Thursday, February 9, 2012

GOP Candidates' Favorite Logical Fallacies

I love logical fallacies.  I don't so much like to use them, though we all use them, but I love to point them out and discuss them.  Politics is saturated with fallacies, especially when it comes to campaigns.  I have followed the 2012 GOP quite closely, so I compiled a list of logical fallacies and have attributed a few fallacies to each candidate, based on which ones I think each candidate uses most often.  The candidates are listed starting with the most logical (in my opinion) to the least logical.  I also threw Obama, the media, voters and occupiers at the end, just for fun.

Ron Paul – 

Argument from repetition (argumentum ad nauseam) – signifies that it has been discussed extensively until nobody cares to discuss it anymore.  Ron Paul doesn't really introduce new ideas, he just keeps hammering away at the same issues.  It doesn't mean the issues aren't important, just that people don't care to listen to him anymore.

Slippery slope (thin edge of the wedge, camel's nose) – asserting that a relatively small first step inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact.  Paul often paints a grim picture of what will happen if we take certain smaller steps.  It doesn't mean they will or won't happen - I happen to think he's right most of the time - but they are not guaranteed to happen.

Mitt Romney – 

If-by-whiskey – an argument that supports both sides of an issue by using terms that are selectively emotionally sensitive.  Romney doesn't want to alienate voters so he often works hard to navigate a path that will please both sides.  I attribute much of it to practicality - and I don't mind it so much - but it is a fallacy nonetheless.  Of course, the "Whiskey" fallacy had to be applied to the most stone-cold-sober candidate.

Kettle logic – using multiple inconsistent arguments to defend a position.  This is one that people lob at Romney a lot.  I don't necessarily agree with the criticism, but I can see why some feel that way.  I think the bigger problem for Romney isn't multiple inconsistencies to defend A position, but using inconsistent arguments to defend various positions.

Rick Santorum – 

Cherry picking (suppressed evidence, incomplete evidence) – act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.  I think Rick does this a lot, but it largely goes unnoticed.  He attacks Romney on RomneyCare/ObamaCare but overlooks some valid differences between the two.  See my previous post about Santorum.

Inconsistent comparison – where different methods of comparison are used, leaving one with a false impression of the whole comparison.  Kind of the same issue discussed above.  Santorum oversimplifies when convenient and overcomplicates when convenient.

Newt Gingrich 

Ignoratio elenchi (irrelevant conclusion, missing the point) – an argument that may in itself be valid, but does not address the issue in question.  People say Newt is a great debater, but it is largely because he doesn't address the questions asked and instead goes on his own tangent.  See response to John King in South Carolina.  This may make for great debate theater, but it is illogical.

False analogy – an argument by analogy in which the analogy is poorly suited.  Newt is King of bad analogies.  He recently analogized his not making the ballot in Virginia to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Pay attention; they're all over the place.

Appeal to ridicule – an argument is made by presenting the opponent's argument in a way that makes it appear ridiculous.  Most of the time when Newt says "baloney", he is appealing to ridicule.  He says "baloney" and then paints the argument in question as silly or stupid.

All Candidates (Ever) 

Red herring – a speaker attempts to distract an audience by deviating from the topic at hand by introducing a separate argument which the speaker believes will be easier to speak to.  Do I really need examples here?  This the foundation of political rhetoric.

Straw man – an argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.  Again, a staple in politics (and religious debates).

GOP Voters 

Nirvana fallacy (perfect solution fallacy) – when solutions to problems are rejected because they are not perfect.  Where is the Ronald Reagan of yesteryear?  GOP voters compare candidates to Reagan, they criticize the GOP field because there is no perfect candidate, they call for a brokered convention on the assumption that a perfect candidate will emerge, etc.  Not going to happen.  Pick the guy who can beat Obama and unite!

Moving the goalposts (raising the bar) – argument in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded.  Voters do this with candidates all the time, especially candidates who they don't feel are "true conservatives".  Speaking of "true conservatives"...

No true Scotsman – when a generalization is made true only when a counterexample is ruled out on shaky grounds.  "No TRUE CONSERVATIVE would [insert your own qualification for a true conservative]."

Debate Moderators – 

Proof by verbosity (argumentum verbosium, proof by intimidation) – submission of others to an argument too complex and verbose to reasonably deal with in all its intimate details.  A moderator will ask a very complex question about health care, or poverty, or immigration and say "Take 60 seconds to answer that."  Yeah, that's not going to happen.

Media –

Appeal to poverty (argumentum ad Lazarum) – supporting a conclusion because the arguer is poor (or refuting because the arguer is wealthy).  Mitt Romney is wealthy, therefore he cannot relate to the poor, he isn't "one of us", etc.  No mention of John Kerry, George Soros, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc.

Texas sharpshooter fallacy – improperly asserting a cause to explain a cluster of data.  Example: Rick Santorum wins 3 states in one must have been caused by [1 reason].


Note: Most fallacies apply to Obama, but I had to pick just a few...

Appeal to equality – where an assertion is deemed true or false based on an assumed pretense of equality.  See the last 3 years!

Special pleading – where a proponent of a position attempts to cite something as an exemption to a generally accepted rule or principle without justifying the exemption.  Super PACS, Libya, lobbyists, Let's Move, etc. etc. etc. 

Appeal to spite – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made through exploiting people's bitterness or spite towards an opposing party.  Class warfare, health care debate, Paul Ryan budget, elections, Fat Cat Bankers, Wall Street, Oil Companies, 1%ers, etc. etc. etc.

Occupiers – 

Argumentum ad baculum (appeal to the stick, appeal to force, appeal to threat) – an argument made through coercion or threats of force to support position.  This is their whole platform!

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