Thursday, October 28, 2010

Political Post Hoc and Other Fallacies

The sedentary post-Obama election electorate has been aroused to a state of apathy. Consider the hasty generalization fallacy that Americans are frustrated and angry with government. Earlier this month Gallup reported, “Americans' frustration with Congress is directed at both sides of the aisle -- with job approval ratings of 33% for the Democrats in Congress and 32% for the Republicans in Congress.” Gallup also admits, “What is not clear, however, is why the ratings are so low.” It is not anger. It is boredom. Rhetorical fallacies make politics dull.

The post hoc fallacy gets its name from the Latin phrase "post hoc, ergo propter hoc." The translation is "after this, therefore because of this." Put another way, because B comes after A, A caused B. Try "President Obama was elected to fix the economy, and then the budget deficit went up. Obama is responsible for increasing the budget deficit."

My personal favorites are the ad hominem and tu quoque fallacies. What a combo. They sound naughty and translate "against the person" and "you, too!" Here is how cool Latin is. “The reason you cannot believe Obama is that we don’t really know who he is (ad hominem) or he is an elitist (tu quoque).

Rhetorical fallacy is not just a tea party Republican gambit. Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter and member of the Democratic National Committee said of Obama, “… frankly I don’t like him. I feel like he is an elitist. I feel like he has not given me reason to trust him.” Elitist derides elite as elitist. But I digress.

Back to fallacies in English, Republicans seem particularly fond of the false dichotomy fallacy. In essence they set up a situation and offer only two choices. They eliminate one choice so that only their preferred choice remains, never minding any other choice for consideration. “This country is in terrible shape. Either we defeat the Democrats and take over congress, or we continue to threaten our children’s future. Clearly no one wants to threaten our children’s future, so we must take over congress."

Robert Kennedy said, “One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.” That could describe the tea party, if I used the RFK quote to base my case that midterm election rhetoric is rife with fallacies. Actually, I just did and I used the appeal to authority fallacy for that feat.

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originally published at as "Political Post Hoc and Other Fallacies"

1 comment:

Tommy "Mack" McEldowney said...

Things went downhill for Congress since I wrote this. Gallup has its approval rating approaching single digits.