Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Attack of the Straw Men

Homeland Discourse Security Bulletin: Attack of the Straw Men

The Fear of All Sums has raised the Fallacy Alert Level to RED in response to what is being described as “steadily intensifying chatter” emanating from extreme right-wing elements in the American government, raising fears of a premeditated plot by cells operating domestically intent on confusing and obscuring urgent life and death issues of war and peace. An alert level of RED indicates the maximum risk of insults to our collective intelligence by our duly selected leaders in Washington in the service of these dastardly rhetorical goals.

Citizens are being asked to be diligent and observant in order to help identify these insidious schemes as they develop as well as their perpetrators, so as to avoid falling prey to their evil designs. Reference is made to this handy guide which details the operational methods employed by these hobgoblins of obfuscation and catalogues their stockpile of weapons of mass deception, which have already proven to be some of the most deadly rhetorical devices ever devised.

Particular attention is focused on this entry:

Straw Man

A straw man argument is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, and then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact misleading, because the opponent's actual argument has not been refuted.

A straw man "argument" is a bogus, distorted or deliberately flawedso it can be more easily attacked, delegitimized and disassembled (hence the straw man metaphor) before the eyes and ears of an otherwise impartial audience unfamiliar with the facts and history of an issue or case.
interpretation of an otherwise valid position that has been altered

Based on our intelligence -- by that we do not mean “new information obtained secretly”, we mean actual intelligence -- it is this particular technique that we have reason to believe poses the most immediate threat to national discourse at this time, as indicated by recent events.

Exhibit A:

At a recent White House press conference, President George W. Bush gave this response when asked by a reporter what the war in Iraq has to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:

Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq…

Now, the question is how do we succeed in Iraq? And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.

STRAW MAN #1: “Nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack.” - Take a look at what Bush has done here. He has very carefully reframed the terms of the debate in order create a point he can easily refute and falsely attribute to his critics. No one has ever accused his administration of saying Saddam ordered the attacks. But it is painfully, maddeningly obvious that he and his administration have repeatedly conflated Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda – and continue to do so – while intentionally hyping lies about a "collaborative relationship" between the two. I don’t need to go into details here. It’s all been well-documented.

STRAW MAN #2: “And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.” – This is one that’s been, and will continue to be, repeated over and again without even a hint of a challenge from the mass media, the idea that those who oppose the war simply want to leave a vacuum in Iraq. Absent from this argument is possibility of replacing the American presence, the main instigator of the “insurgency”, with an international force or a force composed of Arab nations. Absent also is the possibility of moving the US force out but keeping them near enough to respond to emergencies. But most importantly, absent from this is the main point. The war itself was the mistake. The war itself is the cause of everything that is going wrong there. Every act of terrorism and violence that we’re witnessing today is the direct result of George W. Bush’s policies.

Exhibit B:

Last Tuesday Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada – another Bushiite bravely taming hostile waters -- bestowed this gem upon us.

"Some in our own country claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone… A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be ... a ruinous blow to the future security of the United States."

As the news item linked above indicates, strangely missing from Mr. Cheney’s comments was any reference to exactly who has ever made such a claim. There’s a reason for that. No one has ever suggested such a thing. This “claim” is a complete fabrication. He just made it up. This is how the debate is being conducted. He has no refutation for the many actual and valid criticisms of his administration’s policies so, in order to fill a speech and score a cheap points around the issue, he just invents a new position for his opposition and smears them with it.

These are but two examples. More of this is sure to come. Make no mistake. We cannot afford to let these enemies of freedom change the parameters of the national debate and endanger the free exchange of ideas (and ideals). These operatives and their methods represent a clear and present danger to our national discourse. Keep your eye on the ball. Don't let them get away with these word games.

Finally, it should be noted that the mere fact that these people would take the time construct these straw men from thin air, in and of itself, is a de facto admission of guilt.

They know they are wrong. They don’t care. It’s making them rich.


beepbeepitsme said...

RE: logical fallacy

What Is Evidence?