Taking on a Strawman
Last week, Tom Sgouros at RI Future wrote a piece explaining how President Obama hadn’t really grown government that much; that there wasn’t a “spending binge.” To support his claim, he posted a chart from a piece written by Rex Nutting. The problem was that the Nutting piece has been completely taken apart by the likes of the Heritage Foundation, Investors Business Daily, The Washington Post and the Associated Press and I pointed this out in the comments to Tom’s piece.
Well, now Tom has followed up and has set the tone for his rebuttal on the grounds of logical argumentation:
One of the great things about sophistry is that in any argument there is always enough dust around to throw in people’s eyes. Whatever the argument, the dirt at your feet is always at hand.
One of the great things about intellectual honesty is that you don’t take positions without multiple sources of support. It helps you see through the dust, too.
So, according to the Sgouros Rules of Logical Argumentation, it’s “intellectually honest” to make arguments with lots of support but it’s sophistry when somebody counters your sources with just as many, or more, other sources. The official term for such counter-arguments is “dust.” Got it? Good. He continues:
A week ago I wrote about how spending under Obama has not been nearly as profligate as is widely thought. Marc Comtois, one of the dedicated soldiers of the right who daily lays waste to armies of straw men over at Anchor Rising, thinks he’s found a nut, and complains that an article I used in support of that essay had been amply refuted. (You can find his links in the comments over there.)
What he doesn’t get is that those refutations are just dust. One can go into the weeds of the refutations to show that they are just as tendentious as the original article they critique, but why bother? Even if you pretend the article I cited was all wet, there is ample other support for the assertion that if you really care about responsible spending, you shouldn’t vote for people who promise cheaper government.
Here we see that, evidently, Sgouros has taken an Alinsky rule (personalize and demonize, or something like that) and integrated it into his Rules. This is evidenced by his well-intentioned, good-natured introduction of me to his readers.
From there, Tom apparently applies his rule of sophistry (well, he did mention dust again), because it seems that, while the Nutting chart was important because it confirmed Tom’s beliefs (I believe that is called confirmation bias and we’re all guilty of it. But it isn’t one of Tom’s Rules, apparently), it ceased to be important once it was systematically dismantled by multiple organizations (including mainstream media outlets).
Instead, Tom engages what is apparently his Rule of Moral Equivalency as, suddenly, the multiple arguments used to undermine the single argument he relied upon are “just as tendentious” as the original. Thus, because all are tendentious, all are moot and we can just move along. And that’s just what Tom does by changing the topic from the Nutting data to presenting his case that “if you really care about responsible spending, you shouldn’t vote for people who promise cheaper government.”
But that wasn’t the debate I was having with him. My comment provided multiple sources that refuted the one source he used to support the main point of his previous post: that President Obama didn’t go on a spending binge. Because Tom couldn’t counter those arguments he just dismissed them, accused me of sophistry, characterized me as a marching “soldier of the right” who takes on “strawmen”….and then changed the subject.
Now, as for his premise about what it means to “care about responsible spending,” I will say that Tom provides multiple sources supporting his argument. But, since it’s intellectually honest when he provides many sources but sophistry when I do it, I guess I won’t bother to debate him. Which I guess means he wins…right?