Conservatives and their favorite Straw Men

Conservatives have developed an interesting new technique of claiming that Liberals only hold such beliefs because Leftism is hip, cool, or whatever, and then asserting that Conservatives hold their views because Rightism is the calm, rational, logical alternative. This is complete and utter bullshit, and it reflects badly on the historical awareness, philosophical wisdom, and self-awareness of the people who spit it out.

1. Slamming the liberals for not being rational ignores history

Consider the legal progressive measures that have occured this century. The Bill of Rights was found to protect a woman’s right to have an abortion. Civil Rights statutes crushed institutionalized racism in the United States. A public welfare system has been put into place. Enviornmental legislation. Political correctness is understood to be the socially proper mode of conduct.

None of these advances came about because mush-brained hippies stuck a flower in a gun and set a research rabbit free so he could make sweet love to it. They came about because of reasoned, rational deliberation on the part of Congress, the Supreme Court, and whatnot. They came about because powerful leaders and speakers explained their justification. They came about because the arguments behind these theories exposed the comfortable ignorance of the opposition.

Now, things are a little different. Progressive power reached it’s peak in the late 70s (in my opinon) and has become the “status quo” ever since. This is why we have political correctness. This is why people complain the media is liberal- left wing arguments WON in the field of logic and debate. The problem is that since leftism is now standard, there are necessarily more people who believe it than can really explain it. And more people annoyed by it.

The Right has decided to slash out against the “standard, boring” left wing ideals since the 80s, and they’ve been pretty successful. I attribute this to (ignoring the baby boomers getting old and buying SUVs) the usual rebellious impulses of youth. Since liberalism is the status quo, it feels independant and cool to turn to a more conservative world view. And for old conservatives, it’s a powerful message to say that liberlism has no logical basis, but its just ‘what everyone is doing’.

**2. Slamming the liberals for being irrational shows a great lack of philosophical wisdom **

Finding some people who cannot logically explain their worldviews does not disprove that view. It may well be true that the majority of people chanting “no war!” won’t be able to really argue the merits of that position effectively. But you will find the same sort of dogma coming from people chanting “no abortion!” outside of an abortion clinic. Within any political group there are going to be leaders and there are going to be followers. There will be some people who truly grasp all the nuances of the theory, and there will be some who have been convinced by these leaders. A follower might not be able to remember or understand the argument that pursuaded him.

Frankly, arguing that a theory has no merit because some people who follow it can’t give you all the details makes less sense than putting your arm in a meat grinder when you’re hungry. In both cases you’re doing something illogical; at least in the latter case you get some sausage afterwards.

3. Attacking liberal ideals as irrational reveals a lack of self-awareness on beha

The conservative position made popular by the likes of Ann “Slander” Coulter is that liberals only justify their beleifs by looking down from their ivory tower and snooty noses at the conservatives. This position is paradoxial because 1. it confuses refusal to adopt a particular worldview with close-mindedness and 2. it commits the very same wrongs it complains about.

First, the liberal position in war and in general can be summed in a few important positions. The most fundemental, in my mind, is this : you don’t know if you’re right. Alot of theories grow out of this- the enviornment must be protected because we arn’t sure how much it’ll hurt us if we dont have it. We should be vegetarian because we arn’t sure that meat isn’t going to build up prions in our brain and kill us. The US shouldn’t go to war because we can’t be 100% sure that we’re right and France is wrong.

Rabid conservatives would argue that these opinions are close minded because they have convinced themselves (alot of the time starting from premises which are not exclusive to the liberal ones) of their own righteousness. They despise the Liberal refusal to go along with this idea. They see the liberal insistance on seeing the other side, the foriegners, the enemy, the non-human world as close-minded refusal to listen to logic, when in reality is a form of friendly nihilism that is far more logical (purely speaking) than the Conservative one.

Secondly, Conservative attacks claiming that Liberals make faces instead of arguements clearly commits the same sort of slanderous statements that it derides. You never win an argument by making fun of the other side- the Ann Coulter style conservatives would do well to remember this, and meet their opponents on the field of logic.


