Category Archives: Charles Krauthammer

Outrage is not an argument

Among the pundits, Charles Krauthammer has a particular authority on questions of bio-medical ethics. As a member of the president’s commission on Bioethics and a medical doctor, he displays a level of scientific understanding and a grasp of the philosophical analysis of the relevant moral concerns which is not generally considered a necessary prerequisite for the national publication of one’s opinions.

This doesn’t stop him, however, from running afoul of the canons and standards of argumentation with which we concern
ourselves here.

Last Friday (Source: WaPo 10/15/04) he jumped on the Senator Edwards bashing bandwagon with an editorial on stem cell research and Edwards’ sloppy comments during a speech earlier last week in Iowa. Here’s the relevant sentence from the speech:

>”If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

It was undoubtedly a poorly formulated claim on an issue that the Kerry campaign has been treating with some degree of care. Krauthammer doesn’t, however, give any credit to Edwards’ intentions.

>In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.

So Krauthammer argues that John Edwards deliberately raised false hope in the catastrophically afflicted for personal gain. We can concede the further, seemingly uncontroversial, claim that such an act is “despicable.” Whether such a “despicable” act is a disqualification for the vice-presidency is a question we cannot address here.

Krauthamer thus needs to show (1) intention to deceive and to profit from the deception and (2) the falsity of the hope.

In a presidential campaign it is easy to infer the second part of (1) from the very fact that Edwards said what he said as a candidate. He seeks to profit from everything he says. But it is much harder to show that Edwards intended to deceive, or to raise “false hope.” Before we turn to consider whether these are “false hopes” or not, it is worth commenting on this political rhetoric.

Politicians like to talk about ends and not the means to attain them when they are campaigning. To put it simplistically, means are boring and often difficult to understand, while ends are inspiring and seductive. From Kennedy’s call to land a human being on the moon, the war against terrorism, or the goal of bringing democracy to the middle east, politicians propose lofty goals leaving the implementation to the policy makers. Hopefully those ends are attainable and beneficial. But there is nothing unusual about politicians promising great benefits that are just down the road–in fact, if they were to abstain from this it isn’t entirely clear what they could still talk about.

But, perhaps there is something particular about the case of the “catastrophically afflicted”? The hopes and desires of the catastrophically afflicted are presumably much more easily played upon by the unscrupulous than our desires to reach the moon (as shown by the failure of Bush’s Kennedy act earlier this year). I cannot easily determine whether promising jobs, affordable housing, or health care, are more like the case the the catastrophically afflicted than the desire to go to the moon. Nevertheless, until we decide whether Edwards was fostering a “false hope” or not we can leave this question aside.

Krauthammer “deconstructs” Edwards’ “outrage” with three points:

>First, the inability of the human spinal cord to regenerate is one of the great mysteries of biology. The answer is not remotely around the corner. It could take a generation to unravel. To imply, as Edwards did, that it is imminent if only you elect the right politicians is scandalous.

This involves a significant mis-characterization of Edward’s claim. He is certainly not arguing that the mere fact of electing Kerry will solve the “great mysteries of biology.” He is, of course, arguing that the ability of researchers to do so has been hampered by Bush’s appeasement of the religious right: Electing Kerry will result in a policy that does not depend upon particular religious beliefs, but instead secular arguments about the status of and necessary protections for embryos. And this in turn, if we believe some scientists working in the field, could bring about clinical trials of some therapies by the end of the decade. Admittedly not imminent, and admittedly not certain, but also not quite as absurd as Krauthammer endeavors to make it seem.

>Second, if the cure for spinal cord injury comes, we have no idea where it will come from. There are many lines of inquiry. Stem cell research is just one of many possibilities, and a very speculative one at that. For 30 years I have heard promises of miracle cures for paralysis (including my own, suffered as a medical student). The last fad, fetal tissue transplants, was thought to be a sure thing. Nothing came of it.

