June 2, 2012

Taking on a Strawman

Marc Comtois

Last week, Tom Sgouros at RI Future wrote a piece explaining how President Obama hadn't really grown government that much; that there wasn't a "spending binge." To support his claim, he posted a chart from a piece written by Rex Nutting. The problem was that the Nutting piece has been completely taken apart by the likes of the Heritage Foundation, Investors Business Daily, The Washington Post and the Associated Press and I pointed this out in the comments to Tom's piece.

Well, now Tom has followed up and has set the tone for his rebuttal on the grounds of logical argumentation:

One of the great things about sophistry is that in any argument there is always enough dust around to throw in people’s eyes. Whatever the argument, the dirt at your feet is always at hand.

One of the great things about intellectual honesty is that you don’t take positions without multiple sources of support. It helps you see through the dust, too.

So, according to the Sgouros Rules of Logical Argumentation, it's "intellectually honest" to make arguments with lots of support but it's sophistry when somebody counters your sources with just as many, or more, other sources. The official term for such counter-arguments is "dust." Got it? Good. He continues:
A week ago I wrote about how spending under Obama has not been nearly as profligate as is widely thought. Marc Comtois, one of the dedicated soldiers of the right who daily lays waste to armies of straw men over at Anchor Rising, thinks he’s found a nut, and complains that an article I used in support of that essay had been amply refuted. (You can find his links in the comments over there.)

What he doesn’t get is that those refutations are just dust. One can go into the weeds of the refutations to show that they are just as tendentious as the original article they critique, but why bother? Even if you pretend the article I cited was all wet, there is ample other support for the assertion that if you really care about responsible spending, you shouldn’t vote for people who promise cheaper government.

Here we see that, evidently, Sgouros has taken an Alinsky rule (personalize and demonize, or something like that) and integrated it into his Rules. This is evidenced by his well-intentioned, good-natured introduction of me to his readers.

From there, Tom apparently applies his rule of sophistry (well, he did mention dust again), because it seems that, while the Nutting chart was important because it confirmed Tom's beliefs (I believe that is called confirmation bias and we're all guilty of it. But it isn't one of Tom's Rules, apparently), it ceased to be important once it was systematically dismantled by multiple organizations (including mainstream media outlets).

Instead, Tom engages what is apparently his Rule of Moral Equivalency as, suddenly, the multiple arguments used to undermine the single argument he relied upon are "just as tendentious" as the original. Thus, because all are tendentious, all are moot and we can just move along. And that's just what Tom does by changing the topic from the Nutting data to presenting his case that "if you really care about responsible spending, you shouldn’t vote for people who promise cheaper government."

But that wasn't the debate I was having with him. My comment provided multiple sources that refuted the one source he used to support the main point of his previous post: that President Obama didn't go on a spending binge. Because Tom couldn't counter those arguments he just dismissed them, accused me of sophistry, characterized me as a marching "soldier of the right" who takes on "strawmen"....and then changed the subject.

Now, as for his premise about what it means to "care about responsible spending," I will say that Tom provides multiple sources supporting his argument. But, since it's intellectually honest when he provides many sources but sophistry when I do it, I guess I won't bother to debate him. Which I guess means he wins...right?

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Tom Sgouros, like his frequently referenced idol, Paul Krugman, has simply figured out that playing the part of a "maverick" political pundit and building a personal brand by churning out vacuous soundbytes that pander to your Facebook-sharing audience and troll the opposition pays far more and gets more media attention than being a legitimate analyst or statistician ever could. Sgouros ran for General Treasurer on his "merits" as an mathematician" and was swiftly trampled by the 70-year-old Rhode Island Democratic political machine (he hadn't paid his dues). So he went back to the drawing board and sold out his services to the machine as a consultant for David Cicillini, hoping to buy his way in. Only now Cicillini isn't such a good name to have your own associated with in Rhode Island. Picking winners is hard. What is easy is sticking to a winning formula: pander to the base, ridicule and insult the opposition, repeat the narrative as incontrovertible fact, and keep churning out the puff pieces for local blog and newspaper op-ed fodder. By the time they've dismantled the mess you've made, it's yesterday's news and you have two more pieces hot off the press. Soon he won't even bother with the graphs anymore as he realizes nobody who reads his pieces cares the slightest bit about them, and his pieces will just be a string of insults and baseless assertions as Krugman's have become. The progressive groupies he's attracted so far with these economics-themed antics, which he has the nerve to pass off as science, have given him all the attention fix he needs to continue what he's doing and grow the local Sgouros brand. Expect more of this to come.

Posted by: Dan at June 2, 2012 11:36 AM

A winning formula: pander to the base, ridicule and insult the opposition, repeat the narrative as incontrovertible fact,

Posted by Dan at June 2, 2012 11:36 AM

The tea-party ? ?

Posted by: Sammy in Arizona at June 2, 2012 1:09 PM

No: Common Cause, Media matters...since you asked :)

Posted by: Mike678 at June 2, 2012 1:52 PM

Marc, I had a similar experience with Tom a few weeks ago. He had blogged some child health data and indicated this "explained" the educational achievement gap between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. When I pointed out that it didn't and some other ancillary inaccuracies Tom didn't take it nicely at all. Nor did he address my points; saying instead that "common sense" shows he's right.

It's too bad because I like him even though we have very different outlooks. He plays the part of an objective reviewer who arrives at his opinion through analysis rather than as a partisan who buries his bias in a blizzard of numbers.

Posted by: David C. at June 2, 2012 9:52 PM

What's fascinating is that President Obama's defenders are willing to go to such lengths to try to deny that he presided over this alarming increase in federal spending when it contradicts THEIR OWN VIEW of the subject, which is that government spending is great.

Stand by your principles! "Government spending is good. The president did the right thing by signing all of this spending. In fact, I agree with Robert Reich: the president didn't do enough spending!"

Posted by: Monique at June 3, 2012 8:10 AM

Nutting's claim about Obama's spending contains a big piece of misdirection that all of the mainstream media fact checkers overlooked: the metric used is highly misleading.

I made up a spreadsheet and ran some numbers. There are many ways to achieve an average annual spending increase of 20 percent. The one that hides large amounts of spending the best is a big increase right at the start followed by holding the line (pretty much the pattern we see here). In this case it works even better because Obama gets hidden spending in FY 2009 and also gets "negative spending" to play with when TARP monies are repaid.

The chart's even more misleading than Glenn Kessler and the AP make it seem. And as for PolitiFact ... you at Anchor Rising know the name of that tune.

Posted by: Bryan White at June 3, 2012 11:22 PM

The more the country stays in denial regarding Hussein Obama, his henchmen (and hench-ladies) ,his economic policies,his czars,his EPA,his Justice Dept,his Kill lists, his Solyndras, his foreign policy, his ObumbleCare, his class war, his deficits etc. and most of all his incompetence the closer we come to looking like Europe and meltdown. This country is being dragged into socialism. Hussein's "Dream from his father" is our nightmare.

Posted by: ANTHONY at June 4, 2012 1:07 AM

"Nor did he address my points; saying instead that 'common sense' shows he's right."

Actually that's not what he said...

Those who feel they need academic rigor to show that poor health and poverty are linked with poor educational outcomes can find references in a report I wrote here: www.rifthp.org/files/TheShapeOfTheStartingLine.pdf . Others, of course, can rely on common sense. Still others can offer serious sounding counsel that we look for the ultimate causes behind it all in order to avoid doing anything about it. We all get to choose, don’t we?

There's 10 pages of references in that report. Seems fair enough to me to point you to it.

Posted by: Russ at June 4, 2012 2:23 PM
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