“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” (Hermann Goering, commander of the Luftwaffe)

Wow, speaking of straw men…

First of all, I don’t see a rash of serious conservatives claiming that the liberals are liberals because it’s trendy. I would say this likely applies to a certain class of liberals, but not all, or even many, of them.

Secondly, the conservative complaint about liberalism isn’t that it’s always been irrational. Nobody’s claiming that civil rights, et al, weren’t rational. However, many aspects of modern liberalism are, with “modern” here referring to the cold war era and beyond. Turning a blind eye to Communism in the hopes that it would go away is irrational. Nationalized health care is irrational. National $10/hr minimum wage is irrational. These are mostly modern positions.

Thirdly, it’s not the conservatives are “slamming” liberals because a few of them can’t accurately explain their position. They slam them because nobody seems able to explain their position, certainly not the self-proclaimed leaders of the liberal movement. Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi, the Hollywood Left, they all have a very clear position - Republicans are evil - but they refuse to offer an alternative, nor can they explain exactly why they’re opposed to… well, whatever they oppose.

“War is bad!”
Okay, well, what should we do instead?
“Umm… I dunno, but war sure isn’t the answer!”
Shouldn’t we be concerned about Saddam?
“Of course!”
Then what should we do about it?
“No war for oil! No war for oil!”

In many instances, they offer platitudes and soundbites rather than solutions. And when they do offer solutions, they frequently don’t go into any detail. Health care for everyone? Sounds great. How you gonna do it? The silence is deafening.

I would say the hyper-idealism that conservatives accuse liberals of is quite well-founded.

ElJeffe, I think you’re doing a pretty good job of proving the OP’s point. You accuse liberals of turning a blind-eye to the communists, which doesn’t explain the actions of Kennedy, LBJ in Vietnam, or Carter with respect to the Shah. You blanketly state that nationalized health care or living wages are irrational. You may not agree with these positions, but since many other countries have differing levels of nationalized health care, it’s hardly some irrational proposal. You give a stereotypical, unuanced portrayal of the opposition to the war, without adressing the serious issues that are raised by some liberals. And finally you say that the health care plans are short on detail, when the Clinton plan had tons of detail in it. It may not be a plan you agreed with, but I think that saying it had no detail in it is completely unjustified.

However, I do agree that the self-appointed Liberal leadership often does a pretty bad job of presenting its viewpoints clearly. It’s unfortunate, and I think that’s why liberals are leaving the Democratic party for the Greens.

That is a really interesting notion. Obedience to a principle one cannot explain is reasonable? Ah, I see, you wish to develop that liberals of the past were reasonable. And why were they reasonable? —why, look at these liberal ideas that were implimented! by that logic conservatives are reasonable, too. What have we gained? Hopefully the knowledge that this presentation is not reasonable.

Here’s some wisdom for you: tu quoque.

If “civil rights” et al" were considered rational by Conservatives, then why did so many people protest integrated schools? the vote for women? the Equal Rights Ammendment? gay and lesbian rights?

  1. What caused the downfall of Communism in the Soviet Union?

  2. Is South Vietnam better off under Communism than under the chaos of an almot never-ending war?

  3. What caused the wall to come down between East Germany and West Germany? Is it rational to give Reagan’s “tear down this wall!” credit?

  4. Which Communist countries do you consider a threat to the free world?

Canadians, Scandanavians and the British have nationalized health care. Was it irrational for them?

What is it that has made you think that these ideas have been around mostly since the late 1980’s?

Those crazy radicals with thier wild, irrational ideas! Any fool can tell you that an 8-hour day simply won’t work! Working people will become lazy and indolent. They will have more time to drink and succumb to the temptations of idleness. Better they should place thier trust in the men whom God has entrusted with the nation’s wealth and direction. And if ignorant men, who haven’t the education and leisure to make sufficent use of thier intellectual gifts, should form unions, those unions would grasp political power, and the fate of the nation would be in the hands of simpleminded, childlike laborers.

Or worse, the Irish.

I think a better title for this thread would have been “A liberal and hid favorite coservative strawmen.”

