And all this time I thought politicians just spoke a different language that only sounded like English. E. Magill writes in Open Salon:
The human brain is wired all wrong. Those not versed in logic are blissfully unaware of how much our brain messes up the most basic of arguments, leading to the mess of random thoughts, non-sequiturs, cognitive dissonance, white lies, misinformation, and syntax errors that we call consciousness. Luckily, there is one place where all of these logical misteps can be exemplified: politics. What follows is a crash course in some of the most prevelant fallacies we all make, as they appear in modern American politics. And though I consider these the “top 10” logical fallacies in politics, they are not in order, for reasons that should become clear rather quickly.
The man who invented Western philosophy, Aristotle, considered ignoratio elenchi, which roughly translates to “irrelevant thesis,” an umbrella term that covered all other logical fallacies. Indeed, most of the other fallacies on this list could be categorized as subsets of the irrelevant thesis. Formally, ignoratio elenchi refers to any rebuttal that fails to address the central argument.
This happens with almost every single question during a formal political debate. For example, at a televised debate between presidential candidates, the mediator might ask, “If you become president, what would you do about the rising unemployment numbers?” to which the candidate might reply, “I’m glad you asked, because unemployment is the greatest problem facing this nation yadda yadda yadda, and my opponent’s plan to deal with the problem is completely insufficient.” Notice, in this example, how the candidate dodged the question entirely. He made an argument, but it didn’t answer the mediator’s concerns and was thus an irrelevant thesis.
Another example of ignoratio elenchi is the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy, which was recently used to great effect by the Democrats during the final stages of the healthcare debate. When asked if he thought using the reconciliation strategy to pass the healthcare bill with a simple majority vote was the right thing to do, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid–after claiming that nobody was talking about it (a logical fallacy known as the incorrect statement)–Reid released a statement detailing how many times the Republicans have used the reconciliation strategy over the last decade. Like the example above, Reid made an argument, but it was an irrelevant one that said nothing about how right or wrong the strategy is.
This kind of thing happens in cycles, because the majority party is always changing hands. When the minority party is called childish for filibustering a judicial nominee or something, for instance, they always come back with something along the lines of “You guys did the same thing a few years back, nanny nanny boo boo!” This is, of course, a meaningless argument, even though it is usually true. Even if your opponent shot somebody and got away with it, it doesn’t mean you can do the same thing.
This is why the American political “discussion” isn’t helping the country, and if you pooh-pooh the importance of logic you’re part of the problem. (Did I just commit a fallacy?) Read the rest of the list here.