Monday, September 23, 2013

"THE WEEK'S" STUNNINGLY BAD REASONING


I don’t like to read, watch, or listen to the news, and it’s not because the media concentrates on bad news (like the possibility that an asteroid might wipe out humanity) and trivialities (like Miley Cyrus’s twerking). I don’t like it because I hear very little good analysis and a great deal of fractured logic.

I was flabbergasted by a headline from The Week, an online magazine. The headline read: "The GOP's Stunning Hypocrisy." I suspected from the headline that I was going to find some stunning demagoguery in the article. I did. I counted approximately 21 points made by the article, and only two of them were germane to the stated topic—the GOP’s responsibility for the US tottering on the brink of fiscal disaster.

Of the 21 points made, the only germane point came when the article correctly debunked an advertisement run by an unidentified opponent of Obamacare. According to the article, the ad consisted of a creepy looking Uncle Sam giving a woman a vaginal examination. Since I am relatively certain that Obamacare doesn’t require gynecologists to dress up like Uncle Sam, the ad was obviously an attempt to stampede people into supporting the repeal of Obamacare by appealing to emotion.   

The other valid point was an admission that Obamacare is flawed, with a listing of some of its defects. (Let me hasten to point out that the simple fact of a program's being flawed doesn't make it a bad program. Nothing is perfect, and imperfection does not decisively invalidate a program. It's a question of how flawed it is and whether there is a less flawed alternative available. The jury system is a terribly flawed method of resolving legal issues, but it stands head and shoulders above any other method which has ever been devised).

The remaining points all contained logical fallacies. At the end of this post I’ll catalog the arguments and their flaws, but first I want to challenge the main point of the article—that if we go over the fiscal cliff, it will be because of those villainous Republicans.

I’ll be the first to say that there are some villainous Republicans—probably as many as there are villainous Democrats. But as the article admitted, there are many Republicans who want to work this issue out without going over the fiscal cliff. From the article, it seems that there is a faction within the Republican party who, according to the article, rabidly champion the defunding of Obamacare and are willing to shut down the government to achieve that end. I haven’t done a headcount, but I suspect that there are enough non-rabid Republicans who are willing to work with non-rabid Democrats to hammer out a compromise. The problem comes about because they cannot muster a veto-proof majority. This is tragic because of the next point I'm going to make.

On the other side of the issue is a President who has pronounced himself as steadfastly opposed to compromise as the anti-Obamacare faction of the Republican party. He says he won’t negotiate: “It’s my way or the highway.” If those Republicans who steadfastly oppose Obamacare to the point of government shutdown are insane (the article’s words, not mine), then the Democrat who just as steadfastly opposes compromise is also insane.

As I see it, neither side is insane, they’re just selfish. They have placed winning their point above the welfare of the country. It seems to me that both sides are satisfied to crash the ship of state because both sides believe that they’re going to  derive political benefit from the wreckage. I think that the President is the one who has correctly assessed the political landscape. He sees a win/win situation. His calculus probably goes something like this: Either he proves he is a tough guy by forcing Congress to bow to his will or he comes out looking like the victim of Republican irresponsibility. Whichever happens, the news media vilifies the Republican party, and the Democrats retain control of the Presidency and Congress when Hillary Clinton gets elected and hordes of Republican Congressmen are voted out of office. This is one reason I don’t like reading, watching, or listening to the news. I see selfish politicians making political hay and harming the welfare of the American people in the process.

Now for the article's fallacious reasoning:

[1] Lawmakers could fix all this today if they really wanted to. Really? Lawmakers can’t get anything done expeditiously. The statement is a gross oversimplification of the legislative process.

[2] "Uber-conservative" House Republicans are threatening to shut down the government. All House Republicans? Or just a small group of politicians which the article later calls uber-conservatives. This is the genetic fallacy, attributing to an entire group a trait exhibited by only a portion of the group. Also, these villainous Republicans can't possibly shut down the government. They can be outvoted by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who are willing to compromise. The only person who can shut down the government is the President, by vetoing the compromise or by using his threat of veto to stymie compromise.

[3] Sane Republicans know the uber-conservatives are wrong. This point defeats the previous point by showing it to be false. It is also an argumentum ad hominem. You don’t logically advance your point by calling the opposition names.

[4] Republican Senator Richard Burr calls it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard." More argumentum ad hominem. Actually it is not a dumb idea. If you put your personal agenda above the public welfare, it is a quite rational course of action.

[5] Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer says they are "out of their minds." and are flirting with political "catastrophe." Same critique as point (4) above.

[6] Karl Rove thinks it's stupid, too. Same critique as points (4) and (5) above. Arguments (2) through (6) are actually the same argument stated five different ways.

[7] The uber-conservative Republicans think Burr and Krauthammer aren't true Republicans. Non sequitur. The party affiliation of Burr and Krauthammer is irrelevant to resolution of this mess. The article is going to continue the non sequitur in the next point. Also argumentum ad hominem, calling the

[8] The uber-conservatives are “flat earthers” who don’t think Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan were true Republicans. More argumentum ad hominem, calling the uber-conservatives flat-earthers.

[9] This was the valid point about the tasteless ad depicting Uncle Sam doing a vaginal examination."

[10] The uber-conservatives want to force women to have transvaginal ultrasounds before having an abortion. This is just a continuation of point (9) above which relies on a species of ad hominem argument known as tu quoque, accusing the opposition of doing exactly the same thing they’re advocating against. .  

[11] This point is the admission that Obamacare is flawed.

[12] A USA Today poll shows that only 25 percent of Americans understand Obamacare. Probably a larger percentage than the percentage of legislators who read the bill before passing it. (The point I have just made is an argumentum ad hominem). The author made point [11] to set up point [12].

[12] The confusion is a “golden opportunity for Republicans. Non sequitur. How is it a golden opportunity for the Republican party? The author has already called it “the dumbest idea . . . ever heard,” (point [4]), conceived by people who are “out of their minds” (point [5]) and engaging in behavior which is “stupid” (point [6]).

[13] The super-smart president is engaging in a high-tech outreach strategy like the one he used to get re-elected. Characterizing Obama’s stubborn insistence on government shutdown before compromise as a high-tech strategy seems to me to be quite a stretch. Looks like the author is gilding the lily.   

[14] Republican holier-than-thou hypocrisy doesn't end with Obamacare. Ad hominem and irrelevant. We’re talking about Obamacare, not the human worth of Republicans. Republicans could all be hypocrites and Obamacare could still be a bad idea
[15-21]. More irrelevant ad hominem argument. It reminds me of a maxim attributed to the Roman orator Cicero: "If you have no case, abuse the plaintiff."