Monday, September 15, 2008

How Do They Get Away With It?

As someone who teaches critical thinking for a living, I am more than aware that fallacious reasoning is often psychologically very powerful. Despite what certain Enlightenment thinkers might say, we are not wired for reason. We often find bad arguments more persuasive than good ones.

But then there are some arguments that are so obviously flawed that they generally only exist on logic exams...or in contemporary political discourse.

When asked about his negative ads, John McCain and his surrogates have a stock answer. It's Obama's fault we have to be nasty and not talk about issues.

"If we had done what I asked Sen. Obama to do, I don't think you'd see the same tenor of this campaign," he said. "Why don't you ask Obama the next time he's on this show why won't he be in town meetings with me?"

If my weakest student cannot spot this as a red herring, I will turn in my union card right now. They asked McCain about the content of what he said and he argued about the forum in which he said it. How are the two related? Your opponent refused to play to your strength and so it is then entailed that you have to resort to smears so vile that even Karl Rove says they cross the line (file that one under irony can be so ironic -- this isn't the pot calling the kettle black, it is the ninth level of Hades calling the the kettle black).

I can understand to some degree letting slide the silly argument about Palin's foreign policy experience coming from the fact that Russia is next to Alaska. It's a mind-blowingly stupid argument, but perhaps one could confuse proximity with engagement.

But the "Obama made me do it because he wouldn't agree to town hall meetings" garbage? All it would require is a "huh?" It is a line so bad that it is virtually self-refuting. How do they, the supposed party of "personal responsibility", get away with this?