Sunday, November 02, 2008

Poisoning Obama's Well with Straw Men and Weasel Words

Elections, unsurprisingly, are fallacy filled. The US election is no exception (and arguably as bad as it gets).

Some Republicans have given me three fallacies with one word - “socialism”:
In the radio address, McCain didn't directly call Obama a socialist, but he let the now-famous Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher nearly do it for him.

"You see, [Obama] believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it. Joe, in his plainspoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism," McCain said Saturday.
Socialism is the state controlled production and supply of goods and services. It's not taxing people in a free market democracy.

To link Obama to socialism is Poisoning the Well; that is - to link someone (or an argument) to something that is held in disdain. Socialism, especially in the US, is such a something.

In a similar vein, using the word "socialism", is a Weasel Word. Weasel Words are loaded labels that one uses to create the emotional impact one wants. Euphemisms are used to create a positive effect, and dysphemisms (as in this case) a negative effect.

Saying Obama's tax policies are socialist is a Straw Man. That is, people taking this line are creating an easy target to knock down. It's easy to argue against socialists in a country like the US. Easier than getting down into the nitty-gritty of Obama's actual policies*.

The above serves as an example of understanding that fallacies often overlap. You don't necessarily have to pigeonhole yourself into stating something is definitely one type of fallacy, as opposed to another. This is especially the case in real life, as opposed to the artificially constructed examples found in texts on logic and fallacies, as well as the majority of fallacy websites. (A good reason to bookmark/link to/rss us!)

Ironically, I'd say the billion dollar bailout of Wall Street, endorsed by both candidates, is more lile socialism than either of their tax policies (but not much like socialism at all either...).

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Source: McCain, Palin, hint that Obama's policies are 'socialist' - CNN (Oct 18)

*To be fair to McCain, he does get into some of the nitty-gritty, but I needed to construct this straw man to make my point...