Friday, November 14, 2008

The politics of opposition - Well Poisoning with Weasel Words

Treasury secretary Ken Henry just released a relatively favourable growth forecast for the Australian economy (Australia is still predicted to grow while many other economies shrink). Liberal Party and opposition frontbencher, Andrew Robb, has to resort to fallacy to make a point:
Defending his decision to suggest that a Treasury growth forecast had the whiff of “manipulation” about it, Mr Robb said today the Prime Minister was hiding behind the reputation of the public service chief.

“All of this is a form of McCarthyism to silence people at a time ... of huge financial meltdown causing tremendous problems in the real economy now across the world,” Mr Robb said.

….“This Government is hiding behind officials, pushing them out to the forefront and it's unfair on officials.”
One quick point to note is the obvious contradiction – the Government is silencing people, yet is simultaneously pushing these officials out to the forefront…?

Now, let’s take the charge of “McCarthyism”. McCarthyism, from what little I garnered studying The Crucible in high school, and have since confirmed via the repository of all knowledge, was a paranoid hunt for communists throughout the US government:
McCarthyism is a term describing the intense anti-communist suspicion in the United States in a period that lasted roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s. This period is also referred to as the Second Red Scare, and coincided with increased fears about communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents.
McCarthyism is a Weasel Word, along the same lines, but not quite as low, as charging someone with Fascism, or Nazism. Robb has used it for the emotional response it evokes. In using a Weasel Word, he seeks to misrepresent the issue by avoiding an accurate and factual description.

By associating the Labor Government with a particularly abhorrent movement and time in the US, Robb is Poisoning the Well. He attempts to throw doubt on the Government by linking them to a group which is seen as suspect and denigrated.

Even if it were the case that the Government had manipulated figures favourably, it would be a False Analogy to link this to McCarthyism. McCarthyism was about witch hunting; whereas he has suggested the Government has nudged public officials in a particular direction to achieve a political goal.

If anything, he should call placing political pressure on public servants to give the right results (wink, wink, nudge, nudge…) “Bushism”. (I’m not saying I endorse this view by the way. I’m merely playing off the relatively common public perception that the Bush administration was not beyond nudging public officials for political purposes.) But that would be political suicide….

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Source: Andrew Robb accuses Kevin Rudd of McCarthyism over Ken Henry - The Australian (Nov 13 2008).