People often use terrible, specious logic when arguing things political. I have particularly seen this over the last 6 months. The argument typically goes like this:
- I make a critique of a policy in the Obama administration, say on health care
- Sometimes as an opening response, or sometimes when other person is unable to specifically counter what I have said, they respond instead, "well, your guys fill in the blank ." The latter part might be "got us into Iraq" or possibly "are pushing this birther nonsense."
- I respond that fill in the blank was not something I support(ed) and that if by "my guys" they mean Republicans, that I was not a Republican, that I do not think the Republicans have an internally consistent position, and that I disagree with many programs and policies typically advocated by Republicans. And besides, how did this have anything to do with the original conversation?
- They respond to me now as if I am somehow cheating. Confusion reigns.
I am not a student of logic, so I don't know what this technique or fallacy is called, though I have learned that such common behaviors generally do have academic sounding names. I think of it as the sports-team-argument approach. When my son (Yankees fan, much to the embarrassment of the whole family) argues with his Red Sox cousins, he might say "Kevin Youkilis has to be the creepiest looking guy in the league," and his cousins might respond "Yeah, well how many steroids has A-Rod done this week?"
Strictly speaking, bringing up A-Rod does not answer the Youkilis barb. But it is understood to be in the broader context of my team vs. your team, and in that context the exchange makes logical sense, and the A-Rod comeback is a perfectly appropriate rejoinder to the Youkilis insult. You point out a blemish in my team, I respond with a blemish on your team.
But what if you don' t have a team?
I am starting to understand better that this is how most people approach political discourse. For someone looking for a quality discussion on key public policy questions, arguments seldom make sense. Why does something Rush Limbaugh is saying have any bearing on the point I just made on health care or cap-and-trade? The answer is that it does not, unless the whole point is a red team-blue team one-upmanship between the Coke and Pepsi parties.
Postscript / Disclosure: I am actually an agnostic in the Yankees / Red Sox battles, but I am a big fan of Kevin Youkilis. The story of how Oakland's Billy Bean tried to pry Youkilis out of the Red Sox farm system in Moneyball is priceless. According to the story, Bean knew before the Red Sox what talent they had lurking in the Minors.