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Political Post Hoc and Other Fallacies

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The sedentary post-Obama-election electorate has been aroused to a state of apathy. Consider the Hasty Generalization fallacy that Americans are frustrated and angry with government. Earlier this month Gallup reported, “Americans’ frustration with Congress is directed at both sides of the aisle — with job approval ratings of 33% for the Democrats in Congress and 32% for the Republicans in Congress.” Gallup also admits, “What is not clear, however, is why the ratings are so low.” It is not anger. It is boredom. Rhetorical fallacies make politics dull.Not angry. Bored.

The post hoc fallacy gets its name from the Latin phrase post hoc, ergo propter hoc. The translation is “after this, therefore because of this.” Put another way, because B comes after A, A caused B. Try “President Obama was elected to fix the economy, and then the budget deficit went up. Obama is responsible for increasing the budget deficit.”

My personal favorites are the ad hominem and tu quoque fallacies. What a combo. They sound naughty and translate “against the person” and “you, too!” Here is how cool Latin is. “The reason you cannot believe Obama is that we don’t really know who he is (ad hominem) or he is an elitist (tu quoque).

Rhetorical fallacy is not just a tea party Republican gambit. Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter and member of the Democratic National Committee said of Obama, “… frankly I don’t like him. I feel like he is an elitist. I feel like he has not given me reason to trust him.” Elitist derides elite as elitist. Go figure. She went for McCain.

Back to fallacies in English, Republicans seem particularly fond of the False Dichotomy fallacy. In essence they set up a situation and offer only two choices. They eliminate one choice so that only their preferred choice remains, never minding any other choice for consideration. “This country is in terrible shape. Either we defeat the Democrats and take over congress, or we continue to threaten our children’s future. Clearly no one wants to threaten our children’s future, so we must take over congress.”

Robert Kennedy said, “One fifth of the people are against everything all the time.” That could describe the tea party, if I used the RFK quote to base my case that midterm election rhetoric is rife with fallacies. Actually, I just did and I used the Appeal to Authority fallacy for that feat.

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About Tommy Mack

Tommy Mack began his career in broadcasting and is a US Army graduate of the Defense Information School. He worked in Army Public and Command Information and earned a BS in Liberal Studies from the State University of New York, Albany. A marketing communications executive, Tommy became a business management consultant for a major international consulting company and its affiliates before establishing Tommy Mack Organization, a business consulting practice specializing in organization and communications management. A professional writer and blogger, he writes about politics, business, and culture.
  • honky

    wow, you sure are boring! elitist, verbose, jargon-laden academese much?


  • Let’s see now. Since B follows A, to assume that A is the cause is a fallacy. True enough. The larger question is, can you reduce the question of human perception and expectations to a logical paradigm? Why would you? Why should you?

    The situation Obama inherited may have been beyond fixing; and then again, it may have not been. We’ll never know for sure, but the point remains, the results have been abysmal. There is nothing to show for it, no significant improvement to speak of thus far. That’s the record, and the people have the right to look at the record and sense lack of leadership without being encumbered by the niceties of Aristotelian logic.

    The one thing Obama could have done is to set the tone for the nation. No one expected miracles, but leadership is expected of a self-proclaimed leader. Well, he didn’t deliver on that score, I shan’t bother with details here; if anything, he only managed to further alienate and divide the already divided America.

    So what I’m saying, I guess, is that blaming the electorate for less than perfectly cogent thinking kind of misses the point. Let’s put the blame where it properly belongs. Not to do that only tells me you’re an apologist for failed policies, lack of leadership, general ineptitude, any number of things. I know you’re not, but the overall tenor of your article creates that impression.

  • Baronius

    More than that, you’re only willing to accept anger as valid if you agree with what the other person is angry about. Also, if this analysis is based on talking to people you don’t know well, there are going to be difficulties. The three specifics you give (identifying as an independent, saying that things aren’t working, and being unspecific about what isn’t working) all sound like people are trying to find the easiest way out of a conversation. Heck, if you asked me about my politics, I’d probably give myself some wiggle room, and if you started to disagree with my specific complaints, I’d disengage as quickly as I could.

  • Baronius

    You’re assuming that anger has to be informed and focused.

  • Let me get back to you on the foreign money.

  • “Are you angry with our government?” I ask that question of people everywhere I go and the response is qualified, such as, “Well, I don’t think it’s working the way it should.”

    When pressed for any specifics, there are few offered. What I have been hearing is unsupported verbiage repeated from last night’s television commercials, right and left. The “Obama bailout” is one example, never minding any facts about the TARP, which is now over and resulted in a return on the tax payer investment; or about GM, which repaid, restructured and is hiring.

    Here in Bay area California, just about everybody I talk to claims to be an independent. My suspicion is that they are just bored, as reflected in the low marks for congress I mentioned and the fact that the majority of CA voters are registered Democrats. Either that or it could be the ACLU card I wear around my neck and the DNC donkey tattoo on each of my forearms; but I could be wrong.

    Sorry about the racism stuff.

  • Baronius

    Well, I can’t say that was as thoughtful a reply as I’d hoped for, but there’s absolutely nothing else happening on BC Politics, so it’s either this, pap smears, or House MD.

    So let’s start with your first point. Why do you think that people are bored, not angry? If people are bored by overheated rhetoric, that would mean that the overheated rhetoric preceeded the boredom. But isn’t the rhetoric caused by anger?

    Along those lines, I think it’s fair to say that the tea partiers are angry. Bored people don’t get together in rallies in the park. OK, unless they’re stoned. Bored stoned people love hanging out in the park. But they don’t dress up – no, wait, I’m wrong again. Bored stoned people love to dress up and hang out in the park. But the tea partiers aren’t stoned, and they don’t seem bored. They seem angry.

    As to the comment you made about “crap rhetoric”, would you agree that the complaints about foreign money in the Chamber of Commerce’s coffers falls into that category, especially as the unions in this country also receive overseas money and are equally politically active?

  • “This is the wrong year to be complaining about ad hominem attacks from the right.”

    When is there ever a good year for crap rhetoric?

  • Baronius

    Isn’t there some fallacy about unsubstantiated generalizations? Broad statements about the other side using fallacious arguments imply that the other side only uses fallacious arguments. (I note that your primary example of a Democratic fallacy is one that resulted in a vote for McCain.)

    Your first paragraph states that boredom, not anger, is the cause of political frustration. But you don’t support that argument at all.

    Your second paragraph implies that President Obama isn’t responsible for the increase in the federal deficit. He isn’t solely responsible, certainly, but surely he bears some responsibility?

    The third paragraph is probably the hardest to stomach. For the last two years, I’ve been told that every political position I’ve consistently held for twenty years is now motivated by racism. Political discussions always have the potential to sink into personal attacks, but I’ve never seen it happen so frequently. This is the wrong year to be complaining about ad hominem attacks from the right.

  • Thanks, Clavos. I don’t expect many comments on proverbial food for thought.

    My wife June and I started college at USF in ’68 after graduating from Brandon High.

  • Clavos

    Interesting piece.

    I have a book by Eugene Ehrlich, a former English prof at Columbia, titled Amo, Amas, Amat And More. It’s subtitled, “How to Use Latin to Your Own Advantage and to the Astonishment of Others.” If you’re not already familiar with it, I highly recommend it; Ehrlich is a clever writer.

    I see from your bio that you once taught at USF. I received my BA in English from there, back in ’69.