Maine GOP Platform: a case study in Straw Man fallacy

The following paragraphs are ones I wrote in response to a thread analyzing the Maine GOP Platform (May 8, 2010).  I’m only posting it so that I can refer to it in other posts, such as the very next one on this site.

I hope these comments aren’t too far off topic (making the Constitution mean what they want it to).

The first thing that struck me in the preamble was the setting up of a straw man that starts with a philosophical “conversely”(1) statement.  Not that the statement itself constitutes setting up a strawman, but rather it is stated as something of a justification: It firstly asserts that the enemy exists and identifies what intent of the enemy is, namely to “throw off the shackles of restraint” in order to take control of the people.  (Actually, if the straw man isn’t a distortion of an actual position, but rather the invention of a position with its attribution to your opponent, that’s not straw man — that’s hollow man [according to TheNonsequitur]. So my first impression is that they’ve invented an enemy in order to justify their platform.)

Fair enough … to a point, and that point is they commandeer a noble philosophical thought as an introductory salvo for a slippery slope conclusion: “the nation is in a state of crisis” because the straw man has got us by the shorthairs, and the crisis will only get worse.

They continue to define the straw man by establishing themselves as the guardians of the principles that need to be taught to the upcoming generations and to teach those generations to be vigilant against those who might erode their beliefs. But in setting themselves up as the judges of what “undermines” the principles and the knowledge of the principles, they imply that those who do not agree are the usurpers. (See similar: Poisoning the Well: Freedom of Speech without Consequences.)

The evil straw man has usurped the Constitution (in little over a year?), took away State sovereignty, is threatening more constitutional usurpation with even more treaties besides Copenhagen Agreement (ironically failing to understand the Constitutional mechanisms in place for preventing usurping sovereignty), and has somehow caused even their own representatives to conduct themselves to the detriment of honesty, integrity, and loyalty to the constitution.

This straw man must be red, sporting horns, cloven hoves and a pointy tail!

Something else that feels insidious here: this isn’t just a setting up of a straw man or a hollow man, but it’s like it’s also an argumentum ad hominem abuse!  After all, this isn’t just an enemy position that they’re defining and then opposing; what they are suggesting makes serious aspersions upon the characters of the people who don’t fit within their definition of themselves by contrast!

It would be a glorious preamble indeed if we didn’t know its partisan context: While they don’t want you pledging allegiance to a political party, the Republican Party is the vehicle to better unify and promote the goals of defending against the straw man. You “pledge” to the “political party” by proxy.

2 Responses

  1. (1) See the wikipedia article about what a converse statement is.

  2. From Jon Stewart:

    I have to say, as someone who is not a Christian, it’s hard for me to believe Christians are a persecuted people in America. God-willing, maybe one of you one day will even rise up and get to be president of this country — or maybe 44 in a row. But that’s my point, is they’ve taken this idea of no establishment as persecution because they fell entitled, not to equal status, but to greater status.


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