Is it ok if I slam this liberal for beating up strawmen instead of actually attempting to engage a conservative?

Interestingly I have a cold and my typos create a neat onomotapeia or assonance, or whatever the hell that word is that describes words that sound like what they’re describing.

The problem with liberals is of course that they wear those Jamiroqui hats all the time

I hear the position of ElJeffe reasonably often, and frankly it tends to give me a dim view of most (not all) conservatives. I admit that I tend to sort their behavior among the following bins: aggressive posturing, naive/ignorant, and puzzling.

  1. This lefty never turned a blind eye to communism: this lefty wrote letters to their leaders to encourage them to release political prisoners.

(OBTW, writing letters to despots was oddly effective during the cold war: furthermore, I would have not done so without evaluating the relevant evidence. Anecdotally, my group was able to free one Soviet dissident.)

  1. I do not know the basis for calling nationalized health care, “irrational”. As no substantiation was offered, I might suspect that it is a slogan. In response, I note the empirical reality that every remaining country in the OECD* has universal health care, and that many have a single payer system.

But since we’re talking about certain conservatives, I will only note that many of them appear to be rather non-empirical in orientation. How can somebody say flat out that health care systems with lower costs and better outcomes are “irrational”? WTF?

  1. At any rate, it is uninteresting and trivial to point out that the inarticulate have weak arguments. Bona fide analysts try to pick apart the strongest arguments made by their adversaries; ideologues and “social commentators” do the opposite.

In that spirit, I’ll chat with Eris:

------- Obedience to a principle one cannot explain is reasonable?

Tricky. I interpreted MaxC as observing that most people have only a vague understanding of battles that have been long since settled. For example, it is reasonable for me to believe in the germ theory of disease, though the arguments against spontaneous generation may currently elude me.

In the political realm, I may accept that fluoride in the water is probably a good idea, though my knowledge of this issue is also pretty sketchy.

At any rate, the main point remains: if you want to question whether fluoridated water is a good idea, you don’t talk with Joe Liberal or Pat Conservative. You find somebody who both holds the opinion in question and is informed.

  • Ok, I’m not sure about South Korea.

The Governor would like to thank both Libby and Connie for their use of strawmen in the debate on this message alone, and is very glad that he isn’t either one of them.

The use of straw men to batter down straw men has a sort of elegant symmetry.

And to elucidator, who has taken the “i before e in all cases, no exceptions, this means you!” rule to dizzying new heights, I can only say: thier, thier.

So this Texas boy goes up to Harvard, and he’s there first day, see, and he goes up to this upperclassman and asks “Say, podnuh, ya’ll know where the library is at?”

And the upperclassman says “Here at Harvard, we simply do not end a sentence with a preposition.”

And the Texas boy looks kinda, you know, crestfallen, and says “Hell, son, I’m sorry 'bout that. Let me rephrase that: ya’ll know where the library is at, asshole?”

I didn’t read the entire thread, I just scaned it, but , there are really to sides to the war debate. The extemely conservitive anti-wars, like france, and the conservitive pro wars, like dubbua.

This isn’t a matter of left vs right or republicians vs democrates or conservitives vs liberals. It’s france(the most vocal anti-wars) vs america(the most vocal pro war)

Onomotapeia. Assonance is the repitition of similar vowel sounds in poetry.

Another irritation thing about liberals is our insufferable didacticism.

I’m quite sure you mean “insufferable pendantry and obfuscatory sesquipedalianism.”

Sorry, but this is not rational. It’s an appeal to authority, a logical fallacy. The fact that Congress, the Supreme Court and “whatnot” considered this or that item of the liberal agenda to be “rational” does not make the item rational. The Supreme Court, with exquisitely detailed reasoning, ruled in Dred Scott that the black man had no rights that the white man need respect. That does not mean that the Dred Scott ruling is rational.

