Red herrings are logical fallacies that divert an argument. Liberals are masters of the red herring argument.
Red herrings are smelly fish. They are also a smelly argument. Ostensibly, the term that applies to the phrase "red herring argument" comes from a past practice of using smelly red herrings to throw someone off the trail or the hunt. The idea applies to arguing a point as well. We use red herring arguments to throw someone off the trail or digress from the real argument.
Modern liberals are masters of the red herring argument. We've seen quite a few uses of this fallacy over the past year as Obama and Congress have positioned themselves to pass massive spending legislation without the American people catching on to what they are doing.
Let's take a look at some of the most common red herrings in liberalism's quiver of weapons. See if you can spot where the argument tries to throw us off the trail of the real argument. We'll start off with an easy one. Here's a quote from ex-president Jimmy Carter. You may not remember him, but he was a one-term president who left office with double-digit inflation and a US hostages in Iran. (Did you catch my red herring there?)
"I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American." (CNN)
Did you spot the red herring? Here's the argument in its simplest form: Some Americans don't like Obama's policies and voice opinions against them. Carter calls all such sentiments racism. Here's an even simpler version: Don't like Obama? You're a racist!
Of course, calling Americans racist in this context does nothing to answer the disagreements - some Americans don't agree with Obama's policies and feel disenfranchised. Their frustration has nothing to do with racism. What Carter hopes to accomplish with this red herring is to shut up the opposition to Obama's policies and allow them to pass uncontested. It can be an effective tool, but in this case, I don't think that Americans buy this sort of argument anymore.
Here's another example from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. When asked about protesters to government overspending, she said:
"What they want is a continuation of the failed economic policies of President George Bush which got us in the situation we are in now." (TPM)
Here's what Pelosi really says: "You don't like Congress' spending? You're all failures, just like George Bush! Using failure and George Bush here as an argument doesn't answer the question about the problems inherent with rampant government deficit spending and debt acquisition. What does protesting the massive deficit spending really have to do with George Bush and his perceived failures? Blaming Bush certainly doesn't answer the current problems.
- Something goes wrong with the people's perception of Congress? It's Bush' fault!
- Americans are unhappy? It's Bush's fault!
- People don't like the current Congress? It's Bush's fault!
- Obama is mired in Afghanistan? It's Bush's fault!
- Obama's popular opinion is falling? It's Bush's fault!
This next example comes from a Facebook status posting that went viral. Dozens of my Facebook friends posted this. It's the liberalized response to protests against the current healthcare bill. See if you can spot the red herring:
No one should die because they cannot afford healthcare. No one should go broke because they get sick, and no one should be tied to a job because of pre-existing condition. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.
This really throws the argument off the scent, doesn't it? The original argument is over continued government meddling with the healthcare system and protests over it and Congress. The argument is about too much spending and government control. Yet this Facebook argument gets right to our heart strings, doesn't it? It claims that without government interference in healthcare, people will die, people will go broke and people will have to work at a job they dislike.
Red herrings all of them - effective, but completely off the point. Appeals to emotion can be terribly effective at derailing the real arguments.
Here's an example from close to home. In a local town, someone stole a banner from the front of a store. The banner read "Jesus Saves." With the online news story came one response in the comments section. The language was quite colorful, but the gist of the comment said: "I agree with stealing the banner because there are a lot of priests who are pedophiles. That's way worse than stealing a stupid banner from a group of religious nuts."
Here's the liberal red herring in this comment: Ignore the theft of your property because your group has members who are pedophiles.
This form of red herring takes on many forms but boils down to the argument: "You can't say anything against me because you are just as bad. So there!" Remember the story of the pro-life man shot and killed by a crazed liberal? The red herring argument says he deserved it because an abortion clinic was bombed by a crazed pro-lifer.
These arguments simply ignore the fact of the original argument: Theft is wrong. Murder is wrong. Yet people use them all the time to derail the main point. What follows is usually an argument that has nothing to do with the original topic. From this one comment to the news story, the comments flared into an exchange about religion. (Well, not really an exchange since the anti-religion liberals dominated the forum.)
Here's an example that I encounter all the time in defense of marriage: "You don't like same sex marriage? You are a bigot!" or "You are a religious nut!" or "You are a Nazi!" or "You are a pinhead!" or....Well, you get the idea.
See the red herring? Instead of addressing the argument that marriage is between a man and a woman, the liberals derail the argument by name calling. Again, this can be an effective means to derail an argument, but derail it does.
We've seen a lot of name calling this past summer with the debate over the dubious healthcare bill. Top government officials have called protesters astroturf, angry mobs, racists, Fox News lackeys, Limbaugh Dittoheads, and Nazis. These are all red herrings to throw protesters off the real arguments over healthcare legislation. None of them address the real issues brought up by the protesters, yet top national liberals used them to express disdain for any disagreements with passing a healthcare bill.
Unfortunately for the liberalized government, these red herrings and name calling energized opposition to the healthcare bill, rather than derailing the argument. The largely ignored protest in Washington DC showed an energized opposition to Obama and Congress.
One last example will suffice. ACORN has recently come under attack because of videos which show ACORN employees telling a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute how to lie, get a house for illicit use, and prostitute underage El Salvadorian girls. Bertha Lewis, Chief Organizer at ACORN had this to day in response:
An international entertainment conglomerate, disguising itself as a "news" agency (Fox), has expended millions, if not tens of millions of dollars, in their attempt to destroy the largest community organization of Black, Latino, poor and working class people in the country.....
But it is clear that the videos are doctored, edited, and in no way the result of the fabricated story being portrayed by conservative activist "filmmaker" O'Keefe and his partner in crime. And, in fact, a crime it was - our lawyers believe a felony - and we will be taking legal action against Fox and their co-conspirators. (ACORN.com)
Lewis completely ignores the arguments and accusations in order to cast her red herrings far and wide, accusing Fox News of defamation and bigotry, lying about the film as "doctored," demeaning O'Keefe by adding quote marks to his title, and threatening legal action.
The last, of course, is the darling red herring of liberals everywhere - the threat of legal action. They know and understand that when their position goes awry, it's time to obfuscate the issues with a law suit - the ultimate red herring.
With practice, you too can learn to spot the red herring. For practice, all you have to do is listen to the likes of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid.