Respectful Insolence

Oops, he did it again

Just yesterday, I commented about an article that analyzed President Bush’s penchant for using rather artless straw man fallacies when answering his critics. By an almost amazing coincidence, that very day he was busily engaged in doing more of the same in a press conference. For example, when asked about the terrorist surveillance program in which he used not one but two straw men argument in the same response:

I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that’s what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we’re using to protect the American people shouldn’t be used. They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we’re not going to have a terrorist surveillance program. That’s what they ought to be doing. That’s part of what is an open and honest debate.


There’s straw man number one. No one is saying that we shouldn’t have a terrorist survellance program. The point of disagreement is over what form that survellance program should take and what power the President has (or does not have) under present law to spy on American citizens. What critics of the President’s authorization of wiretaps are opposed to is a terrorist surveillance program that won’t submit to judicial oversight through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts. What they (and I) are opposed to is giving the President–any President–carte blanche to spy on American citizens without even the weak oversight the notoriously NSA-friendly FISA court enforces.

Here comes straw man number two:

I did notice that, at one point in time, they didn’t think the Patriot Act ought to be reauthorized — “they” being at least the Minority Leader in the Senate. He openly said, as I understand — I don’t want to misquote him — something along the lines that, “We killed the Patriot Act.” And if that’s what the party believes, they ought to go around the country saying we shouldn’t give the people on the front line of protecting us the tools necessary to do so. That’s a debate I think the country ought to have.

No, the reason there was opposition to renewing the Patriot Act was not because anyone thinks that “we shouldn’t give the people on the front lines the tools necessary” to protect us, but rather because of concern that some provisions in the Act endangered Constitutionally-protected rights. In a free society, we have to balance those rights against the need to protect our citizens against terrorist attacks.

Worse, not only did he use two straw man arguments, but he in essence accused his opponents of either lying about or hiding their true agenda, and he had the chutzpah to claim that he was the one for “open debate.”

You know, I wonder what Bush apologists who attacked Jennifer Loven, who wrote the original article deconstructing Bush’s love of the straw man fallacy, would say about Bush’s latest demonstration of his intellectually lazy use of this common fallacy.

No doubt they’d deny that it was a straw man at all.

You know, it occurs to me that I’ve posted multiple political posts two days in a row. Yes, they were concerned with critical thinking and the examination of a logical fallacy common in politics or with the NIH budget, but they were way more political than what I usually post. I think that’s enough for now. It’s time to get back to my more usual fare, and that will happen tomorrow.

Comments

  1. #1 BronzeDog
    March 22, 2006

    Did you pluck the thoughts out of my head during my commute home last night?

  2. #2 Jim H
    March 22, 2006

    Funny, I was thinking about Bush’s strawmen when I heard him on NPR yesterday afternoon as well, and was thinking about finding your original entry and commenting on it. I guess now I don’t have to.

  3. #3 wolfwalker
    March 22, 2006

    Just out of curiosity, Orac, do you also intend to criticize the press for using almost-identical tactics in many of their questions? For example:

    Q You said you listen to members of Congress, and there have been growing calls from some of those members for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld …

    Perhaps you’ll also criticize the very people from whom you’ve taken your understanding of the NSA wiretaps, for wilfully distorting the facts about said wiretaps? They are not and never were “a carte blanche to spy on American citizens without court oversight.” The NSA program was designed to drill a small hole in the wall of separation between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence, by allowing NSA (a foreign-intelligence-only agency under the law) to listen in on a telephone conversation suspected of a terrorism connection, when one end of that conversation was outside the USA and the other end inside. Under the old rules, the NSA couldn’t do that. Having an American on one end of the conversation meant it couldn’t be tapped without a warrant — and it didn’t matter whether there was time or evidence to get a warrant or not.

    Please note that I’m not saying these fallacies shouldn’t be criticized. They should. I’m saying an honest critic has to be an equal-opportunity critic, and criticize them whether they come from the other side or one’s own. As much as I dislike the deceptive tactics used by the Bush administration and its supporters, I think I dislike those tactics even more when they’re used by Bush’s opponents. Doubly so when they come from people who have had those same tactics used against them, and so understand exactly how deceptive and dishonest they are. If you really have the truth on your side, you shouldn’t need to resort to lies. That’s a powerful argument against creationists, alties, bizarros of every kind. Is it suddenly a weaker argument when the lies are supporting a position you agree with?

  4. #4 Ali
    March 22, 2006

    The problem with straw men is that they appeal to the intellectually lazy/dishonest/incompetent. The problem with our electorate is that there’s a majority of the above. I’m not really sure how a nuanced argument could ever win an election. Lincoln and Douglas wouldn’t have made it to the primaries.

    Yeah I really love the irony involved in someone who is completely intellectually dishonest calling for an “open and honest debate.” Classic.

  5. #5 Mr. Upright
    March 22, 2006

    Robbie Hatler, age 8: Do you like spaghetti?

    Me, age 8: Yeah, I LOVE spaghetti!

    RH: Then why don’t you MARRY it?

    I’m impressed that GWB’s reasoning skills have grown to those of an 8 year-old. The hard work of presidentiatin’ seems to have done him some good.

  6. #6 Ali
    March 22, 2006

    C’mon, Mr. Upright – we all know marriage should only be between one man and one woman. Spaghetti marriage is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. Unless your lord is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Then I suppose it’s sanctioned.

  7. #7 Shygetz
    March 22, 2006

    Just out of curiosity, Orac, do you also intend to criticize the press for using almost-identical tactics in many of their questions? For example:

    Q You said you listen to members of Congress, and there have been growing calls from some of those members for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld …

    It’s not a straw man if it’s true. Example:

    Democrats Demand Rumsfeld Resign

    Democratic members of the House called for his resignation.

    Having an American on one end of the conversation meant it couldn’t be tapped without a warrant — and it didn’t matter whether there was time or evidence to get a warrant or not.

    Another straw man; FISA allows for the issuance of a warrant after the wiretapping has been done. So, the canard that there is no time to get a wiretap warrant is silly; you can do it after the fact.

    Sorry if this is too political, but I, too, cannot stand logical fallacies.

  8. #8 Mark Paris
    March 22, 2006

    wolfwalker said, ” … couldn’t be tapped without a warrant — and it didn’t matter whether there was time or evidence to get a warrant or not.” Actually, FISA allows wiretaps without a warrant for a certain time. Then the government is supposed to get a warrant after the fact. The fact that the government couldn’t be bothered even to follow that very loose restriction indicates to me that they were either intentionally breaking the law, or that they could not get a warrant for what they were doing. Does Echelon ring a bell?

  9. #9 wolfwalker
    March 22, 2006

    shygetz wrote: “It’s not a straw man if it’s true. ”

    Then what Bush said isn’t a strawman either, is it? There were Democrats who wanted to kill the Patriot Act outright. Not modify it, not replace it, not rewrite it, but simply kill it.

    As for FISA, I personally believe there is something very rotten with the FISA court and process. It’s well known that the FISA court approves something like 99% of the wiretap warrants it gets. What is not well known is the reason. (No, I don’t know it either — if you do, then enlighten me please.) Either the FISA court is so weak and its rules so soft that it’s almost impossible to write a warrant that breaks the rules, or warrants that might break the rules are being stopped within the bureaucracy, before they reach the court at all. The fact that several presidents have thought it necessary to set up covert wiretapping programs that went around the FISA process suggests the latter — if presidents could get anything they wanted through FISA, then they wouldn’t bother finding ways around FISA.

    Oh, one other thing: I said “it didn’t matter whether there was time or evidence to get a FISA warrant.” If you have no probable cause for a warrant, you can’t get a warrant. Period.

  10. #10 Michael "Sotek" Ralston
    March 22, 2006

    If you have no probable cause for a warrant, you can’t get a warrant. Period.

    And if you have no probable cause for a warrant, you shouldn’t be taking any actions that require one.

    Fourth Amendment, you know.

  11. #11 Michael "Sotek" Ralston
    March 22, 2006

    Then what Bush said isn’t a strawman either, is it? There were Democrats who wanted to kill the Patriot Act outright. Not modify it, not replace it, not rewrite it, but simply kill it.

    That’s not the strawman, wolf.

    The strawman is the SECOND HALF of that claim:

    And if that’s what the party believes, they ought to go around the country saying we shouldn’t give the people on the front line of protecting us the tools necessary to do so.

    Do you really think that those who wanted to kill the Patriot Act believed that it gave the people on the front lines tools necessary to protect us? I think they believed it gave the people in shadowy rooms the tools necessary to try to control us.

    Or, to put it another way: Can you name one instance where the tools granted by the Patriot Act were used in order to combat terrorism? I mean, sure, secrecy, but after a plot is foiled, there’s no reason to keep thing secret – the terrorists already know, after all.

  12. #12 Hank Barnes
    March 22, 2006

    I’m not a big fan of GW Bush, so I don’t feel compelled to defend him. Yet here are comparable numbers of military casualties from the last 4 Presidents in their first terms:

    George W. Bush (5187)
    Bill Clinton (4302)
    George HW Bush (6223)
    Ronald Reagan (9163)

    Would you folks concede that these numbers are surprising, and that one would expect casualties on GW’s watch to be much greater?

    Hank B

  13. #13 Barry
    March 22, 2006

    Wolfwalker, you were careless with quotes, so I’m not sure whom is quoted where: “They are not and never were “a carte blanche to spy on American citizens without court oversight.” The NSA program was designed to drill a small hole in the wall of separation between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence, by allowing NSA (a foreign-intelligence-only agency under the law) to listen in on a telephone conversation suspected of a terrorism connection, when one end of that conversation was outside the USA and the other end inside. Under the old rules, the NSA couldn’t do that.

    FISA

    Having an American on one end of the conversation meant it couldn’t be tapped without a warrant — and it didn’t matter whether there was time or evidence to get a warrant or not. ”

    FISA warrants could be made retroactive.

    This person you’re quoting seems to prefer the lie to the truth.

  14. #14 Left_Wing_Fox
    March 22, 2006

    Could you provide a link to back up those figures, Hank?

  15. #15 Hank Barnes
    March 22, 2006

    Left-Wing Fox,

    Could you provide a link to back up those figures, Hank?

    Sure, Why not?

    Numbers don’t lie.

    Hank Barnes

  16. #16 Eric
    March 22, 2006

    Wolfwaker,

    You made a statement about the NSA program. Given the reticence of the administration to give any real details about the program – and other programs that may exist – to the public, I think it’s pretty hard to know exactly what has been going on.

    I, for one, subscribe to the notion that there was something more broad going on, since FISA would not have been much of an obstacle for what has been revealed.

  17. #17 Left_Wing_Fox
    March 22, 2006

    While I’m still willing to see a link on that source and be proven wrong, I’m calling BS on it right now.

    http://icasualties.org/oif/ places US casualties at 2319 dead, PLUS 16653 injured between 2003 and 2006. Already this is roughly three times more than the “casualties” you’ve listed. That for the Iraq War _ONLY_, and does not count the additional 282 fatalities and 682 wounded in Afghanistan since 2001.

    icasualties.org has been a very reliable site, and has been very good about reporting actual deaths and injuries, and posts their methodology plainly. The site hosts even took time to respond directly to left-wing conspiracy theories that the Pentagon was massively underreporting the deaths in Iraq.

    Another source, perhaps an appropriate one for this blog, is http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf from the Federation of American Scientists.

