Bill Clinton's Fallacies

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Yes, I know that title opens up the possibility of too many crude jokes, but it's the best description of his speech last night at the DNC. It's amazing how many violations of good reasoning occur in that speech. Here's a brief catalogue. Some of these are just flat-out falsehoods, and some are manipulative rhetorical twists with no backing.

Update: See the comments on World Magazine's blog for more details. After no one gave any specific responses, I posted my link here, and then continued criticisms of parts of the speech I didn't touch started pouring out. It's nice to see good discussion on a post over there for a change. Continue reading for my own fisking.

I am honored to share it with Al Gore, my friend and my partner for eight years, who played such a large role in building the prosperity and peace that we left America in 2000.

Is that why the economy was on its way out when Bush came into office?

Here is the framework he wants to set up to appear friendly:

We all want good jobs, good schools, health care, safe streets, a clean environment. We all want our children to grow up in a secure America leading the world toward a peaceful and prosperous future. Our differences are in how we can best achieve these things in a time of unprecedented change. Therefore, we Democrats will bring to the American people this year a positive campaign, arguing not who is a good or a bad person, but what is the best way to build a safe and prosperous world our children deserve.

Keep that in mind. We'll see if he remembers this charitable interpretation when he starts questioning the motives of Republicans.

We Democrats want to build a world and an America of shared responsibilities and shared benefits.... We think the role of government should be to give people the tools to create the conditions to make the most of their own lives. And we think everybody should have that chance.

The first sentence is true, but it's also true that Republicans want shared responsibilities and benefits. The difference is that Democrats want the government to force it and to do it, while Republicans want the government to encourage it and leave freedom to allow that encouragement to take effect. The second sentence sounds much more like Republicans than any Democrat left of Joe Lieberman.

We want a world with more global cooperation where we act alone only when we absolutely have to.... On the other hand, the Republicans in Washington believe that America should be run by the right people � their people � in a world in which America acts unilaterally when we can and cooperates when we have to.

I don't think anyone in the Bush administration ever wanted anything different from the desire of the first sentence. Corrupt nations and leaders controlling the U.N. and NATO forced the fairly large coalition (which Democrats have viewed as insignificant because of a bias against historically influential countries, i.e. Western-Eurocentrism) to act without the U.N. or NATO. The second sentence, therefore, is just completely unfair. Bush wanted to work within the U.N. if at all possible, and then within NATO if at all possible. The U.N. refused to accept his arguments due to the enemy's presence in the inner circle, and NATO had exactly the same problem. When Bill Clinton gave a speech at Syracuse University at last year's graduation, he acknowledged that France and Germany were wrong not to give the ok for this military action. He thought the U.S. was right to go ahead with it. I'm not sure why what was ok then is no longer ok.

They believe the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their economic, political and social views, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on important matters like health care and retirement security.

This is doubly unfair. Even if Republicans did want wealth and power concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, that's not the same as wanting only Republicans to have all the wealth and power. Many Democrats and Hollywood leftists are in the top tax bracket. Also, keep in mind his desire at the outset to represent everyone's motivations fairly. Do Republicans really want to collect all the money in the hands of the few? Are there no Republicans who support Republican policy on principle? I know many Republicans who are not rich, some who are quite poor, who believe that conservative views on economic issues are the best for the poor! Republicans believe that incentives for economic growth will expand the benefit to those they hire, will create new jobs for currently jobless people. They believe a socialized health care system will lead to bad health care for the average person, as it has done in Canada where the government tells you what health care you can get, how many months you have to wait for your operation, whether you can get medicine. Some are limited in the same ways by financial considerations, but everyone is limited in all those ways in a socialized plan. There are downsides to both, but Republicans believe the socialized plan is worse for everyone, not just for the rich. Is this being fair to his stated aim to be fair to the motives of everyone?

Not a single American on September the 12th, 2001, cared who won the next presidential election.

Well, many people I know were extremely glad Bush was the president and not Gore. I wasn't exactly thinking about the 2004 election, but it's not true that I didn't care who won. I bet the same is true of those who were suspicious that he would mishandle things.

Instead, he and his congressional allies made a very different choice. They chose to use that moment of unity to try to push the country too far to the right and to walk away from our allies, not only in attacking Iraq before the weapons inspectors had finished their work, but in withdrawing American support for the climate change treaty and for the international court on war criminals and for the anti-ballistic missile treaty and from the nuclear test ban treaty.

Did all this happen on 9/11 and in its immediate aftermath? Did any of it happen then? Some of it was before that, wasn't it? We need to remember that some of the people he's calling allies were supporting the enemy, deliberately and knowingly. Chirac told Saddam that it would never come to war, no matter what. Tony Blair knew about this before the attack. We didn't know how deep the corrupt ties between Saddam and these nations went, but there were clear indications that this was not going to go anywhere. There was no real hope that the weapons inspections were going to reveal anything when we had satellite photos of huge trucks arriving at facilities the day before inspections were scheduled and when Saddam himself was acting belligerently and uncooperatively. As for some of these treaties, good arguments have been given that they are against the best interests of the United States. I know little enough about them that I won't defend this claim, but I've seen enough to understand that the case for the treaties isn't as clear-cut as Clinton makes it sound.

For the first time when America was in a war footing in our whole history, they gave two huge tax cuts, nearly half of which went to the top 1 percent of us.

