I’ve been feeling guilty lately for mentioning logical fallacies without explaining what they are. (This guilt, no doubt being the reason for my drinking) So, to relieve this crushing guilt and hopefully head off the inevitable slide into alcoholism, here is a short but pithy primer on logical fallacies.
A logical fallacy is an error of reasoning. It is different from a factual error in that the person making the logical fallacy may not be wrong about their facts but instead may be wrong because of the structure of their argument itself.
Recently, as part of the effort to be both far and balanced AND oppose President Obama in anyway they can, Fox News posted a 1961speech by Ronald Reagan concerning socialized medicine. (OH NO! THIS POST IS GOING TO BE ABOUT HEALTHCARE!) I’m sorry. This speech is just too perfect for the topic at hand. It offers three great examples of common logical fallacies. I promise not to get too wonky. I’ll mostly just rag on Fox News. They’re inherently evil , so it’ll be fun.
Logical Fallacy #1 SLIPPERY SLOPE - If you can make it through the speech, basically what Ronald Reagan, wants you to know is that government run healthcare is just the tip of the iceberg in the Socialist Parties plans for world domination. If the US adopts Medicaid (this speech was made before that program existed) then the government will start taking away all our rights, and next thing you know their naming our high schools after Joseph Stalin. Ron has just offered us a great example of the classic fallacy of the “slippery slope.” It occurs when someone says if you allow A to happen then it will lead to B which will lead to C and down the line until Z. (Z being some catastrophe like the US being overrun by commies, the elderly being hunted for their fur or apes having gay sex in the streets, whatever is the most frightening.) The problem with this line of reasoning is that the arguer is assuming that A ALWAYS leads to B which ALWAYS leads to C and so on. The real world is much more complicated then that. In the real world, there is an entire spectrum of outcomes that might occur for any one particular action. Or there could be no change at all. It is actually possible to make a law without it inevitably leading to the downfall of civilization. Canada has had some form of socialized medicine since 1961 and the UK since 1948. And yet, the last time I visited both those countries I did not have to sign a paper pledging my allegiance to Chairman Mao.
Logical Fallacy #2 STRAW MAN ARGUMENT - By posting this video, Fox wants us to know that the President’s Healthcare plan is bad because socialized medicine is bad. The problem with this argument is that Obama’s plan does not propose socialized medicine in any form. Whether you like the public option or you hate it, the public option is not in the President’s plan. So, if someone opposes the plan on the grounds that socialized medicine is wrong, they are attacking a straw man. That is to saw they are attacking an ugly manifestation of their opponents argument, a version that they themselves manufactured in order to more easily attack it. (It is like beating a scary straw effigy of President Bush in the streets of Iran rather then Bush himself) This is often easier to do, then to lay out a logical reasonable response to an opponent’s true position. Laying out a logical response would involve the person actually trying to understand their opponent’s position and in the world of crappy arguing that’s something you certainly don’t want to do. If they had any integrity Republicans would be embracing President Obama’s plan since it is similar to the one proposed by Mitt Romney back at the beginning of the 2008 campaign. Remember Mitt, the guy with the talk-show-host hair who ran as a REPUBLICAN candidate for president?
Logical Fallacy #3 APPEAL TO AUTHORITY – It must be true because Ronald Reagan says so. WRONG! Quoting Authorities in a particular field when you are talking about that particular discipline can be useful. But, shoehorning some respected person into your position and then saying that your position is true BECAUSE that person said so is a classic logical fallacy. Conservatives have tried to make the Reagan Presidency into some sort of golden age where children didn’t talk back, milk flowed like honey and women walked around wearing nothing but high heels and holding martinis. You can’t blame them. The Democrats did the same with Kennedy. (Oh, Jacky Kennedy, with your little pill box hat, how I yearn for thee.) But like Kennedy, Reagan is not a god. He made plenty of mistakes and changed his mind plenty of times. Sure, he lowered taxes his first term in office but then after nearly tripling the deficit, he had to raise taxes his next term. When he made that speech, nearly 50 years ago, Healthcare costs where a pittance of a fraction of what they are now. In reality, Fox News has no idea what Reagan’s position on this particular piece of legislation would have been. Who knows, were he alive today, maybe Reagan would be supporting his good friend Mitt Romney’s plan out of a mutual admiration for beautiful hair.
You might be thinking that by talking about Reagan I’m beating a dead horse (Get it? Reagan – dead horse… What? Is it too soon?) I’m sorry. I certainly wouldn’t have even brought it up if Fox News wasn’t involved. Fox posted this speech, as though it was relevant to today’s dialog, but Reagan lived in a different era. This speech belongs to that era. The world has changed. We are not under threat of being attacked by the Soviet Union. Medicaid works and we’re not all speaking Russian. The Soviet Union is long gone and China’s got Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Should we also be on the lookout for Anarchists and Huns? Come on Fox. This is not fair and balanced. And it’s not news. It’s nonsense. You know what? I need a drink!