Certainly we do not know what the outcome of this research will be, and Edwards is wrong to state the outcome so assertorically. Nonetheless, there seems good reason to believe that promising therapies may be derived from this research, and that clinical trials of some therapies could begin within a decade. Even Christopher Reeve–who is supposedly being exploited by this sentence–said that with increased funding it is possible–according to unnamed researchers–to have clinical trials for therapies for spinal injuries in six or seven years. (On this, see the discussion of the California stem cell funding ballot initiative in the recent issue of the New Yorker.)

But, this is a matter for experts to decide. If the therapies are unlikely then we should reject funding *on that basis* not on the basis of a religious view that life begins at conception. As they stand, Krauthammer’s arguments look like either arguments from ignorance or fairly weak inductions. We do not know for certain whether the therapies derived from this research will be useful. But from this claim we cannot conclude that therefore the hope is “false” as Krauthammer wants. Only perhaps that Edwards should be more measured and state the point in terms of possibilities not necessities.

So there doesn’t seem to be good reason to believe that Edwards is fostering “false hopes.” Undoubtedly he is fostering hope, and the ground of the hope (that we will discover these cures) should not, perhaps, be promised. But neither of these things make the “hope false.” Or more precisely, neither of the arguments that Krauthammer advances are strong enough to show that the hope is false.

Edwards did not formulate this cautiously and the picture he draws is easy to caricature. Nonetheless, his intentions seem somewhat clear. Bush has limited access to stem cell lines and federal funding. Kerry would reverse that decision, enabling researchers access to the funding that is needed to determine whether these therapies will be available or not. In this case, Edwards is arguing in favor of a means (looser strictures on funding for stem cell research) on the basis of the promise of what might be attained.

The third criticism that Krauthammer advances is the weakest:

>Third, the implication that Christopher Reeve was prevented from getting out of his wheelchair by the Bush stem cell policies is a travesty.

There are two concerns with this. First, there seems no reason to think that this is an “implication” of what Edwards said. Second, contrast this with Reeve’s own words several years ago: “If we’d had full government support, full government funding for aggressive research using embryonic stem cells from the moment they were first isolated, at the University of Wisconsin in the winter of 1998, I don’t think it unreasonable to speculate that we might be in human trials by now,”

Krauthammer’s point here, however, is to defend the Bush position against the suggestion that it has retarded the development of useful therapies. He does this by arguing that there is no ban on stem cell research and that there is not that much likelihood of many of these therapies being developed from stem cell research. On this question we would need to ask the researchers who are affected by the Bush policies, few of whom seem to agree with Krauthammer on either of these points.

But more to the point, Krauthammer himself supports a position essentially identical to Kerry’s and opposed to the Bush administration’s, though he seems to bend over backward to allow his conservative friends to have some purchase on the issue, requiring that their religiously motivated views be treated with an undue degree of respect in this political debate, (and has even attempted to fashion a “secular” argument against stem cell research which he himself does not seem to find convincing (the centerpiece of which is a fairly bad slippery slope argument that is easily countered, see his argument in the New Republic in 2002).
So what is Krauthammer’s argument ultimately? It seems to be that the Kerry campaign wants to use the stem cell research issue for their own political ends. Since the justification of their policy is the possibility of therapies that will help the catastrophically afflicted, their arguments, however carefully they are formulated, will always run afoul of Krauthammer’s concerns. But this does not seem to be a reasonable restriction on political argument. Policies must always be justified by their promise, whether that promise is certain or not.

Perhaps then we are brought back to the wisdom of Bill Clinton–“it all depends on what ‘is’ means”: a sentence perhaps only a lawyer or a philosopher could love. Nonetheless, it contains a lesson that it would behoove Edwards to learn. If he had had said “may possibly walk” rather than “will walk,” there would be less for his political opponents to latch on to in order to divert the debate on this important question of policy. Then we would be having a conversation focussed on the substantive differences between and relative merits of Bush’s and Kerry’s policies, rather than on the supposed immorality of the use of these differences in a stump speech.

What do the terrorists want in a president?

