Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Burn the Straw Man

From The Fallacy Files:
The Straw Man is a type of Red Herring because the arguer is attempting to refute his opponent's position, and in the context is required to do so, but instead attacks a position—the "straw man"—not held by his opponent. In a Straw Man argument, the arguer argues to a conclusion that denies the "straw man" he has set up, but misses the target. There may be nothing wrong with the argument presented by the arguer when it is taken out of context, that is, it may be a perfectly good argument against the straw man. It is only because the burden of proof is on the arguer to argue against the opponent's position that a Straw Man fallacy is committed. So, the fallacy is not simply the argument, but the entire situation of the argument occurring in such a context.
A great example of The Straw Man is on display in today's Daily Evergreen.

In an editorial today, Haley Paul attempts to take on the WSU College Republicans. I say "attempts" because rather than address the issues the CRs raised about the border fence and English as the national language, she instead addresses the war in Iraq, taxes, student loans, spending on social programs, limited government, and the invasion of personal privacy; issues that the CRs have neither publicly supported nor attacked.

In addition, Paul engaged in another logical fallacy by attacking the entire Republican Party based on the actions of President Bush's administration. This is known as "Guilt by Association," or the "Bad Company Fallacy," which is an attempt to discredit an idea based upon disfavored people or groups associated with it.

The Straw Man argument is a sure sign of a desperate and weak debater. Do the local liberals really have no better comeback to the issues the CRs have raised? Is Straw Men, Argumentum ad Nazium and Argumentum ad Hominem (e.g. the CR's are "racist," the CR's are "homophobic," the CRs are "ethnocentric") all they have? And people wonder "what's the matter with Kansas?"

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