Texas Sen. Wendy Davis is defining the dialogue down in her campaign for Texas governor. At a crucial time in the state’s history, when Texans deserve substantive debate about issues ranging from taxes to regulations to water rights, Davis is spending her time demonizing the state’s majority party, instead of engaging ideas and policies.
“They’re talking about whether they should soften their language on immigration, but we all know where they are because they’ve been talking about it on the airwaves for the last couple of months,” Davis said during a fundraising event last week. “And we know what they really believe and think about people who don’t look like them or come from where they come from.”
That’s a dodge. Instead of discussing actual positions, she’s employing some classic logical fallacies to change the subject.
The first logical fallacy is an appeal to the masses (argumentum ad populum). Davis speaks of “we” and “they,” but in a subtle way that confers on her listeners an edge of moral superiority. The phrase “we all know” is designed to make audience members feel like they’re sitting at the cool kids’ table.
It’s a common enough rhetorical device, but let’s recognize it for what it is, and what it isn’t. It’s not a fair depiction of what the GOP position actually is.
Next is the fallacy of guilt by association (a form of ad hominem). David seeks to present the “official” Republican position on immigration as whatever is being said “on the airwaves.” Lots of things are said on the airwaves by lots of different radio hosts (and callers); some of it is good and some of it is wacky. Again, the phrase “what they’ve been talking about… on the airwaves” isn’t a fair representation of what the Republican stance is; it’s merely an attempt to tar the GOP with the brush of late-night crazy.
But Davis stoops the lowest with blatant race-baiting in the phrase, “we know what they really believe and think about people who don’t look like them or come from where they come from.”
That’s such an amazing collection of logical fallacies that it’s hard to know where to start. It’s a straw man argument, it’s an appeal to emotion and to fear, it’s a red herring, it’s an ad hominem attack.
Mostly, though, it’s the most dangerous of all fallacies for political debate: it’s “poisoning the well.” It’s an attempt to discredit one’s opponent before they even speak. In effect, Davis is saying the Republican position on immigration doesn’t matter because they’re racists, nativists and xenophobes. Therefore, Davis’ listeners don’t even have to listen to or consider the arguments.
The truth of the matter is that there are several GOP positions on immigration, and the party is still grappling with the issue. There’s heated dialogue within the party about the issue — most recently at the Republican Party of Texas convention.
Davis’ posturing ensures that no dialogue between the parties on the issue of immigration is even possible.
And Texans deserve better than that.