At the center of the Bush re-election campaign is a constellation of arguments that attempt to show that electing Kerry is tantamount to losing the “war on terror.” Some of these arguments focus on Kerry’s character specifically his lack of resolve; Some focus on his supposed unwillingness to do whatever is necessary to protect the United States when it runs in the face of world opinion. The most interesting and probably the most pernicious arguments, however, are those that suggest or outright assert the identity of Kerry’s electoral success and the terrorist’s success. This raises hackles. There seems to be something suspicious, manipulative, and morally suspect about this argument and with good reason, some have recognized a certain similarity to the political tactics of Joseph McCarthy.

Charles Krauthammer (Source: WaPo 10/08/04), however, is incredulous that anyone could even doubt that the terrorists aren’t cheering for Kerry.

>Do the bad guys–the terrorists in their Afghan caves and Iraqi redoubts–want George Bush defeated in the election?

>Of course, the terrorists want Bush defeated. How can anyone pretend otherwise?

Even though we don’t know who the American people want with our incessant polling and analysis, Krauthammer believes that the evidence is so overwhelming that we can know with virtual certainty the electoral preferences of the terrorists.

Michael Kinsley “with his usual drollery” ridiculed this argument in a recent WaPo editorial [(Source: WaPo 9/25/04)](, suggesting first that we have no reason to conclude that Osama bin Laden would prefer one candidate over the other, and second that there is little reason to think that he would prefer Kerry rather than Bush.

But we should examine Krauthammer’s evidence for this conclusion:

>We know the terrorists’ intent and strategy. We saw it on display in Spain, where a spectacular terrorist attack three days before the national election set off the chain of events that brought down a government that had allied itself with the United States. The attack worked perfectly. Within weeks Spain had withdrawn its troops from Iraq.

>Last month, terrorists set off a car bomb outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the middle of a neck-and-neck Australian election campaign and just three days before the only televised debate between the two candidates. The prime minister, John Howard, is a staunch U.S. ally in both Afghanistan and Iraq. His opponent, Mark Latham, has pledged to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq by Christmas.

It seems at first reasonable, perhaps, to conclude that these two acts directed as they were against members of our “coalition” have as their goal affecting the electoral outcomes in these countries. In one case, at least, we know that it did. Whether it was the intention of the perpetrators is perhaps a different question. This could almost become a version of the *post hoc propter hoc* fallacy, if there was not any other evidence (as in fact there is) to support it: The Madrid bombing affected the outcome of the Spanish election. The bombing occured right before the Spanish election. Therefore the intention of the bombing was to affect the Spanish election.

Nevertheless, I am not equipped to to examine the truth or falsity of these premises, only their logical connection to Krauthammer’s conclusion. Let’s grant Krauthammer that the perpetrators of these acts intend or intended to influence these elections. Does that provide any reason to suppose that the terrorists want Bush to lose the election?

I think the interesting step in the argument occurs in a series of rhetorical questions:

>Why are we collectively nervous about terrorism as the election approaches? Because, as everyone knows, there are terrorists out there who would dearly love to hit us before the election. Why? To affect it. What does that mean? Do they want to affect it randomly? Of course not.

Here Krauthammer suggests that the terrorists want to perpetrate an act similar to the Madrid bombing. By analogy this suggests that they want Bush out of office, just as they wanted Jose Marie Aznar out of office. Undoubtedly we are collectively afraid of a similar act on the eve of the presidential election. But do we have reason to be afraid? And more importantly does our fear have any significance in the argument for Krauthammer’s conclusion?

I suspect that this fear plays a significant part in any willingness to grant Krauthammer’s inference. It is extremely hard to separate the truth of the statement once we are afraid of it: the fact that we are afraid of it, suggests immediately to us that it is true (or else we would no longer be afraid). A child who is afraid of the monster under the bed is afraid because he or she thinks that there is or might be a monster under the bed. Our fear of a terrorist attack to upset the election, however, does not mean that the terrorists want to upset the election with an attack. (Of course, it is still possible that there is a monster under the bed).

In a nutshell Krauthammer argues:

1. Terrorists influenced the Spanish election against the incumbent.
2. Terrorists have committed a terrorist act directed at Australia on the eve of the election.
3. Spain, Australia and the U.S. are enemies of the terrorists.
4. We are afraid of a terrorist attack right before the election.
5. Therefore, the terrorists want Bush defeated.

