The Fallacies of Political Arguments

I will never forget when I ran in my first election. It was sixth grade,

I will never forget when I ran in my first election. It was sixth grade, and I decided to run for student representative of my middle school class. I had recently moved to this Nashville-area public school from Michigan, and I figured it would be a great way to make friends. The election process was quite elaborate, consisting of the nominations, debates, and the election by hand-raising. After giving what I believed to be the most profound campaign speech of my twelve-year-old life, my opponent took the floor. One of his closing remarks was, “I can represent all of you as a true southerner and not a new northern boy.” It was a heated attack for the coveted sixth grade seat. Now that I’m in college, however, I’ve realized that he had used a weapon from the political campaign and argument arsenal that has been used for thousands of years.

Attacking political candidates and throwing out distracting claims to win arguments or votes was something that my younger self quite simply labeled as “politics.” I believed it was all a part of trying to persuade and win, and I figured it was all legitimate. It wasn’t until I read the book Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by: D.Q. McInerny that I realized what I believed to be sincere political arguments were in fact logical fallacies. Here are some that we see all the time:

The Ad Hominem Fallacy (E.g., The “Bane Capital” attack) Easily one of the most identifiable and most used forms of illogical thinking in the political arena. The tactic is to attack the person behind an argument as a means of distracting from the actual argument. We see it when a political candidate is losing and brings up some flawed aspect of a persons character or past. One example was in the 2012 presidential campaign, when Mitt Romney was talking about economic plans and policies. Obama then attacked Romney’s profession, and tried to make a claim about his personal feelings about jobs. It is meant for us to forget the factual argument and judge the character of our opponent instead. We see it used everywhere from classroom bullies to local government, where ads go back and forth bashing the other person running for office.

The Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (E.g., “Blame it on Bush”) Another fallacy we see so often from a candidate running against a returner. The argument is structured mathematically as “If A happens, then B happens after A causes B.” This deduction is incorrect. We see it in action when any new candidate starts campaigning: Bush became President, and the economy tanked, therefore Bush caused the economic collapse. Sadly, many people accept this as truth without any research or thought. The two are rarely connected, and often are just put together as a brash comparison taken out of context.

The Red Herring (E.g. “Dog on The Roof”) This is most certainly the most ignorant and childish form of illogical political warfare. It occurs when we introduce emotionally volatile information about the opponent that is completely irrelevant to the issues at hand. A perfect example is from right when Romney was starting to make a name for himself. We saw a media explosion of how he neglects animals, and pundits tried to drag him down with this “emotional” issue. They tried to throw off his ideas and his arguments, and tried to distract the people from his argument by focusing on something irrelevant to the campaign process.

These fallacies are not used solely by liberals; many conservatives are guilty of employing these kinds of arguments as well. As voters and active participants in this republican form of government, we must recognize that these are not legitimate arguments but are very serious logical fallacies. They can distract us from the important issues and corrupt our prudence in making educated decisions. Conservatives must recognize these whenever we make an argument or try to justify a claim. We must not substitute illogical tactics, personal attacks, and distracting claims for facts, wisdom, and moral truths about issues and leaders. We will win the good fight by doing just that: fighting the good fight with truth and facts.

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Thomas Novelly | Hillsdale College | @TomNovelly

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