    Judging military DEATHS might be closer to your figures, but even then not by much, and misleadingly.

    So from 1993-2000 (Clinton) Military DEATHS of all causes reach 7514, with accidents being the highest cause of death.
    G HW Bush is 6224 over 4 years, and Reagan would have 17200 over 8 years to his name. Dubya’s tally is then 5194 for the first 4 years of his presidency, and this dosen’t yet count the increasing violence in Iraq.

    Bear in mind though, that these figures reflect largely the number of active duty military at the time, and the #1 cause of deaths in the US military is listed as accidental, and #2 is illness. These tallys reflect more on the respective _size_ of the military under each president, and less on the number of casualties due to hostile action.

  18. #18 Shygetz
    March 22, 2006

    Hank,

    Those numbers only go through 2004, meaning you’re comparing one term of GWB to two terms of Clinton, two terms of Reagan, and one term of Bush. Additionally, they count military men who die of all causes, including illness, accidents, homicide, etc. They are not corrected for the larger military size, esp. during the Reagan years. Looking at the soldiers killed by hostile action tells a much clearer story, especially when corrected for the size of the military.

    Numbers don’t lie, but they can be used to mislead. Or, figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.

  19. #19 Hank Barnes
    March 22, 2006

    No, Shygetz, I am comparing only first terms for each Prez.

    Yes, combat deaths are up under GW, so what?

    Hank

  20. #20 Left_Wing_Fox
    March 23, 2006

    Hank, that’s pathetic. You’re pointing to the statistical baseline, and stating “Won’t you admit this is strange?”.

    First of all, Accidents and Illness are the two leading causes of deaths in the American military (at least until 2004), and strongly correlate to the size of the military. The military manpower reductions under Bush Sr. and Clinton cause a corresponding drop in military deaths. The number of deaths in relation to the size of the military is HIGHER for Dubya than under Reagan, Bush or Clinton. Nothing “surprising” about that at all.

    Second, by eliminating Clinton’s second term, you ignore the major drop in accident/illness related troop deaths caused by the reduction in the size of the military. G W Bush also recieves the benefits of the reduced military in the first year of his counts, before being inflated again by fatalities on the field. If you compare each president by averaging the deaths per year through their term, Reagan averages 2150 military deaths per year. Bush Sr.: 1556/year. Bush Jr. 1298/year. Clinton: 939/year. Dubya’s annual average will likely continue to climb if the consistant casualty rate between 2004 and 2005 is any indication.

    You could just as easily have gone with the Rush Limbaugh method (link omitted to keep me from being spam-moderated, I can post the graphic if you wish):

    “Facts Fail to Match Media Action Line!
    The Media reports the news as they want it to be, not as it is…”
    American Deaths over the last three years put into perspective:

    Auto Accidents 120,000
    Falling Down: 45,000
    Poisoning 27,000
    Drowning 12,000
    War in Iraq: 2300
    Number of Anti-War Protester in NYC on Sunday: 200″

    Now, bear in mind that there are nearly 300 MILLION americans, and about 130,000 troops in Iraq. So if our troops died at the same rate as people were killed by automobiles, we should be looking at a grand total of 52 deaths over the past three years.

    Want to see something really strange?

    US Fatalities in Iraq since March 2003:
    2319

    US Wounded in Iraq since March 2003:
    16653

    US Fatalities in Afghanistan since Oct 2001:
    282

    US Wounded in Afghanistan since Oct 2001:
    685

  21. #21 Shygetz
    March 23, 2006

    Would you folks concede that these numbers are surprising, and that one would expect casualties on GW’s watch to be much greater?

    Yes, combat deaths are up under GW, so what?

    So, that’s what one would expect to have gone up under GW Bush. We would expect there to be a slightly lower death rate due to illness, due to the increasing efficiency of medical care. We would expect the death rate due to accident to remain about the same, maybe slightly lower (again, due to increases in the effectiveness of trauma care). We would expect the death rate due to hostile action (and perhaps terrorist attack, although I don’t know why that isn’t counted as hostile action) to go way up, which it did. And you still fail to correct for the differing sizes of the military, which is considerably smaller under GW Bush than under Reagan or GHW Bush.