Yet after seemingly drawing this analogical inference, (buttressed by the appeal to our fears) Krauthammer has to point out that the essential point of analogy in fact doesn’t hold in the case of the U.S.

>As Sept. 11 showed, attacking the U.S. homeland would prompt a rallying around the president, whoever he is. America is not Spain. Such an attack would probably result in a Bush landslide.

If this is so, then perhaps there is no reason to infer that because the terrorists aimed to remove Aznar (again assuming that is true) they are aiming to remove Bush. (And we can note in passing that the document found on the internet from December 2003 outlining the strategy of undermining the coalition explicitly distinguishes between Britain, Poland and the U.S. and the remaining nations. The strategy of affecting policy through terrorism is formulated only for the latter (Source: New Yorker, August 2, 2004)).

But once he has drawn the analogy, he believes that he has shown its truth and thus uses the fact that the terrorists want to oust Bush to explain the escalation of violence in Iraq:

> The enemy is nonetheless far more likely to understand that the way to bring down Bush is not by attack at home but by debilitating guerrilla war abroad, namely in Iraq. Hence the escalation of bloodshed by Zarqawi and Co. It is not just aimed at intimidating Iraqis and preventing the Iraqi election. It is aimed at demoralizing Americans and affecting the American election.

There are many things wrong with this last step, but I will limit myself to two comments:

First, even if it is plausible that part of the intention among some of the insurgents in Iraq is to affect the election, it is seemingly implausible that this is the motivation of the increase in attacks. The causes are far more complex than Krauthammer suggests. Does he really believe that if Bush won, or if there was not an election this year, the insurgency would stop or even just decrease or not have increased in the first place? There is a fundamental confusion about correlation and causation here I think.

Second, there is good reason to question Krauthammer’s use of this elastic and amorphous term “terrorist” to include both al Qaeda and its associates, and the various factions fighting the insurgency in Iraq. It is entirely possible that Osama bin Laden and the insurgency in Iraq have very different desires and interests in this case. Osama bin Laden has it seems been immeasurably benefitted by the invasion of Iraq (as Kinsley plausibly argues) and might prefer it to continue indefinitely. The insurgents are presumably less pleased with Bush’s occupation.

So what reason do we have to believe that Krauthammer is right? None whatsoever is supplied by Krauthammer. His argument is ultimately an appeal to the obviousness of the claim contained in the quote with which I started. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. This does not, of course, mean that he is wrong. Only that he has not given us reason to believe that he is right.

If it walks like a duck

Today I’d like briefly to add a few more wrinkles to my colleague’s very clear and perhaps overly charitable analysis of Charles Krauthammer’s abominable and wildly fallacious op-ed of last Friday. In particular, I would like to discuss Krauthammer’s rather devious attempt to identify John Kerry with the terrorists in virtue of the fact that they can be construed to share vaguely similar objectives. While such a strategy often results in the more obviously fallacious ad hominem argument, the frequency of its employment in recent political discourse, and its outrageously erroneous logical structure, warrants a separate discussion.

How does Krauthammer go about this? First he needs to find common ground for Kerry and the terrorists. To this end, after pointing out that two recent terrorist attacks aimed at allies of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (specifically Australia and Spain) seemed geared toward undermining support among coalition members, Krauthammer makes the following startling observation:

That [Abandon America and buy your safety] is what the terrorists are saying. Why is the Kerry campaign saying the same thing? “John Kerry’s campaign has warned Australians that the Howard Government’s support for the US in Iraq has made them a bigger target for international terrorists.” So reports the Weekend Australian (Sept. 18).

Americans Overseas for Kerry is the Kerry operation for winning the crucial votes of Americans living abroad (remember the Florida recount?), including more than 100,000 who live in Australia. Its leader was interviewed Sept. 16 by The Australian’s Washington correspondent, Roy Eccleston. Asked if she believed the terrorist threat to Australians was now greater because of the support for President Bush, she replied: “I would have to say that,” noting that “[t]he most recent attack was on the Australian embassy in Jakarta.”

