Most people love logical fallacies. I mean, who could hate those little errors in reasoning that take a rational argument down a notch by using faulty evidence or conclusions?
Famous fallacious examples include straw man debates and ad hominem attacks against an individual instead of an idea. If you don’t like those, you must be stupid or something.
My favorite, however, would have to be the tu quoque fallacy: redirecting an attack by appealing to the hypocrisy of the attacker. It’s what we used to use in kindergarten — “but you didn’t make Billy sit in the corner!” — and what we see in political rhetoric now more than ever.
This way of arguing doesn’t advance any set of ideas, yet when a double-standard is so apparent that an opponent’s critique becomes hypocrisy, sometimes there is nothing one can do but look to tu quoque in defense.
This is the new age of regressive meta-debate we’ve entered. Think back to the inverted reasoning of Jennifer Palmieri, White House communications director, attempting to explain Obama’s decision to continue campaigning on the day major crises emerged in both Israel and Ukraine. Palmieri told the New York Times: “It is rarely a good idea to return to the White House just for show, when the situation can be handled responsibly from the road … Abrupt changes to his schedule can have the unintended consequence of unduly alarming the American people or creating a false sense of crisis.”
With the ongoing Mexican border “situation,” ISIS in Iraq, and other domestic scandals and international emergencies now relegated to the “What difference at this point does it make” category, Palmieri (and her boss) seemed to hope that clicking their heels would make it all go away, and perhaps even present an opportunity to turn Americans’ valid sense of crisis and urgency against Republican opponents. It took a global public outcry to get Obama’s tepid initial response to evolve into an equally toothless condemnation the following day.
The incident offers some insight into the latest left-wing modus operandi — and the most recent addition to its long list of diversionary devices — which might best be called the ‘You mad, bro?’ fallacy, based on the 2003 exchange between Bill O’Reilly and rapper Cam’Ron about the harmful effects of hip hop music.
Obama himself has used a similar approach countless times in attacks on his political opposition, dismissing the “phony scandals” under investigation in Congress involving the IRS and Benghazi, and writing off House Speaker John Boehner’s threat of legal action with a pithy, “so sue me.” Congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are equally guilty of taking Republican indignation over poor leadership decisions to inflammatory levels. The more brazen their offense, the more effective ‘You mad, bro?’ is at deflecting it.
This signifies a radical about-face for the left, whose hysteria over certain causes once gave rise to the term “bleeding heart.” Yet, the ‘You mad, bro?’ technique has even trickled its way up to the liberal “intelligentsia.” No stranger to dismissing claims that the ever-bloating government will create inflation, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman took his famously tactful discourse to a new level in an October 2013 column, during the federal shutdown over the debt ceiling, stating that ideologues on the right were “addicted to the Apocalypse.” He recently reaffirmed his position with a July 18 column that his teabagger detractors are “addicted to inflation.”
Of course, one need only look at the evidence, the Consumer Price Index data showing the gradual but persistent rise in expenditures like food, energy and health care, paired with plateauing wages and shrinking benefits, to feel differently than the multimillionaire economist. But how does one refute a Nobel laureate telling you, against your better judgment, that it’s all in your head?
Enter tu quoque.
Despite the better efforts of Al Gore and an army of climatologists whose job is to weave dubiously collected data into false positives (another logical fallacy), the left continues to be thwarted in its efforts to create a sense of panic over climate change. Recent polls by Gallup and Pew Research show that only 40 percent of Americans regard it as a threat, and even fewer as a legislative priority.