Friday, June 5, 2009

Karl Rove, Collected yet Fallacious

In today's Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove has an opinion piece that is some of the most calm toned criticism of Democrats that has been leveled in the last few weeks. Rove came back to what Republicans are often best at, critiquing Democrats' economic policies.

At the same time, Rove is using his calm tone to mask a cheap and immoral fallacy. I commented recently on a New York Times article that gave Obama a hard time (pretty poorly) for straw man fallacies.

A straw man fallacy occurs when a person argues against someone else's position by making a fake version of the person to beat up. The dumber you make the straw man look, the more obviously right you seem. What's nice about making straw men is the freedom you have in recasting the other person's point of view in as terrible terms as you like. At the same time, it should be clear that straw man fallacies are to be avoided, as they are deceptive and thus immoral, politically speaking. It happens, certainly, that people simply make a mistake in interpreting others. In this case, however, I am confident that Rove knew exactly what he was doing. He was aiming to deceive.

In the article, Rove asks "How was Mr. Obama magically able to conjure this loss of 1.9 million jobs into an increase of 150,000 jobs?" He refers to the fact that month after month in this economic crisis, Americans have been losing jobs. Of course he is right up to that point. Then, the government passed stimulus measures. After that, Obama spoke publicly about the benefits he saw of having passed the stimulus bill. In the use of those funds, certain people have been able to keep their jobs, and others have been hired to do work. So, when Obama says that money is getting spent and that some are benefiting, he touts that as a step at least for those people.

Now, Rove could have asked whether we should be celebrating small success. After all, the numbers that Obama has reported were 150,000 people being employed. In the worst of the recent individual months, over 500,000 Americans have lost their jobs. So, in total, 150,000 may not seem like a great deal.

You might think that Rove is against the stimulus when you hear this sort of criticism. As a matter of fact, he argues that it isn't getting spent fast enough. That seems to challenge the idea of being against stimulus spending. The bigger worry about Rove's tactic, the straw man fallacy, is that he moves next to presume a falsehood. His implication is that Obama thinks that the growth that has come from the stimulus is to be considered net growth overall for the country. That is simply false. Unless Rove can furnish the language in which Obama claims that the net loss of jobs has moved from negative to positive numbers, he is guilty of promulgating a deceptive falsehood.

Look, consider an analogy. If crime is increasing in an area with no police officers, when you hire a few police officers, they will catch some criminals, an increase in criminals caught. At the same time, the slope of crime could continue to increase for independent reasons. Will you blame the hiring of police officers for it? Of course not, unless they are somehow participating in the crime. So, should we not celebrate that police are starting to catch criminals? Maybe more should be done, more should be hired. The point is that the net value of safety will still be in the negative. It is important to make the case for the success of police officers, however, when they are catching criminals. Rove seems to imply that Obama has decided there is no more crime. That is simply disingenuous and should be unacceptable in a major newspaper like the WSJ.

Karl Rove is guilty of a misleading straw man fallacy that he knew better than to commit. He should justify his remarks or withdraw them.


  1. yep. but surely you aren't surprised.

  2. Surprise or no surprise, major newspapers should strive for better reporting. My estimation of the WSJ worsens with each article like this one, when in fact their reporting can rival the best newspapers at times.

  3. Well, I don't think anyone is going to openly disagree that they *should*. My point is simply that this is nothing new, particularly as far as "opinion" pieces go. (I wouldn't call it "reporting.")

    In any case, I agree with your analaysis of this Rove piece, although I think the one thing I'd add is that this strategy is all very *intentional* on the part of Rove. Why? Because it's worked for him (and his kind) in the past.

    Hope you are well.