She said this of her country (and of the war that Australia is helping us with in Iraq): “[W]e are endangering the Australians now by this wanton disregard for international law and multilateral channels.” Mark Latham could not have said it better. Nor could Jemaah Islamiah, the al Qaeda affiliate that killed nine people in the Jakarta bombing.

First of all, the conclusion (which appears in the first paragraph), “the Kerry campaign is saying the same thing,” raises logical eyebrows of its own. For just what is “the same thing”? If it means that the U.S. has erred in invading Iraq, then lots of people (many of them not terrorists) are saying that. If he means that countries who continue to support U.S. policy in Iraq are more likely targets for terrorists, then, again, lots of non-terrorists are saying that. In addition, that is an observation well supported by the evidence (take Jakarta and Madrid, for instance), and not, as Krauthammer might be taken to suggest, a threat on Kerry’s part (for more on that see Friday’s post). So the Kerry campaign, on the analysis of this particular op-ed, is alleging (and correctly too, if we are to take Krauthammer’s own claims about the Madrid and Jakarta bombings as true) that the invasion of Iraq has done more to foment terrorism than end it.

But whether or not Kerry is or is not saying the same (or a substantially similar) thing as the terrorists is beside the point. Why don’t we, for the sake of argument, suppose that to be the case. If we do, we can unveil the more subtle (for Krauthammer avoids directly stating it) but nonetheless devious identification of the Kerry campaign and the terrorists. This identification occurs in two different places in the passage just quoted.

First, there is the obvious “the Kerry campaign is saying the same thing.” And second, we have the less overt, but more pernicious, “Mark Latham [and Jemaah Islamiah] could not have said it better.” In the second instance, the real terrorists may be offended that “disregard for international law and multilateral channels” is being attributed to them as a justification for their terrorism. But never mind that terrorists rarely if ever have such legalistic motives, for Krauthammer’s obvious intention here is to identify the Kerry campaign in some rhetorically underhanded way with terrorists; after all, they both say the same thing. Aside from being just plain false (or too vague), this claim depends on an absolutely specious inference from accidental property to substantial identity.

Let’s illustrate this distinction with a counterexample. Both Bush and Bin Laden consider Saddam Hussein to be their enemy. And let’s say that they even say similar things about him. We should hardly be justified in concluding that their agreement on Saddam is anything more than purely coincidental (they dislike Hussein for radically different reasons). If this is not the case, then, in Krauthammer’s eyes, Bush has a lot of explaining to do.

Mouthpiece for the terrorists?

Kerry’s claims about his ability to garner the support of foreign leaders has engendered healthy skepticism and some unhealthy sneering. Whether Dick Cheney’s demand that Kerry reveal the names of the foreign leaders who would prefer to see change in the White House (not exactly a difficult list to guess at), or the general disbelief that Kerry will be able to persuade foreign nations to place their troops in the increasingly hell like conditions of Iraq, Kerry, remarkably, has managed to seem less convincing on the intuitively obvious criterion of being less disliked by the rest of the world than the incumbent. It boggles the mind that the Kerry campaign could need to run defense on this.

The need for this defense is, in part, the result of some of our most prominent pundits. Charles Krauthammer has added an interesting twist to these attacks on Kerry’s qualifications on foreign policy in today’s Washington Post [(Source: WaPo 09/24/04]( In essence, Krauthammer argues that John Kerry is less able than President Bush to keep our friends and allies–that is, to pursue American interests abroad.

The occasion that prompts this concern is the upcoming election in the only country that has “joined the United States in the foxhole in every war in the past 100 years,” Australia.

> This is a critical election not only for Australia but also for the United States. Think of the effect on America, its front-line soldiers and its coalition partners if one of its closest allies turns tail and runs.

(We should note in passing that Australia’s 800 troops comprise about .2% of the forces on the ground, ranking beneath the Netherlands and the Ukraine.)

Nevertheless, bringing down the coalition by weakening Australia’s resolve is part of the terrorist plot:

> The terrorists are well aware of this potential effect. Everyone knows about the train bombings in Madrid that succeeded in bringing down a pro-American government and led to Spain’s precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. But few here noticed that this month’s car bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia, was designed to have precisely the same effect.

