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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rush to Fallacy

Rush "Jail All Drug Users But Me" Limbaugh did it again yesterday. His Blowhardedness, ever striving to be George II's No. 1 brownnoser, condemned the Democratic critics of the NSA's mass collection of our telephone records and showed he is either a demagogue or is actually unable to tell a sound argument from a fallacy. (I guess he could be both.) Here's his standard pitch: The Democrats oppose something George II's men are doing even though they have done or approved of the same thing in the past. Therefore their criticism is baseless.

Wrong. Hypocrisy doesn't invalidate a criticism; it just undermines the standing of the person making it. If Democrats condemn something the Bush administration does that they praised when Clinton did it, that's hypocrisy. But it doesn't mean the Bush administration is right to do it. It may mean Clinton was wrong to do it. What about princpled critics who condemn both administrations for their misconduct? Doesn't Limbaugh have to concede that criticism from a principled person is valid? That sounds like relativism to me: For Limbaugh, an argument is valid or invalid depending on who makes it.

Limbaugh has used this bogus line of attack many times. He once introduced something of a twist to the argument. When he got caught using more painkillers than the state's attorney thought he should be using, Drug Warrior Limbaugh said he wasn't a hypocrite because his prohibitionist stance is still valid. If you spend too much time trying to make sense of that, you'll give yourself a headache.

What should we expect? Intelligent discourse? The Doctor of Democracy heads the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies for gosh sakes. (Remember when conservatives said, "This is a republic not a democracy?")

In his contortions to defend the NSA, he said that to be consistent, critics should demand that the agency get a warrant before looking in the telephone book, which contains all our phone numbers. Yep, that sounds like advanced conservative thinking to me.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.


Libertarian Jason said...

Going, going, GONE!

Another one hit out of the park. You're on fire today, Sheldon!

Sheldon Richman said...

Limbaugh is such an easy target that I deserve no credit, Jason. If he didn't have so many listeners he wouldn't be worthy of notice. Thanks.

Libertarian Jason said...

You're too modest....

Jeff Keller said...

Great column, Sheldon. You really touched on the most grating and oft-used tactic of those on rightie radio -- the argument from hypocrisy, or the ad hominem argument. Anyone with half a brain sees through this nonsense. (I even think that fans of these radio hosts recognize this as a tactic rather than an argument.)

I learned many years ago, for the sake of credibility, to be loyal first to principles, then to individuals. To do otherwise is to spend half one's time apologizing for the mistakes and weakness one's "heroes." It's okay to admire and refer to the great intellectuals; but when they err, it's the duty of the principled thinker simply to acknowledge that and move on. It's complicated enough to explain and defend the abstract principles of liberty, without being hamstrung by who said what -- or whose political party is less evil than the other's.

Kevin Carson said...

The argument from hypocrisy is a sword that often turns in the hand of the user. In a two-party political system, both sides tend to display mirror-image hypocrisy on just about any such controversy.

E.g., Valerie Plame. If liberals are hypocrites for being uncharacteristically outraged about the outing of a CIA agent, the GOP is equally hypocritical for being uncharacteristically lenient on those accused of leaking secrets of the National Security State. If the stereotypical liberal who got mugged is a hypocrite, then so is the conservative who got indicted.