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A Bizarre Kind of Double Talk

Straw-Man Arguments

President Bush Increasingly Uses Rhetorical Straw-Man Arguments to Combat Unnamed Critics

WASHINGTON (AP) -- "Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions

When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" - conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.

Because the "some" often go unnamed, Bush can argue that his statements are true in an era of blogs and talk radio. Even so, "'some' suggests a number much larger than is actually out there," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said. "All politicians try to get away with this to a certain extent. What's striking here is how much this administration rests on a foundation of this kind of stuff." . . .

(Via Leiter Reports.)


 

Comments

I am reminded of the first 5 minutes of Jimmy Carter's energy speech when he actually quoted a litany of actual people he had actually spoken to who had actual ideas and comments on the policies which he was discussing.

I grow more and more disgusted with what is passing for political dialogue and rhetoric. So many words, so few thoughts.

I know we are not supposed to admire Jimmy Carter, or remind people of him, but I wish, just once, that the integrity of the office was a concern of the damn GOP.

I am not a Democrat - I am an American who is growing increasingly insulted at the thought that it is presumed I am associated with either one of these parties.

Nixon's most lasting legacy seems to be the "Credibility Gap." The glowing reports from Iraq - Mission Accomplished! Last Throes! - are exposed as wishful a thinking as ever struck Westmoreland, once upon a paddy. Torture is fine, laws are optional, and fiscal responsibility requires us to cut taxes, and completely abolish others, so that we can run up phenomenal, unprecedented, and comopletely ludicrous budget defecits and consequently national debt. At the same time as we are mouthing all kinds of platitudes about "our brave young men and women overseas," let's make sure that we underfund the VA so that when those men and women return injured and traumatized, we can expose them to bureaucratic infighting and cynical doctors who reject PTSD as a realistic diagnosis.

And if we are the opposition party, let's make sure that if someone proposes a resolution to publicly censure our president for ignoring the legal statutes of our land, we run screaming in the other direction for fear of unwanted political consequences.

If the only thing you ever worry about are political consequences, it becomes impossible to envision, or give credence to the thought, that someone would want to do something just because, god damn it, it's the right thing to do.

I barely know who Russ Feingold is, and I suppose it is possible that this is solely a political act on his part to position himself for a presidential run in '08, but who the f%$# cares? The censure resolution is the right thing to do, just to say to an administration out of control, hey - you know what, there are two other equal branches of government out here.

I'm losing my sense of humor in all this.

Straw man and right-wing (of any stripe, Republican or Democrat, Alliance or PC, etc.) go together like peaches and cream.

You know, I wanted to come up with some kind of counter-strawman as a joke, but I realized I couldn't come up with anything more ridiculous than things they've actually said.

"Some people have said that we have accomplished our mission in Iraq..."

"Some people have said insular secular dictator Saddam Hussein was a close ally of fanatic religious imperialist Osama bin Laden..."

"Some people have said the Iraqis would throw flowers at the feet of American troops in their country..."

"Some people have said the war would last five months and cost a billion dollars on the outside..."

"Some people have said that the President should have completely unfettered authority until such time as no one ever again contemplates a terrorist act on Planet Earth..."

Man, I only wish there were a joke here.

Gelf, unfortunately...

Every quote on a position you gave can be attributed to a living, breathing person - or persons - in the administration.

The joke is that the quotes on the position(s) of the opposition to the administration can rarely be attributed to anyone. :(

You know just the other day I was telling a fellow worker just how un-fun this whole Bush thing is becoming. Like waking up from a terrible drunk and seeing you have almost destoyed the house you live in. Anxiety abounds.

The straw man is, of course, the liberal media--look at all of Rumsfeld's and Cheney's rhetoric in this regard, along with the Crawford Coward's rant this morning. If the liberal media (now that's a straw man straight out of the Wizard of Oz) would only report success in Iraq/progress in the economy/recovery in New Orleans/honesty in government rather than all that nasty stuff about death, poverty, and corruption, why we'd all see exactly how sunny things really are these past five years.

For a taste of the reality behind the sunny rhetoric, see my police state blog post.

Liberal media? You mean the one controlled by insanely wealthy trans-national corporations whose boards of directors are interlocked with boards of other insanely rich trans-national corporations?

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