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November 06, 2005


Is that supposed to be a counter-argument? People in my corner would rather call it a tu quoque, and a not particularly good at that.

Huh? It's not tu quoque -- see this definition, for instance:

Ad hominem tu quoque (literally, "at the person, you too") could be called the "hypocrisy" argument. It occurs when a person's claim is dismissed or concluded as false either because the claim is about actions the claimant or another individual has engaged in too, or because the claim is inconsistent with other claims that the person has made.

I'm making neither of those arguments. Instead, I'm directly challenging the claim that Democratic criticism of Iraq is "the most scurrilous political campaign that has been seen in American politics since the Civil War" by offering one of many, many possible counterexamples. It's not a full-blown counterargument because, quite frankly, the point is too stupid to address at greater length. Does anyone seriously disagree with me here?

Did you really want to make an argument of the form "campaign x” is more scurrilous than “campaign y,” which implies both campaigns are comparable on the dimension of scurrilousness, when what you wanted to say is that "campaign y" is not scurrilous?

scurrilous: (adjective)

1. Given to the use of vulgar, coarse, or abusive language; foul-mouthed.
2. Expressed in vulgar, coarse, and abusive language.

Is your complaint that Hinderaker is taking liberties with the word scurrilous when characterizing criticisms by Democrats, or are you really accepting his wording and offering examples of statements that you believe are more scurrilous? I ask because even people who find Wallace's statement wrong-headed or disingenuous might be unwilling to describe it as scurrilous.

As used in contemporary political debate, "scurrilous" is usually a broader pejorative term. For instance, Merriam-Webster Online defines it as follows:

1a: using or given to coarse language
1b: being vulgar and evil
2: containing obscenities, abuse, or slander

1b and 2 are more in line with Hinderaker's usage, in particular "evil" and "slander." I don't think he's talking about curse words.

Why would the Democrats save their most scurrilous political campaign for the year after the election?

Should I take it from your response that you are indeed accepting Hinderaker's wording with the caveat that scurrilous be interpreted in a "contemporary" sense to mean vulgar or evil or slanderous? So by this definition you do concede that the Democrat’s “campaign” is scurrilous (in the modern sense) but just not as scurrilous as others that have occurred since the civil war?

That's the problem with this sort of argumentation, Brendan. It turns into a pissing contest over a definition of a word. If you want to argue that what Democrats are doing is not scurrilous or vulgar of slanderous or evil or even irresponsible then why not just do that? If you want to persuade people of the superiority of your moral vision relative to Hinderaker’s by pivoting off his allusion to the civil war and highlighting the level of hyperventilation in it, then why bother with dictionary definitions and appeals to logical forms? Just play the game the way Hinderaker does but do it better. It would appear, after all, that the direction of public opinion is already shifting in your favor, so you begin with a pretty big advantage.

True, it's not a tu quoque. But it is either a straw man argument or a straw humanoid argument.

When people use superlatives, they don't always mean them literally. When my nine-year-old says a given pizza is the best ever, it only means he likes it a lot; it isn't necessarily better than the one George's mom once made. So you're refuting the superlative. Fun, but big deal. I suspect, and I suspect you suspect, that the superlative wasn't the real point. The real point is the claim that the Democrats are being scurrilous, and you failed to address, or to try to address, that point. You can pretend you've addressed the point by undermining the superlatives. Look at the straw man! [Flail flail flail.]

You can claim that he did say the superlatives, and therefore your examples were to the point. Right. It still looks an awful lot like a straw man; I'm willing to compromise and call it a straw humanoid.

As I said in my first comment above, I don't think the Democratic criticism of the war in Iraq is scurrilous. It's normal democratic debate. That seems so obvious as to be almost not worth stating, but perhaps I should have been more clear. The point I was trying to emphasize, though, is that even if you agree with Hinderaker that the criticism is scurrilous, the claim is ridiculous.

I don't know what you guys are talking about. Brendan's point is that Hinderaker should not be taken seriously by anyone if he says these ludicrous things. He is (and has been, for years) trying to spotlight the dumbing down of public discourse that folks such as Hinderaker and Coulter have contributed to. Brendan doesn't need to oppose Hinderaker's political agenda to point out the stupidity of his claim.


As far as I can tell, nobody in this thread has suggested that it was necessary for Brendan to oppose Hinderaker's political agenda to criticize his statement. I can't speak for anyone else, but my point addressed the manner in which Brendan criticized it.

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