We must remember that the New York Times is targeting those who live inside a very specific bubble. Evidence of which is an editorial today about extrapolating the Akin gaffe to represent the views of all Republicans. Here’s a little taste of the editorial, referring to three different stances consistent with a pro-life view (of which more below):
All three positions are outside the mainstream of American opinion, but they are pretty much in the dead center of Republican thinking.
Get that? There’s a “mainstream” in America but the Republicans are far away from it. What’s the cognitive difference between this and openly saying that the Republicans are not American? (Just because you don’t use profanity when you disrespect others doesn’t mean it’s a civil conversation.)
What bugs me about this, and the whole Todd Akin mess, is the ad hominem. An ad hominem is an argument against the man, instead of an argument against a belief. It’s a standard logical fallacy. It’s illogical, invalid, and flat-out wrong thinking. It identifies a person with a reprehensible or unsavory reputation, asserts that he holds a particular belief, and therefore accuses you of being equally reprehensible if you share a belief that he holds.
Todd Akin now has a reprehensible reputation. He is a pro-life Republican. Therefore, all pro-life Republicans are reprehensible.
What’s also galling about this flat out wrong thinking is how loose it is. For instance, the quote above mentions “three positions.” They are: (1) Roe v. Wade should be overturned; (2) support for an amendment that defines life as beginning at conception; and (3) whatever it is that Akin said. Then the New York Times quotes a Gallup poll that says that whereas voters are split on whether they’re pro-life or pro-choice, and whereas Americans substantially agree that abortion is morally wrong, the majority of the public does think there are circumstances in which abortion should be legal. From this, the New York Times declares anti-abortion positions “outside the mainstream.”
In the past, “outside the mainstream” used to be a polite way of saying insane or unreasonable. Now, the New York Times has used it to refer to what is simply a minority position, where all distinctions are swept away. The anti-abortion position is generalized as nutty, simply because in the one aspect which favors the New York Times, it’s not very popular – even while other polls on the same page show that different aspects of opposition are widely supported by most Americans. This abuse of the term “mainstream” is why I’ve come to loathe it. Whenever I see a writer arguing about the mainstream, my spider-sense tingles and I suspect I’m dealing with a fool – a suspicion that usually proves correct.
The editors cheat reason. They use attitude instead of argument, and use arrogant condescension to spackle together the loosest and flimsiest accusations. This isn’t an argument or a case. It’s merely what lawyers call pounding the table.