One of the most common logical fallacies — in life, as well as in politics — is the “straw man” argument. That’s where you misrepresent your opponent’s argument, and refute the misrepresentation, instead of the real argument.
The Democratic Party, fearing for its congressional viability in the 2014 elections, is engaged in a full-out straw man campaign, and in the words of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it goes like this: “The Republican vision is, ‘I’ve got mine and the rest of you are on your own.’”
President Barack Obama makes the same sort of claim often.
“Their philosophy is simple: you’re on your own,” Obama says of the GOP. “You’re on your own if you’re out of work, can’t find a job. Tough luck you’re on your own. You don’t have health care: That’s your problem. You’re on your own. If you’re born into poverty, lift yourself up with your own bootstraps, even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own. They believe that’s how America is advanced.”
But that’s demonstrably untrue. The straw man argument begins by putting words into your opponents’ mouths; that’s where Warren and Obama start. No Republican actually says “I’ve got mine, and you’re on your own.” Nor are those beliefs anything like what conservatives believe.
Former Sen. Jim DeMint, who now leads the top conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, lays out the real Republican position: Poverty and inequality must be solved — just not the way Obama says.
“For years, analysts across the political spectrum have pondered why, after decades of providing upward economic mobility to millions, the U.S. economy no longer seems able to move so many people up from the lowest rung of the economic ladder,” DeMint writes. “Is the American Dream of upward mobility dead? This is a serious subject deserving serious consideration in the market place of ideas. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we’re about to get a thoughtful debate. Instead, the president mischaracterizes the problem and offers a simplistic solution: There are just too many rich people, and they are causing the problem.”
But that’s based on an incorrect reading of the most basic laws of economics.
“Worse, it is divisive to our society because it runs on the fumes of envy and resentment,” DeMint contends. “Punishing success will only deter further success ... not what you want if you want the economy to grow. Better for the president to curb government policies that pick economic winners and losers (or as someone put it after the Solyndra affair, that picks only losers). Government intervention in the marketplace foments favoritism and cronyism and leads to more inequality.”
The real difference between the Republicans and the Democrats on the issues of poverty and inequality is about the role of government.
“We must recognize that while the federal government can inefficiently redistribute money, it cannot redistribute success, character, personal satisfaction, dignity, purpose, perseverance or any of the qualities and outcomes that make life worth living,” DeMint says. “In other words, it’s time to stop playing politics, and actually help the poor.”