- “I think we should have a czar to stop crime.”
- ‘Nah, that’s a bad idea.”
- “So, you’re in favor of crime????”
We’ve seen this style of rhetoric used often in politics lately. It starts by offering a solution to a problem, but then any criticism of the solution is misconstrued as supporting the problem. Obama isn't a master at this style ... but he uses it all the time.
It’s a variant of the “when did you stop beating your wife” fallacy. In both cases, you’re presented with a compound statement, but you’re only allowed to deny one of the parts. That allows your opponent to misconstrue your position on the other part.
Consider Paul Krugman’s piece today, in which he defends regulation. Krugman thinks he’s patiently explaining to us (rubes) why we need regulation, and what would happen if we got rid of it. Of course, this is a straw-man, since hardly anyone wants to remove regulation entirely. But Krugman takes it one step further. Krugman implies that unless we embrace the full set of regulations, and embrace the idea that regulators have unlimited authority, then we must be in favor of Big Bank or Big Finance excesses … and only the ignorant henchmen of Big Money, or their unwitting slaves, would accept that.
The same meme came out in Barney Frank’s excremental interview on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. (Frank’s performance was as obnoxious as it was predictable; he repeatedly interrupted his Republican counterpart, but when she did the same toward him, Frank went ballistic.) Remember, Frank is one of the geniuses behind Dodd-Frank, an unwieldy bureaucratic mess. Frank's argument is that under George Bush, the economy was unregulated (yes, he said that) and that’s why we lost jobs.
This is rhetorical nonsense. But it’s interesting that this style of argument is showing up more and more. It’s become the first stages of liberals rewriting history, where they try to reinforce their explanation of what went wrong by assigning a complex situation to a short, snappy, self-serving solution.