The John T. Simpson guide to right wing rhetoric


I'd like to thank Mr. Simpson for his comment on my posting yesterday (see below) as it provides a text book study of the rhetorical devices employed by some right wing thinkers (and left wingers too, to be honest, but they have not adopted them as a fundamental strategy) in arguing the issues. All very timely, given the Tea Party demonstration (and counter demonstration from Tea Party Poopers) occurring today at the Boston Common (see photos).

1. First and foremost is the AD HOMINEM attack, or name calling. The purpose of this is to discredit those holding the opposite point of view without in fact acknowledging what they are saying. Instead of confronting the other side's arguments on their merits this tactic tries to focus attention on those who hold these arguments, usually through scurrilous attacks. Such as: "scumbag" and "Lefty moral reprobate."

2. Closely allied to the ad hominem attack is a tactic we can call the old switcheroo, or in Latin, TU QUOQUE  (or "I know you are, but what am I?" as it's known in kindergarten), in which the person arguing accuses the other side of what they themselves are guilty of. As in this instance:

"Oh yeah, too busy reducing even the plight of persecuted award-winning filmmakers like Mr. Panahi to right and left in order to excuse your inaction of same."

Here Mr. Simpson hopes that anyone reading his comment forgets (or maybe he's forgotten himself) that my blog posting was in response to his politicizing Panahi's case. He also employs another familiar tactic, willful ignorance of any facts that might contradict his point of view, such as the fact that I have repeatedly covered Panahi's plight both on my blog and in the paper since I interviewed him in Montreal last September and that I also helped organize formal protests to the Iranian government from the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics. But I digress.

3. Still think my posting has any credibility? Time for the STRAW MAN ploy (with a little bit of the RHETORICAL QUESTION thrown in for good measure) in which you invent an argument for the other side and neatly refute that argument, even though it's not really theirs. I.e (I am including deletions of the previously mentioned fallacies):

"How could you possibly support such a cause if right-wingers do? Automatically taints it, right? DISGUSTING! [AD HOMINEM] are so convinced that righties have no human sympathies whatsoever that you always believe the worst of us. Yet who is planning the [TU QUOQUE] of the upcoming Tea Parties?"  

Did I say that?

4. Okay, now that you've destroyed the credibility of the other side, or at least vilified them, time to counter their arguments and present your own, right? Are you kidding? The next step is to play the victim and present a portrait of oneself as long-suffering, sympathetic, victimized, etc; the old ARGUMENTUM AD MISERICORDIAM.

E.g:  "I have been speaking out on the plight of Iranian filmmakers and even LGBTs for the past fifteen months to dead liberal left-wing silence EVERYWHERE! I have even sacrificed my career as an optioned and award-nominated screenwriter in attacking lefty Hollywood for their egregious oversights of same."

 Very commendable. But irrelevant.

5. Anyway, what were we talking about? Was it Gay Rights in Iran? Time for the RED HERRING to further confuse the issue. This is a digression to another topic that sounds good but is just a distraction. To wit:

"I am a Cambridge-born projects-raised Reagan Libertarian who fully supports gay and women's rights. I also believe in speaking out against fascist dictatorships like Iran when they mistreat their intellectual and artistic elite and engage in the hunting down and extermination of LGBTs."

6. Need more irrelevance? How about the APPEAL TO AUTHORITY, dropping the names of recognized and respected figures who have no bearing on the subject under discussion but which add a false note of authority to one's own argument:

"Is Arsham Parsi of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees a right-winger too?

"Funny. Gay advocate Michael Petrelis respects the hell out of me, right-winger or no, for my outspoken stands on the sickening persecution and murder of LGBTs in Iran and Iraq."

Great people, no doubt. But  they don't  make you right.

That will do it for now. I'm sure I'm missing a few, but if we eliminate all the fallacies from Mr. Simpson's comment, here's what's left:

"[AD HOMINEM]  [STRAW MAN] [AD MISERICORDIAM] [RED HERRING] [APPEAL TO  AUTHORITY] [RHETORICAL QUESTION] [TU QUOQUE] [STRAW MAN] [AD HOMINEM] [STRAW MAN] [AD HOMINEM] [RED HERRING] I'd say you should be ashamed of yourself, but I believe there is no shame in you or any other [AD HOMINEM] And you can quote me on all this, if you dare keep it published!

"Most Sincerely and Disrespectfully, John T. Simpson, Nashua, N.H."  

Duly quoted.

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