Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Basic Argumentation

Over the weekend, I read the article about Palin accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists" because he and Bill Ayers, founder of the radical anti-war group Weather Underground, live in the same Chicago neighborhood and have served on a couple of the same committees and fundraising campaigns. I read similar articles on no less than six news sites and did some searching on my own. My conclusion was that while Ayers may or may not have done some extreme stuff in anti-Vietnam demonstrations in the 60's, charges against him were dropped, he's no longer in hiding, and he's a professor at U of I Chicago. Being board members together and socially cordial hardly seems like "palling around," and "terrorist" is a relative, inflammatory term in this case. In any case, this situation isn't analogous to, say, inviting the bin Ladens over for a 4th of July barbecue.

As I shut down my computer, I shook my head. In politics it seems like people can say anything they want, regardless of the veracity of their comments. Even when fact checkers uncover half-truths or total fallacies, the damage has already been done. The lie lives on in the mind of the average person as truth. How many people do you know that take the extra step to check the validity of the political commercials, debates, and speeches they've heard? A very sad few. Just once, I'd like to see arguments from either political party that would hold water in even a freshman composition class.

When I taught college writing courses, this was about the point in the semester that we started talking about their argumentative research paper. We spent a lot of time talking about what constituted a valid information source (i.e., not Wikipedia or your friend's blog) and how to analyze those facts to construct a solid argument. Inevitably we covered things like not twisting facts to support your agenda. We discussed how to respond to those who disagree with you and what constitutes an appropriate rebuttal. I responsibly taught them that a logical, valid argument doesn't indulge in ad hominem attacks, rely on straw man arguments and sweeping generalizations, or make irrelevant appeals (to fear, force, pity, etc.). I told the poor schmucks that this was the kind of critical thinking the professional world expected of them. Some of them were a little annoyed by the whole concept of logical argument and the extra time that would be consumed by weeding out those pesky logical fallacies. Why bother when one can build an entire political campaign (and an administration, come to think of it...) out of an array of artistically spun logical fallacies and outright lies?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Just a Note...

I watched the VP debate last night. And, I'll be honest...I expected a lot more excitement than it provided. I was surprised, though, that a few commentators were impressed by Palin's you-betchas, golly-gosh-darn-its, and precocious winking as having really connecting with "the people." What people?? As someone who is neither a "Joe-Six-Pack" nor a hockey mom, I found her wide-eyed, feigned ignorance (i.e., "Wow--I really am a Washington outsider because blah, blah, blah...") to be the ultimate play of the sweet, harmless female card. I didn't buy it for a second. Why?
Remember what we got last time we chose a leader based on his ability to play the good ole country boy language card? Surely America (even notoriously naive middle America) won't be fooled by that again!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hey, Sarah...

As someone who writes frequently about feminist topics, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least comment on the Sarah Palin issue. Let's leave out the fact that I disagree with absolutely everything she believes in...Really, EVERYTHING...and stick to how I feel her nomination affects the role of women in politics. In answer to what someone (who clearly doesn't know me very well) asked, No, I'm not excited about the first Republican presidential ticket with a female vice-president nominee on it. Would I like to see more women in highly visible political roles? Absolutely. Qualified women. Trustworthy women. Women who can make it through an interview without sounding like bumbling idiots.

There were many other viable female McCain could have chosen if he was really interested in having a woman's perspective in the White House. John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin was nothing more than an attempt to gain some street cred with the right-wing conservatives for whom he wasn't conservative enough. Everyone knows that crowd will overlook a multitude of deficiencies of character and ability (see George W.) as long as he/she loudly proclaims a devotion to "God's will (a.k.a., ending reproductive choices, creationism in science classes, abstinence education, and keeping those gays in check). And in that regard, Palin fits the bill.

However, many of us have a tougher criteria for a candidate than that. For instance, I require someone with the knowledge base to handle the job. As she's proven every time she's been interviewed (and the McCain camp has done its very best to keep her quiet since), she has a very low level knowledge of big politics (and doesn't think well on her feet). Sweetheart, even I know what the Bush Doctrine is! And, when Katie Couric looks at you like you're an imbecile, clearly something's wrong.

While I'd love to see more women in high levels of politics, I can't stand to see those who have risen without deserving it. We've worked too long and hard to be taken seriously in politics to ruin all that with a vice-presidential nominee who's best quality is that she resembles Tina Fey...who'd make a MUCH better nominee by the way...She's picked up a lot more foreign policy doing Weekend Update than Palin apparently picked up governing a state with fewer people than many medium size cities.

Step down, Palin, you're making intelligent women look bad.