The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Sunday, March 19, 2006

How 'bout a little fire, scarecrow?

"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.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

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.

Talk about too little, too late. If stories like this had run in 2000 instead of an endless stream of snide remarks about Al Gore claiming to have invented the Internet (which was never true), we might not be looking at a Middle East united by anti-Americanism, the largest national debt in world history, and a Supreme Court on the brink of fundamentalist Christian control. But that's the way the cookie crumbles. But, since it's either look on the bright side of today's political wasteland or go batty, I'll reach for a bromo and a bromide and say... uhhh, better late than never? And to be fair, I am in state of mild shock that in spite of its glaring obviousness, this story ever saw the light of day.

Now if we could just get the talking heads to stop claiming that Feingold's call for censure is a fringe plot by the far left-- surveys repeatedly show 44% approval for the measure by the general public. With a significant number of those opposed believing that it's a fringe plot by the far left. Nothing like doin' time in Bizarroworld, nosirree.

Still, it's highly recommended reading just by merit of existing and providing plenty of examples of this Fox-approved debate tactic. Somebody noted today that in the documentary Outfoxed! there's an entire segment devoted to their use of the straw man. And although I don't recall a "some people say..." montage, I'm certainly familiar with the technique.

(Thanks to Mil Apodos, renowned for his great sabor, for the link.)