The legion of straw men

By Paul Ackerman | Aug 30, 2014

Having watched Maine and national politics from the sidelines for more than 40 years, it has become more apparent in recent years that a particular tactic of the left has become endemic to their political style book, the use of the straw man argument.

A simple definition of a straw man argument is to present a position that directly or indirectly misrepresents your opponent’s position, thereby making it easy to proclaim loudly how unjust, mean-spirited, and hateful their position must be, and by extension that yours is, of course, the only valid position/view. In some cases this involves exaggeration (in the extreme) of the opponent’s position, in others it really amounts to wholesale fabrication.

The goal of this form of argument is to denigrate the opponent’s image, while improving your own, by forcing them to refute a false argument, thereby having to repeat the lies in rebuttal — which oddly lends more credibility to the substance of the lie by repetition in the media.

It is worth noting that the straw man tactic is most effective with an audience that is already biased in favor of the attacker, and/or an uniformed and ignorant audience willing to be swayed by the tone of a sound bite or editorial headline.

Here is an example of the current master champion of the straw man argument, President Barack Obama: from USA Today, 12-13-2010 —

One of those fights will be over the very thing that some Democrats are angry about: The two-year extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest Americans.

"When they expire in two years, I will fight to end them," Obama said. "Just as I suspect the Republican Party may fight to end the middle-class tax cuts that I've championed and that they've opposed."

In fact, Barack Obama’s assertion here that the Republicans wished to end middle class tax cuts was entirely false. The Republicans had never represented their position as such, wishing instead to see all bracket tax cuts extended. However, with a media willing to help his goal of pushing the narrative of Republicans trying to protect the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class (the “Income Inequality” meme), the process of repetition in rebuttals allowed them to focus more air time or column inches on the straw man than the facts .

The straw man argument deflects attention from the real issues, and never deals with the truth.

The record of the Obama administration is so riddled with scandal and corrupt practices (Obamacare, IRS targeting, Benghazi, NSA, to name a few things the mainstream media lightly reported on) that to suggest that Republican opposition is the cause of economic stagnation, or international catastrophes, is preposterous.

It is absurd for the media to imply that any opposition to the multitude of lies told by the president, and his administration is grounded in hatred. The theme that anyone who opposes Barack Obama’s agenda is a racist is yet another canard. These straw men prevent any meaningful conversation.

Many Americans are greatly dismayed at the executive over-reach of Barack Obama, and his end-runs on constitutional authority. Notably, the Supreme Court has, as of July 2014, handed this master of straw men 20 unanimous defeats in 5 ½ years. When even your liberal appointees vote against you, it isn’t hate or spite. In that venue, one does not deal with political one-upsmanship, it is the constitution and rule of law — over straw men.

We should all endeavor to become more educated as to the facts, and learn to recognize the straw men for what they are; a tactic to undermine honest conversation and debate.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Sep 03, 2014 04:27

Good post, James.  But I refer you to my last sentence and then remind you who you're talking to.

Posted by: James York | Sep 02, 2014 23:51

Ron is right, the drive to war in Iraq is perhaps the best example of the staw man argumen.  The lies were repeated by both established political parties and mouthed again and again by the media talking heads.  Obama certainly deserves and gets plenty of criticism on the other issues, but I am not sure they are relevant to the above column about using straw man as a political tactic.  Nor did I think that Ron was suggesting to link other mentioned scandals to President Bush.

Posted by: Catherine Cooper | Sep 02, 2014 22:11

You make me laugh, Ron, thank you for that! You are still clinging to the idea, the myth that George Bush is still the problem for Obama's failures? The Middle East is on fire and yet Obama goes golfing. At least Bush quit golfing when he realized how badly it looked to the common working man when major problems arose. Fast and Furious, Obama's issue but let's say Bush. Benghazi, damn that George Bush. The IRS targeting fiasco, George f@cking Bush! Indecision on the Middle East crisis and ISIS, I wish George Bush weren't President anymore....oh yea, he hasn't been since 2008.


Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Sep 02, 2014 17:17

"Tree hugger?"  "Kumbayah?"   You seem a bit dated, Catherine, in your criticisms.  Somewhere around the eighties I would put it.


And as for any "multitude of lies told by the president" I'd have to say that anyone who mouths such delusions must have been asleep during the bush administration.  Does "weapons of mass destruction" ring a bell?  Or Cheney's six week war?  How about "greeting us as liberators?"  Indeed the whole mess-o-potamia that is now Iraq can be attributed to an entire web of lies fed to a panic stricken public by the most politically opportunistic bunch of political parasites to ever achieve the oval office.  The whole lot of them are lucky not to be behind bars.


And the only thing preventing meaningful conversation in today’s political sphere is the mental instability of the right and the resultant cowardice of the Republican party.

Posted by: Catherine Cooper | Sep 02, 2014 16:56

Ron, nice to see that some things never change with your tree hugger, Kumbaya (Kumbayah) political leanings. been awhile since I have seen you on here! Maggie, put down the thesaurus and use terms us 'common folk' can relate to. And I agree with this paragraph in particular as I have had it imposed on me: "It is absurd for the media to imply that any opposition to the multitude of lies told by the president, and his administration is grounded in hatred. The theme that anyone who opposes Barack Obama’s agenda is a racist is yet another canard. These straw men prevent any meaningful conversation."

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Aug 31, 2014 12:22

I believe "logical fallacies" would be a better title for this obviously partisan piece.

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