Logical Fallacies in Politics

By Jamie Reese
SC Staff Writer

In logic, an argument’s worth is measured by whether or not it is sound.  In order for an argument to be considered sound, it must be both derived from true premises and argued validly from said premises.  In other words, if you are using untrue information or using twisted thinking, your argument is unsound and, therefore, should be disregarded.

Politicians are masters of deception.  Regardless of whether or not they know it, almost all politicians use untrue premises and invalid thought processes that deceive voters.  In the most recent presidential campaign, this was especially true.

What is most startling is the fact that many citizens were unaware of their deception and may have been proponents of it themselves.  Faulty reasoning is difficult to see with the untrained eye, and we often mistake emotional appeals for proper reasoning.

Ad hominem (personal attacks) are one of the most common logical fallacies that politicians, the media and citizens use in order to deceive others.  Instead of arguing against the policy proposed, an ad hominem attacks the source.

In the case of President Obama, many cite him as a socialist or Muslim.  Not only are these assertions untrue, but also, they ruin his credibility and distract from the actual issues.

Whether or not a person, or even a given policy, is socialistic, is irrelevant to whether or not it is a good policy.  As an example, few will argue against fire stations, which are public, socialistic establishments.

In the case of Governor Romney, many cite his Mormonism as an issue.  This is a very specific case of an ad hominem known as guilt by association.  Just because Governor Romney is a Mormon does not mean that any of his proposed policies are any worse than if he were the Pope.

Irrelevant theses are also common within politics, especially within attack adds.  For instance, a person’s pro-choice platform does not mean they want people to have abortions, just like a person who believes in a person’s right to smoking means they want their kids to do it.  People often find it difficult to differentiate between condoning and supporting a right.

Within irrelevant theses, people often make straw man statements.  These basically put a claim into someone else’s mouth.  That is to say, a straw man argument is one that the opponent never made.

An example of this is a speech made by Paul Ryan on September 14, 2012: “In the Clinton years, the stated goal was to make abortion ‘safe, legal and rare.’ But that was a different time and a different president. Now, apparently, the Obama-Biden ticket stands for an absolute, unqualified right to abortion—at any time, under any circumstances and even at taxpayer expense.”

The irony behind this remark is the fact that a majority of Ryan’s speech focused on the claim that the president was making straw man arguments.  Clearly imbedded in this claim are many straw man arguments, committed by Ryan himself.  Obviously, President Obama still supports safe, legal, and rare abortions.  Furthermore, he does not support abortion under “any circumstances.”  This claim is blatantly untrue.

Mob appeal is often present during such speeches.  By using inflated language, politicians can use any logic, or lack thereof, and it will suffice for anyone listening.  I’m sure that at this specific speech, many walked away without realizing the very obvious claim that Ryan made.

So what can you do in order to sharpen your own logic skills?  Take a class.  You will learn of many more logical fallacies and even gain the ability to avoid making them.  The class is well worth your time—and should most likely be a graduation requirement.

Email Jamie at: