Case In Point

I have done a couple of blogs on the topic of informal fallacies to watch for in the coming months as political rhetoric reaches a fever pitch. But a recent tirade by Governor Paul LePage of Maine provides an excellent example of a couple I have not mentioned. I quote at some length some remarks he recently made on the radio:

This tax will add to the $500 billion in tax increases that are already in Obamacare. Now that Congress can use the taxation power of the federal government to compel behavior or lack thereof, what’s next? More taxes if we don’t drive Toyota Priuses or if we eat too much junk food or maybe even pea soup?

This decision has made America less free. ‘We The People’ have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo – the I.R.S.

This is the man, supported by the Tea Party, who famously told the NAACP to “kiss his ass” and also told President Obama to “go to hell.” So we have an idea what we can expect from him. But I want to focus attention on a couple of doozies in this brief passage.

To begin with, note the appeal to fear in the use of the term “Gestapo” in connection with the IRS. It conjures up images of booted men coming in the night to drag someone away to be tortured. This appeal is designed, obviously, to provoke fear in the listener and lead them to the conclusion that the idea of hiring more IRS people to collect back taxes is a terrible thing. The idea itself, the collecting of back taxes, is ignored. In fact, it might be a good thing in light of the country’s huge debt to other nations and the number of people who can afford to pay but simply do not do so.

Then there’s the usual “slippery slope” that goes from “more taxes” to “Toyota Priuses” to “pea soup.” The thinking here is that one thing leads invariably to another, which is absurd. Most slippery slopes can be avoided by simply addressing the first step. In this case, we need to think about how the new taxes required to allow all to have health insurance differ from the usual taxation. It’s even debatable as to whether the mandate is a tax at all.

But toward the end of his tirade, LePage actually utters a half-truth. He notes that Even more disheartening is that reviving the American dream just became nearly impossible to do. We are now a nation in which supports dependency rather than independence. Instead of encouraging self-reliance we are encouraging people to rely on the government.

There is some truth in this. The mandate to require that all have health insurance does reduce our freedom not to have health insurance. It reduces our “self-reliance” our freedom to worry about whether we will have a job tomorrow, whether we will be able to feed our family, whether we will be able to pay for the hospital bills if our child gets appendicitis, whether we can pay the electric bill tomorrow. The kind of freedom and “self-reliance” that people like LePage tout is a freedom enjoyed almost entirely by the very rich. The rest of us enjoy the freedom to worry and be anxious about tomorrow. This is not the kind of freedom that leads to joy and happiness. But it is a freedom that we give up in order to make sure that when our child does get appendicitis she will be able to get the medical attention she requires, that we won’t have to go to the emergency room and then skip out on the bill — making someone else pay for the attention we received.

In a word, we need to think about what we hear and read — especially when the things put out there are so emotionally charged and the person speaking is known to be a demagogue and rabble-rouser. Most of what we hear in the coming months from public figures will be designed to get someone elected to public office — not to enlighten and inform. We need to be selective in our hearing, critical in our thinking, and reluctant to just embrace a half-truth because it is comforting and fits nicely into our belief system. There’s a lot of crap coming our way!

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8 thoughts on “Case In Point

  1. Taxes are touted as evil social engineering when it is something they do not want. Taxes are boosting the economy and helping the family when it something they want. The tax code does seem to be used to encourage certain behaviors. If that is good or bad depends on your view of government. The problem with some politicians is that they seem to pick and choose based on personal/party preference not rational theory.

  2. Indeed. So much depends on one’s point of view. But it is generally agreed that cuts must be accompanied by tax increases — especially among the wealthy who pay very little. The “solutions” oput there seem terribly one-sided. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Thanks Hugh. I think one rule of thumb we should all follow and it is easy to encourage others to do is when you hear or read “Nazi” or “Gestapo” references to explain a current tax policy, to ignore the speaker as that shows his or her argument is so weak, they have to name call. I find these terms to be offensive, unless we are talking about something like genocide or squelching the rights of a group of people only because they may be different in some perceived way from the name caller. So, we could say Assad is acting Nazi like by killing his opposition, but to say a tax policy is such goes overboard.

  4. Thanks for highlighting this, Hugh. With all the attention on the crazy Arizona Governor, I didn’t even know about the nut job in Maine. Good to know. Thanks for the education, as usual!

  5. Thanks Hugh. This whole labeling of the health care mandate as a “tax” is both an unfortunate side-effect of Justice Roberts’ landmark ruling on the constitutionality of the health care law — he didn’t use the Commerce clause, but Congress’ authority to tax to uphold the law — and a good example of the GOP co-opting and distorting a single word for political use. The GOP was not calling the mandate a tax before the court ruling, at least not in wide-scale ads or talking-point rhetoric. They were just opposed to it for whatever reasons. Now, they’ve latched on to this one word, and are incorrectly running about with it. A good example of the power of language, and professional spin-meisters’ ability to manipulate it.

    … like others, I am offended too when anyone bandies about words like Hitler, Gestapo or Nazi to describe someone or something they don’t like or thing is strong-arming them. Both parties have done it at different times. Last year in Mason City, the North Iowa Tea Party gained national notoriety with a billboard showing a triptych of images: Stalin, Hitler and Obama. It disgusted even the rest of the Iowa Tea Partiers, and the North Iowa group took it down after some hullabaloo. Stalin, Hitler, Mao — mass murderers. We should be better than that. I know 19th century presidential races could be really ugly — Adams supporters accusing Jefferson of treason (!), Jackson vs. Quincy Adams — but as far as I know, no one ever brought in Caligula, Attilla or de Sade. Are we such rhetorical lightweights these days that within minutes after the bell rings we have to go to Nazi references? Maybe so.

  6. The paucity of our vocabulary may be the reason we rely on name-calling and profanity. Those are the only words we know and they are handy, near at hand. LePage is simply a nut job.

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