    And my apologies about mistakenly thinking you were comparing more than the first terms.

  22. #22 Hank Barnes
    March 23, 2006

    Hey, I ain’t a big fan of GW, so I have no brief for the guy. Military service is dangerous, even in peace time.

    Hank

  23. #23 Left_Wing_Fox
    March 23, 2006

    And yet you still posted a defense of Bush based on bad math and ignorance of statistics that attempts to minimize 2300 combat deaths and 16653 injuries of American soldiers in Iraq.

    (hmm, looks like my original post finally made it past the spam filter)

  24. #24 Hank Barnes
    March 23, 2006

    2300 combat deaths include car accidents, suicides, training accidents and a buncha other items, that often occur in the military during peace time.

    I may be a tad left of center, but you’re so far left, you’ve left the building. Methinks, you’re one of the reasons Dems lose all the time.

    Warner in ’08!

    Hank

  25. #25 Michael Bains
    March 23, 2006

    Hank’s point is valid and fair and, if it weren’t for folks like Cindy Sheehan screamin’ for an illogical and irresponsible withdrawal, it would be beside the points against the War: the facts that it occured illegally and was sold to the US public on a platter of pure lies, more straw men and only somewhat rational fears.

    Sadaam had nothing to do with bin Laden. It was our friends, the Kurds, who had Terrorist Training Camps setup pre-9/11. They were doing whatever it took to prepare to overthrow the Iraqi Sunnis.

    The war is NOT over yet and we have NO Right to leave Iraq until their Civil situation settles down; no matter HOW LONG or how many American Military casualties that takes. I don’t like it. THAT is irrelevant to my nation’s responsibility in this entire bloody affair.

    And if the Democrats had any integrity and the Republicans any virtue (left,) Bush would already be Censured and Impeachment proceedings would be in the works. I won’t even suggest where Rummie would be if Bush had any brains …

    So we evolve…

  26. #26 Left_Wing_Fox
    March 23, 2006

    2300 combat deaths include car accidents, suicides, training accidents and a buncha other items, that often occur in the military during peace time.

    Nonsense. You include all that “other stuff” that happens in the military all the time, and the death toll jumps to 3297 deaths in just 2003-2004. And that’s according to the according to the statistics you just provided. The “Hostile Action” increases when the rest remains the same, so when compared to the iCasualty.org page (which counts roughly 140 more fatalities/year) , You _might_ make the claim that 400 or so of those 2300 deaths would have happened statistically if there was no war.

    But since you’re now ignoring the evidence in front of your eyes and calling me a radical, I really have nothing more to say.

  27. #27 Hank Barnes
    March 23, 2006

    Left-Wing Fox,

    I honestly admire your passion. I know a lotta folks like you. Frankly, I know it’s wrong, but I still enjoy the Bush-Bashing. He is a less than impressive fellow, and wouldn’t be elected dog-catcher if his name was George W. Smith or George W. Brown.

    That stated, the problem with your types is you lack perspective, so much so, that your passionate extremes, help Republicans win. Still a lotta voters in fly-over country in this great, yet near bankrupt nation.

    So, you actually hinder your own cause. Sigh. What’s a poor fellow like me to do?

    Hank Barnes

  28. #28 Jason
    March 24, 2006

    The whole problem with why the wiretapping program couldn’t get past FISA is in the methodology.

    They just digitally sweep through thousands of calls, recording what’s said, and then sifting through it afterwards for certain key words.

    It was/is a huge data mining exercise.

    A big problem with this though is if they are essentially recording a huge number of conversations without a warrant, then they could in theory home in on conversations between their political opponents and get some inside dirt. Similar to what Nixon was doing.

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