>The terrorists’ objective is to intimidate all countries allied with America. Make them bleed and tell them this is the price they pay for being a U.S. ally. The implication is obvious: Abandon America and buy your safety.

So far, there is little to question in the logic of Krauthammer’s representation of the intentions of some terrorists.

>That is what the terrorists are saying. Why is the Kerry campaign saying the same thing? “John Kerry’s campaign has warned Australians that the Howard Government’s support for the US in Iraq has made them a bigger target for international terrorists.” So reports the Weekend Australian (Sept. 18).

Kerry and the terrorists are speaking with one voice! The rhetorical effect of this move is stunning. Krauthammer is suggesting that Kerry’s message is in agreement with the terrorists. Before we can evaluate the rest of this argument we must ask, what does it mean to say that “the Kerry campaign is saying the same thing?”

First the terrorists are implicitly arguing:

1. Australia does not want to be the victim of terrorist attacks.
2. If Australia does not withdraw from Iraq we will attack them.
3. It is in Australia’s interest to withdraw from Iraq.

On the surface, this looks like an argument involving the appeal to fear or force. (It is not, I think, a logically fallacious argument on account of its “appeal to force.” The tricky thing about the fallacy “to the stick” (“This is true, or I will hit you with my stick”) is that sometimes force is not used to claim something is true, but only to sway the rational calculation of the listener. This does not necessarily make the argument fallacious. It may be immoral (or illegal) but not necessarily fallacious. More on this sometime later.) Nevertheless the terrorists are certainly making a threat.

But threats and reporting of threats are two different “speech acts.” If I tell you, “Do not cut across my neighbor’s property because he shoots trespassers,” it is obviously not “saying the same thing” as “do no cut across my property or I will shoot you.”

Krauthammer ignores or conceals the difference between these two “speech acts” in order to create the impression that Kerry and the terrorists agree, and that Kerry is somehow complicit in the threat that the terrorists are making. This is, as it stands, a fairly silly argument, and a transparent ad hominem fallacy resting on a fallacy of ambiguity.

It only becomes something to take seriously when we add some additional premises that show that when Kerry says this, he is being disloyal to our allies. When we make this additional inference we reach a nice clear ad hominem argument.

1. Kerry argues that Australia is less safe for its participation in the occupation of Iraq.
2. Kerry trivializes our allies’ “great political courage.”
3. It is disloyal to our allies to trivialize their sacrifice.
4. Therefore, Kerry is disloyal to our allies.

In fact, as this analysis shows, the first premise (and hence the first 3/4 of the editorial) is entirely spurious to the actual argument that Krauthammer is making (remove it and the argument stands such as it is). It has the effect of rhetorically preparing the ground for the attack on Kerry’s character through the conflation revealed above.

The justification of the second premise above is:

>[Kerry] calls these allies the “coalition of the coerced and the bribed.” This snide and reckless put-down more than undermines our best friends abroad. It demonstrates the cynicism of Kerry’s promise to broaden our coalition in Iraq. If this is how Kerry repays America’s closest allies — ridiculing the likes of Tony Blair and John Howard — who does he think is going to step up tomorrow to be America’s friend?

This would seem to be a question about the ultimate motivation of our coalition partners. When Kerry claims that they were “coerced and bribed” he suggests that they did not join the coalition virtuously, out of their abiding love of the U.S., but out of a more self-interested calculation. Or more importantly it is to say that the countries of the world did not, as perhaps they did in 1991, decide on independent grounds that this war was in both their individual and collective interest. Whether pointing this out is a mark of “disloyalty” is not immediately apparent.

What Krauthammer really needs to argue is that Kerry cannot strengthen the United States diplomatically. This would involve substantive argument that considers Kerry’s proposals, such as they are, and asks whether we will be more or less disliked by the rest of the world under Kerry’s proposals than under President Bush’s. In the last few sentences, Krauthammer considers this question.

>Kerry abuses America’s closest friends while courting those, like Germany and France, that have deliberately undermined America before, during and after the war. What lessons are leaders abroad to draw from this when President Kerry asks them — pretty please in his most mellifluous French — to put themselves on the line for the United States?

