liberating,” and she emphasized how much she now looked forward to being out there, “getting to speak directly to the folks.”

Since she seemed to have enjoyed the debate, I asked her whether she’d like to take this opportunity to challenge Joe Biden to another one.

There was a pause, and I thought I heard some staff murmuring in the background (we were on speaker phones). She passed on the notion of a challenge. But she did say she was more than willing to accept an invitation to debate with Biden again, and even expressed a preference for a town hall meeting-type format.

In addition to the very perplexing murmuring, is the idea that somehow a debate is an opportunity to speak directly to the folks.  It isn't–you're supposed to engage with the other candidate.  That's the point.  It's clear that she doesn't get it and Kristol doesn't even care.


Poor in spirit

Sorry McCain fan or fans, it's hard not to make fun of this:

“I define rich in other ways besides income,” he said. “Some people are wealthy and rich in their lives and their children and their ability to educate them. Others are poor if they’re billionaires.”

That may be.  When the question is tax policy (as it most certainly was) however, there's only one kind of rich that counts–the kind with 7 or 10 or more houses, and 270,000 a year on household staff expenses.


Challenging someone's credibility when that person's credibility is relevant to whether or not one should believe him or her does not constitute an ad hominem attack.  Someone ought to tell John Bolton, whose credibility in matters of foreign affairs ought to have suffered for the Iraq debacle.  Well, someone did.  An interviewer asked whether Americans would be rightly skeptical of the administration and its minions'  claims about Iran's military intentions.  And here is how Bolton responded:

Absolutely not! And by the way, the credibility point is an ad hominem reference. And certainly ad hominem attacks in American politics are nothing new.  But to address the merits of the argument requires a response on the merits, not an ad hominem attack.

No it's not an ad hominem attack.  An ad hominem argument uses irrelevant information about the person making an argument to discredit them–whether one should believe Bolton's doomsday rhetoric about Iran is certainly relevant.  

You can hear the audio here

Water Bored

Senator Kit Bond of Missouri on waterboarding:

GWEN IFILL: I just would like to — but do you think that waterboarding, as I described it, constitutes torture?

SEN. KIT BOND: There are different ways of doing it. It's like swimming, freestyle, backstroke. The waterboarding could be used almost to define some of the techniques that our trainees are put through, but that's beside the point. It's not being used.

There are some who say that, in extreme circumstances, if there is threat of an imminent major attack on the United States, it might be used, but I certainly would not favor it in any circumstance…

Is it like freestyle and backstroke swimming because water is involved?  Or is it like those things because there are different ways of doing it?  This is more than just a perverse water analogy.  It's a complete non sequitur–the question asks whether water boarding as Ifill described it is torture, but Senator Bond replies to a different question–and then suggests his reply is besides the point.  Maybe we could put this another way.

GI: Do you eat herring, Sen. B?

Sen B. There are lots of kinds of herring–pickled, creamed, smoked.  But the different kinds of herring has nothing to do with this.  My store doesn't carry herring.

Maybe there are circumstances in which herring could be sold at my store, but I wouldn't favor that. 

Nods head

Two comments on torture.  First, President Bush:

BUSH: First of all, whatever we have done, was legal. And whatever decision I will make, will be reviewed by the Justice Department to determine whether or not the legality is is there. And the reason why…there’s a difference between what happened in the past and today is there’s new law. And um, and so to answer your question, whatever we will do will be legal. The American people have got to know that what we did in the past gained information that prevented an attack and for those who criticize what we did in the past, I ask them which attack would they rather have not permitted…stopped? Which attack on America would they have said, you know, well, maybe that wasn’t all that important? That we stopped those attacks. I’ll do what’s necessary to protect America within the law. That’s what you gotta understand. And um, [nods head]

Not surprisingly, that doesn't make any sense.  What we did was legal, but the major difference between then and now is that there is a law, making what we will do legal–unlike before, when it was legal.  That's why there is a law.

Now from someone who has been waterboarded:

Waterboarding has, unfortunately, become a household word. Back then, we didn't call it waterboarding we called it "water torture." We recognized it as something the United States would never do, whatever the provocation. As a nation, we must ask our leaders, elected and appointed, to be aware of such horrors; we must ask them to stop the narrow and superficial thinking that hinges upon "legal" definitions and to use common sense. Waterboarding is torture, and torture is clearly a crime against humanity.