Take a moderately sophisticated conservative argument: that affirmative action for black people is irrational because its stated goal is to remedy the past and present discrimination that causes black people in the inner city to remain in poverty, while its actual benefits almost never accrue to poor inner city blacks but instead to middle class working blacks who live in the suburbs. This argument could perhaps be refuted by factual evidence showing that affirmative action does help poor inner city blacks, or that it would help if only some intervening cause did not prevent inner city blacks from benefiting, or by some similar argument. “It’s rational because Congress said so,” is not a rational argument.


As a method of argument, this is self-contradictory. Define for me why the statement “The US shouldn’t go to war because the US can’t be 100% sure that the US is right and France is wrong,” is more valid than the statement “The US should go to war because France can’t be 100% sure that the US is wrong and France is right.”

Statistical certainty is available on almost no factual question. Demanding it as a precondition to all actions appears to me to be completely useless, since it can always be framed to support either side of the argument.

To the extent that legal bodies can come up with basically any justification for a popular policy, you may have a point. But the force of my argument went beyond a simple appeal to authority. Allow me to elaborate.

It is true that some logical explaination exists for any proposition- but that doesn’t mean that the decisions made by the government in general, or the Supreme Court in specific, are arbitrary. For example, if I ask you what equals 2, you can give me an infinite number of answers; 1 + 1, 3 - 1, 10 - 6 + 2, etc. But you cannot simply choose a string of symbols at random. 2 does not equal 2 + 6, 1x + 2s, “rimjob”, or “turkey baster”. The Supreme Court may have political leanings from time to time, but they are restrained in their opinions to deciding amoung logical alternatives. That is to say, since they have ruled in certain directions on liberal doctrines, we have established, clearly-written (well, sort of) arguments for those doctrines. From a logical standpoint, the fact that a court rules a certain way means there IS A RATIONAL BASIS.

Whether that basis ends up morally right or wrong is totally beside the point- morality has nothing to do with logic.

Were we to live in a dictatorship, where decisions were made on the whim of our Great Leader, and all the documents, evidence, and arguments relating to that decision were hidden away from the public, it would be true that an appeal to authority doesn’t imbue rationality. But we couldnt POSSIBLY EVER live with a leader who would impose ideas like that…

Certainly, but you’re talking about something other than I am. I am describing, generally, where the rational arguments in favor of conservaties favourite punching bags can be found. You’re addressing the possible inadequacies of a specific policy.

Personally, I agree that Affirmative Action should be done away with in it’s current form. I agree with the libertarians that race should have no part in American Law because it inevitably perpetuates division. However, I would replace AA with a similar policy, only one that looked at INCOME instead of RACE. If we claim we want to help minorities because they are underpriveledged due to discrimination, why not help people who are underpriviledged generally?

Doesn’t it feel better to debate specific policy than to make blanket statements about philosophies? (And before the likely responce comes- I have addressed my post only to Conservatives who actually USE the “liberals are just trendy bitches” critic. If you are not amoung them, don’t assume I think you are.)

Whether or not you feel your own ideas are fundementally right has a BIG difference on action. If you’re not certain in the correctness of the actions you think you should take, you will tend to take the actions that are the least disruptive. Your French-USA example isn’t paradoxial.

If you are with two people in a bar, one of which is talking about how he’s going to punch your lights out, and another who keeps telling you just to chill out and dont worry about it, what do you do? If you’re certain that the person will eventually hunt you down and beat you to a pulp, AND you know it’s “right” to protect yourself, you’re gonna feel justified in striking him first. If you admit that you don’t really know whether it is you or your friend that is right, you’ll probably be guarded, but choose the LEAST disruptive course of action- going to a different bar, chilling out and keeping one eye on the fellow, or whatever.

Basically, the idea is this: Certainty breeds recklessness. Uncertainty breeds caution.



In keeping with the OP, here’s a new straw man: insistence on certain spelling/usage errors is a favorite device of certain Pleistocene-era radicals. It signifies their resistance to corporate, oppressive, male-hierarchy-America-SUV-dominated culture.

Thus we have Henry B’s dogged use of the capitalized “You” no matter where that Pronoun appears in a Sentence, and elucidator’s “thier” instead of “their”.

I haven’t found a pattern yet to Scylla and other conservatives, but You just know there’s got to be a method to thier madness.