Straw Men Arguments Know No Bounds

We’re all guilty of it at some point in our lives: we get into a debate with a friend or foe and instead of discussing the merits of each others positions, we go on attacking arguments that were never made and are likely ridiculous on their face.

Thus, in a terribly illustrated way, the straw man is born. It is, in the immortal words of Wikipedia, one’s ability “to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”1 Zing, you lose.

Too often these misrepresentations of legitimate views get turned into the official narrative of these views, and the result is a misinformed, often angry, group of people. In that vein, there are several Republican ‘positions’ that are dredged up in this fashion in order to frame their opposition as a morally and intellectually superior group.

Attack of the straw man! What in the hell is he carrying? That’s right, a position that no one holds!

Republicans hate helping poor people! I can’t tell you how often I hear this particular trope brought forth, mostly along the lines of, “why don’t they want to help people? If they’re all Christians, don’t they realize that Jesus was a socialist?” No, no they don’t realize that particular position. But let’s break this down a bit.

The false position that is being attacked is that Republicans hate socialism and government so much that they must hate helping people in general–which is at odds with the teachings of Jesus. So what if Jesus was particularly interested in helping people? Jesus wasn’t particularly interested in helping through government programs. Similarly, Republicans are opposed to the government’s involvement, as a coercive institution, in charitable works. That’s the position.

You can certainly take issue with that, because from the perspective of larger society the argument can be made whether or not government is the most efficient way to distribute help. Not a position I hold, but there it is.

Republicans hate women! According to some folks, the religious right’s preoccupation with their own moral standard implies that their goal is to eliminate the rights of women. This is of course, not quite right. The position itself is one that is nuanced, but is mostly that they do not want women to have the right to an abortion, and some factions want to reduce access to birth control. That’s not really an all out assault on women’s rights, but it is a naive position.

Republicans only want to give tax handouts to the super rich! There are two things at work here that are particularly troubling compared to the previous two positions. The first is the notion that a tax cut, or tax break, is some kind of handout. I discussed this topic a couple of days ago, but the bottom line is that notion is flawed. The second misconception is that the rich are the only targets of these cuts, when in fact the idea is that when capital is freed up it can be spent on investment instead of tax bills. Investment often means new employees or cheaper products.

My list is not exhaustive, even if it felt like it was, but elections often hinge on those positions. But you know what the real kicker is? I’m probably guilty of the thing I’m discussing. Zing! You got trolled!

  1. Straw Man. Wikipedia. Accessed 11/9/2012. <>.