I guess they used to call it "torture."  Glad we don't call it torture anymore.

I’m only saying this because

Today I want to steal from the Daily Howler, Bob Somerby, because yet again he demonstrates the critical acumen of ten male persons.  He writes:

MADDOW MIND-READS MOTIVE: Quick disclaimer: We have an extremely low opinion of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, a “progressive woman” who was willing to pander to Chris Matthews to land a key media spot. Disclaimer offered, let us say this: Appearing on Olbermann’s post-debate show, Maddow gave us an excellent look at the role of “motive journalism.”

Simply put: Pundits typically attribute “motive” to candidates whom they disfavor. [emphasis nonseq.]

At issue was Obama and Clinton’s discussion of the way illegal immigration affects working-class wages, specifically for African-Americans. (This issue was specifically raised by a question. Sorry: Transcripts aren’t available yet.) To simplify things a bit (but not much), Obama said that illegal immigrants don’t harm working-class blacks all that much. Clinton said she disagreed, and she said that all such groups will gain from comprehensive reform.

Why did the solons state these views? Let’s start with an obvious possibility; it may be that they stated these views because they actually believe them.  [bolded emphasis nonseq.] (As far as we know, academic research is a mixed bag on such questions.) But when Maddow was asked to share her views, she quickly began to trash Clinton’s motives, using extremely unpleasant code language. Clinton had been deliberately “driving a wedge,” she informed us, over and over. That’s right, Rachel—and Chris Matthews may well be the most brilliant man in the world.

Let’s understand how this works.

A mind-reader could have attributed “motive” to either Clinton or Obama. You could say that Obama was kissing up to Hispanic voters, for example, or that Clinton was courting African-Americans. But in the world of people like Maddow, “motive” is typically dumped on the head on the candidate who is disfavored. In saying that Clinton was driving a “wedge,” Maddow engaged in some ugly race-baiting—and she said that Clinton had a motive for her remarks. Obama’s “motives” were never considered, as was completely appropriate. [bold nonseq].

By the way: It’s widely held that Clinton needs major support from Hispanic voters next Tuesday. Why would she want to “drive a wedge” in a way which might offend these voters? To us, Maddow’s “analysis” didn’t even make sense. But so what? Typically, pundits like Maddow will mind-read and trash the “motives” of those they disfavor.

Sometimes a disagreement is just a disagreement. In assessing a disagreement like this, decent people will typically start with the thought that candidates may simply believe what they’ve said. But Rachel Maddow adores Chris Matthews—and she repeatedly, nastily said that Clinton was driving a wedge.

Two things.  First, this is what makes so much political reporting absolutely unreadable or unwatchable.  Candidates say things, they make arguments, stake out positions, and so forth, and between them and us stands a group of specialized interpreters who tell us what the candidates trying to say, or how people will take what they're trying to say, or, what is worse, why they're saying it.  The most basic question–whether what the candidate says is true or plausible or possible or sensible is a completely different question.  

Second, I think Somerby is on to something when he says we ascribe motive to people we disagree with–although I think pundits of the Chris Matthews variety ascribe it to everyone–that's their job, such as they think it is.  But Somerby's more basic point is that people who agree with you have reasons for their positions–they agree with you because you're right.  All of your beliefs are true, of course, as are all of mine.  But people who disagree with you fall into another category–the explanatory category.  This is different from the justificatory category into which you fall.  People who have false beliefs–obviously false ones because they're not like yours–should be accounted for and explained.  They believe those things because they "want to drive a wedge" or "want to appear" or "because they were raised that way" or "because of their experiences."  Try doing the opposite–give justifications for views you don't agree with and explanations for those beliefs you hold.

I only give this advice because I'm a logic teacher.

Simply saying

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee shows the world that the WMD fiasco can remain a never-ending source of hilarity.  He first alleged that the weapons were spirited out to Jordan (our ally), when asked (by Fox News of all organizations) whether he has any evidence of that, he replies:

I don’t have any evidence. [Saddam] was the one who announced openly he had weapons of mass destruction. He’s the one who had used similar weapons in the past. Let’s remember that both Democrats and Republicans and our intelligence agencies believed that he had them.