Leaving aside the abusive *ad hominem* aside (presumably Krauthammer thinks that speaking “mellifluous French” is some sort of character flaw–if so, I don’t want to be good), the argument comes down to the claim:

  • Foreign countries will not contribute to the rebuilding effort in Iraq under Kerry because they will see that he has snubbed other allies.

Whether this is true or not I cannot determine. But when all is said and done this is the limit of the substantive argument of Krauthammer’s editorial.

I would like to end by pointing to Jessica Matthews editorial in the Washington Post yesterday [Source: WaPo 09/23/04]( which contained three concrete proposals for changing our policy in Iraq that would plausibly address some of the motivations of the insurgents: a promise by the administration (backed-up by “transparent mechanism” not to profit from Iraqi oil; removal of the U.S. embassy from Baghdad and distancing of U.S. policy and the provisional government’s policy; pledge not to permanently base troops in Iraq and cessation of construction on the 14 bases currently planned.)

Ad hominem in Reverse!

Today’s Krauthammer presents us with an interesting example of what we might call a reverse ad hominem fallacy. But before that, a little straightforward ad hominem, just to get going:

Actually, this time around, even more apoplectic. The Democrats’ current disdain for George Bush reminds me of another chess master, Efim Bogoljubov, who once said, “When I am White, I win because I am White” — White moves first and therefore has a distinct advantage — “when I am Black, I win because I am Bogoljubov.” John Kerry is a man of similar vanity — intellectual and moral — and that spirit thoroughly permeates the Democratic Party.

So the basic strategy is to heap up abuse on the Democratic candidate. Nothing new or interesting about that. We all know that Kerry has arguments for his positions and that these arguments should be examined on their merits. The same naturally is the case for the Republican candidate, George W. Bush. But herein lies Krauthammer’s trick. Ignoring the arguments of the Republican candidate, Krauthammer instead accuses the “liberals as a body” of engaging in vicious and groundless attacks on Bush himself:

The loathing goes far beyond the politicians. Liberals as a body have gone quite around the twist. I count one all-star rock tour, three movies, four current theatrical productions and five bestsellers (a full one-third of the New York Times list) variously devoted to ridiculing, denigrating, attacking and devaluing this president, this presidency and all who might, God knows why, support it.

So what we have is the claim that the opposition’s arguments are nothing but vicious ad hominem personal attacks and as such not worth pondering even for a moment. Now to some extent–sometimes to a great extent indeed–these sorts of attacks do take place. But in the sources alluded to here–and indeed in any serious discussion of the current election–arguments are put forward, evidence is offered, and conclusions drawn (justifiably or not). The arguments, like all arguments, deserve in civil political society to be examined on their merits. Broadly generalizing–generalizing hastily–that all such attacks are ad hominem is to make their arguments seem weaker than they might (“might” becuase no attempt is made to address their claims) actually be. As far as rhetorical dirty tricks goes, this is not only one of the dirtiest, but also one of the cleverest. You accuse the opposition of a being intellectually irreponsible, and so force him or her on the defensive. This may play well on a cable TV shoutfest, but its printed form only too quickly shows it to be absolute nonsense.

et tu quoque Krauthammer?

Charles Krauthammer loves you too, I mean, tu quoque:

Strange. I do not remember any of these critics complaining about the universally hailed Oslo peace accords that imposed upon the Palestinians a PLO government flown in from Tunisia composed nearly entirely of political exiles.

Now I suppose the conclusion of the argument is that since these critics (note how they are unspecified–who is he talking about?) said nothing about the PLO exiles negotiating with Isreal, then lest they be hypocrites they better be quiet now that Iraqi exiles are doing the same thing. Well, even if it is true that every single critic of the Iraqi exiles wholeheartedly embraced the idea of PLO exiles negotiating with Israel, the two cases are hardly similar enough–or jeez, even if they are similar, very similar indeed–he has done nothing to counter the argument “these critics” are making. So they changed their mind. One must still demonstrate that they are wrong.