Perhaps half of the total revenue lost by these cuts would have come from the top 1 percent, but the top 1 percent does pay the lion's share of taxes. Across the board tax cuts will do that. Most of the people helped by it were middle class. Keep in mind that the reason for the tax cuts was to boost the economy fairly quickly due to the recession that began before Bush took office but worsened due to 9/11 itself, and it worked. Bush had been planning to do something like this all along, but this made it more urgent, and many Democrats agreed on the general shape of it but not on the details.

And you might remember that when I was in office, on occasion, the Republicans were kind of mean to me. But as soon as I got out and made money, I became part of the most important group in the world to them. It was amazing. I never thought I'd be so well cared for by the president and the Republicans in Congress.

Remember the attributing motives fairly thing? Here he goes again. The most important group in the world to Republicans is the top 1 percent of income earners in the United States. That's why they spent some much effort helping welfare recipients make something of themselves with welfare reform. That's why they support school vouchers so inner city parents can send their kids to the schools where rich parents wouldn't want inner city kids. That's why they're so strong on crime, as if the people generally harmed by crime in the highest crime areas are in the top income bracket. I don't know the numbers on this, but most rich people I know are Democrats. The richer they are, the more isolated they are from the average person, but in my experience that leads to more liberal ideas, not the reverse.

They chose to protect my tax cut, while cutting 140,000 unemployed workers out of their job training programs, 100,000 working families out of their child care assistance, and worst of all, while cutting 300,000 poor children out of their after-school programs when we know it keeps them off the streets, out of trouble, in school, learning, going to college and having a good life. etc.

He fails to mention that he cut defense, which some military officers have described as crippling the military, something Bush has done what he can to reverse. Everyone cuts something to allow for something else. It may be that these decisions reveal some basic value differences. It may also be that sometimes it's not a matter of whether those programs are good. It's whether they're as necessary in a time of war (which Bush did not initiate -- bin Laden did) as others that are absolutely crucial for the defense of everyone. Bush has certainly proposed lots of programs to help people back home, some getting nixed by other Republicans who want smaller government, some getting nixed by Democrats for picky reasons, often between a minority of each forming a larger coalition, as with the education program Bush wanted. You can't treat a list of cuts in isolation from all the other issues with a budget that's not even balanced as it is. There are too many other factors to impugn anyone's motivations when it comes to a budget. Clinton should know that after 6 years of budget battles with Republicans in control of at least part of Congress.

weakening or reversing very important environmental measures that Al Gore and I put into place, everything from clean air to the protection of our forests.

This one resurfaces again? Bush got into office and suspending a couple last minute changes Clinton made to see if they were a good idea. After evaluating them, he put them back. If they were so important, Clinton wouldn't have rushed them through at the end of 8 years in office. A couple months to evaluate them isn't a big deal. I may not know of every case he means, but the only ones I've heard about are like this in important ways (except for the Alaska oil thing, which has other issues, ones I think are important enough to go ahead and drill).

Now, in this time, everyone in America had to sacrifice except the wealthiest Americans. And most of us, almost all of us, from Republicans to independents and Democrats, we wanted to be asked to do our part, too. But all they asked us to do was to expend the energy necessary to open the envelopes containing our tax cuts.

Wait. I thought the wealthiest were the primary beneficiaries of the tax cuts. You were saying everyone else was simply paying for that. Now no one's sacrificing anything. Which is it? Both seem false to me, but when you're finding problems with everything you have to make everything look bad and sometimes forget that you already presented the thing that was supposed to look bad over here as the good thing we should but don't have over in the other part of the speech. I thought this was supposed to be a positive speech.

I don't have time to do the rest as carefully, and I don't know all the details about much of what he goes on to say, but I can't imagine the second half is any more fair then the first half. Some of it is fair criticism, but there's so much unfair attribution of motives and masking of facts to make a point not supported by those facts that I don't know if I should trust any of it. I can't resist commenting on one of his parting thoughts, though:

Remember the scripture: Be not afraid.

If this is at all in context, the insinuation must be that God is on John Kerry and John Edwards' side or that he would be on their side if they win the election. He had just finished talking about how you can have both strength and wisdom and not just the strength of George Bush who has no wisdom. Even if he simply meant that God is on the side of the U.S. now and in the future, this is the sort of thing people complain about with Bush. In fact Bush has never said such a thing. He's simply said that he seeks to be doing what is righteous and in pursuit of justice by doing the Lord's will. He doesn't claim that every action of his is in God's will or that God is on our side as if we're special. He's just seeking to be on God's side in the sense of doing what God wants. If Clinton is taking this biblical quote in context, he's going much further. Of course, there's no reason to expect that he even knows the context.

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an old friend from college, Jeremy, is a philosophy professor, and takes Clinton's speech on point-for-point.... Read More

2 Comments

Classic disingenuous demagogery. I always felt Clinton was a clever artful speaker, but all he�s done here is hopped on the rhetoric bandwagon, but there's no low he won't sink to. The funny thing is, these guys are just preaching to the choir, none of this stuff can win over the centrist voters that remain uncommitted....so let them spin themselves into a whole, they can't win in November with this stuff.

Who forced Clinton to keep his tax refund? He could just give it back if he doesn't want it. So could all of the 200,000 millionaires that supposedly wish the government would NOT cut their taxes. Better yet, if Clinton is unhappy with his tax refund, he could give it to me, since he cares so much about ordinary people.

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