Saturday, March 18, 2006

IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY, go read AP writer Jennifer Loven's piece about Pres. Bush's reliance on straw-man arguments in his speeches and other public statements.

"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions.

When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" -- conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Finally, someone in the MSM is pointing this out. Bush is a master at "strongly disagreeing" with arguments against his policies that no one has made. Or he "disagrees" with an argument that he has completely misrepresented or distorted.

Of course, people do this when they don't really have a defensible policy or a strong, coherent argument on their side. He can't engage his opponents by directly addressing what they have actually said, so he addresses something they haven't said, or omits important context in a way that misrepresents what they have said. And by constantly using the phrase "Some say..." or variants thereof, instead of naming specific people or groups, he can avoid taking responsibility for lying.

Because the "some" often go unnamed, Bush can argue that his statements are true in an era of blogs and talk radio. Even so, "'some' suggests a number much larger than is actually out there," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said. "All politicians try to get away with this to a certain extent. What's striking here is how much this administration rests on a foundation of this kind of stuff."

Bush has caricatured the other side for years, trying to tilt legislative debates in his favor or score election-season points with voters.

Not long after taking office in 2001, Bush pushed for a new education testing law and began portraying skeptics as opposed to holding schools accountable.

The chief opposition, however, had nothing to do with the merits of measuring performance, but rather the cost and intrusiveness of the proposal.

Campaigning for Republican candidates in the 2002 midterm elections, the president sought to use the congressional debate over a new Homeland Security Department against Democrats.

He told at least two audiences that some senators opposing him were "not interested in the security of the American people." In reality, Democrats balked not at creating the department, which Bush himself first opposed, but at letting agency workers go without the usual civil service protections.

It's a total lack of honesty or integrity, and finally the press is starting to take notice.

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