My point was that, no, we didn’t find them. Did they get into Syria? Did they get into some remote area of Jordan? Did they go some other place? We don’t know. They may not have existed. But simply saying — we didn’t find them so therefore they didn’t exist — is a bit of an overreach.

Not quite.  It's not a matter of simply saying, but rather simply scouring the country, then re-examining the evidence for simply saying they had WMD,then, and only then finally simply saying, gee, oops, I suppose we were wrong about that.  Boy is our face red.

Annus horribilis

The Washington Post listed their 10 most viewed opinions of the year.  A couple were by Dan Froomkin.  The winner was, however, an article by Liz, daughter of the VP, Cheney (in the original op-ed, she was not identified as his daughter–which, if you follow the link, led to rather silly slippery slope arguments by the perpetually permalosa Post Ombudsman, Deborah Howell.  To its rare credit, the Post doesn't make any claims about the quality of the top ten.  Nor should they.  Here's just a sample of Cheney's razor sharp mind:

· We are at war. America faces an existential threat. This is not, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has claimed, a "situation to be solved." It would be nice if we could wake up tomorrow and say, as Sen. Barack Obama suggested at a Jan. 11 hearing, "Enough is enough." Wishing doesn't make it so. We will have to fight these terrorists to the death somewhere, sometime. We can't negotiate with them or "solve" their jihad. If we quit in Iraq now, we must get ready for a harder, longer, more deadly struggle later.

As one of my grad profs (rightly) said (to me): italicizing doesn't make it any clearer.  The rest of the paragraph just runs together any number of basic logical fallacies–straw man, equivocation, false dichotomy, false cause, and so on.  For a good year end laugh at Cheney's expense–read the rest.

Happy New Year to all.

**After writing this, I realized I had mentioned this article before, but this is all I had to say about it:

It’s hard to have a conversation about the foolishness of ever having started the war in Iraq without running into people who accuse you of not wanting to win. I suppose they (probably purposely) confuse you’re believing you’re right about an unwinnable war with your wishing reality would conform to your beliefs. You–the opposer of the Iraq war–think rather that your belief corresponds in some philosophically uninteresting way with reality–not t’other way round. Such a basic confusion is the only explanation behind Liz Cheney’s guest op-ed in the Washington Post.

I'd say the same thing again today.  

Happy New Year again to everyone.

Serious religious thinker

As objectionable as Mitt Romney’s “Kennedy” speech was (e.g., “Freedom requires religion“), it couldn’t be worse than David Brooks’ analysis of it:

> He insisted that the faithful should stick stubbornly to their religions, as he himself sticks to the faith of his fathers. He insisted that God-talk should remain a vibrant force in the public square and that judges should be guided by the foundations of their faith. He lamented the faithlessness of Europe and linked the pro-life movement to abolition and [non-gay, non-immigrant, non-muslim, eds.] civil rights, just as evangelicals do.

>It is not always easy to blend an argument for religious liberty with an argument for religious assertiveness, but Romney did it well. Yesterday, I called around to many of America’s serious religious thinkers — including moderates like Richard Bushman of Columbia, and conservatives like Neuhaus and Robert George of Princeton. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about the speech, some of them wildly so.

I wonder what qualifies one as a “serious” religious thinker. In the minds of many serious thinkers I know (but I didn’t call around and ask), no religious person is a serious thinker–they’re either not serious, or they’re not really a thinker, or both. Ok, that was kind of a joke. The more perplexing thing here is what Brooks means by “well.”

To return to the remark I opened with, how could Romney claim with a straight face that “freedom requires religion” constitutes a premise in argument for religious liberty? It’s obviously anything but, since it denies what it’s trying to prove. Any serious thinker on this matter might tell you that, however.

Then of course there’s this:

>We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

If it’s a religion, albeit a new one, then doesn’t it follow that it’s necessary for freedom? I’m confused.

Via crucis

Mike Huckabee, bass-playing former Governor of Arkansas and actual Republican Presidential candidate, found another use for Jesus on the cross:

>”Interestingly enough, if there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, ‘This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency.’ ”

That’s not an argument for capital punishment, but for unjust capital punishment, unless, of course, Jesus was guilty.