Straw men

STRAW MEN…. One of the more common Republican criticisms of the president is Obama’s alleged use of “straw men” arguments. Karl Rove recently wrote a column on the president’s reliance on “the lazy rhetorical device of ‘straw men.'” Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) have made the same complaint.

With this in mind, it was only natural that the media follow suit. The New York Times’ Helene Cooper had this 1,000-word piece the other day.

Democrats often complained about President George W. Bush’s frequent use of a rhetorical device as old as rhetoric itself: creating the illusion of refuting an opponent’s argument by mischaracterizing it and then knocking down that mischaracterization.

There was much outrage in 2006, for example, when Mr. Bush said that when it came to battling terrorists, “I need members of Congress who understand that you can’t negotiate with these folks,” implying that Democrats backed talks with Al Qaeda. That assertion was promptly, and angrily, disputed by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Now that there is a new team at the White House, guess who is knocking down straw men left and right?

The right, not surprisingly, was delighted to see the piece. There was only one small problem with the article: it’s wrong.

As publius explained, “The difference between Bush and Obama’s arguments is fairly simple — Bush just made stuff up, while Obama’s critics are actually making the critiques that Obama attributes to them. Somewhat hilariously, Cooper herself concedes this on several of the supposed examples of Obama’s ‘strawman’ arguments.”

Exactly. If the president responds to actual arguments presented by his real-life detractors, that’s not a straw-man argument; that’s the opposite of a straw-man argument. Consider this example from the article:

Mr. Obama’s straw men are not limited to the economy. On his maiden overseas trip, he shot down one after another in quick succession, for the benefit of students in Istanbul. “Some people say that maybe I’m being too idealistic,” he said. “I made a speech in Prague about reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, and some people said, ah, that will never happen. And some people have said, why are you discussing the Middle East when it’s not going to be possible for the Israelis and the Palestinians to come together? Or why are you reaching out to the Iranians, because the U.S. and Iran can never agree on anything?”

Who would not be ready to cheer the knockdown of such pessimism after all that? “If we don’t try, if we don’t reach high, then we won’t make any progress,” Mr. Obama concluded.

To Mr. Obama’s credit, several pundits, including the Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum (who called his no-nukes speech “quixotic”), dumped cold water on the idea of getting to a nuclear-free world anytime soon. And White House officials pointed to columns in both The New York Times (William Kristol) and The Washington Times (Jeffrey Kuhner) that criticized Mr. Obama for trying engagement with Iran’s leaders.

It’s just a bizarre case against the president. The article accuses Obama of using straw men, and then points to examples proving the opposite.

I have no idea why articles like these get published.