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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

Shadowboxing A Straw Man

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After four years of listening to him, it's become easy to pick up Barack Obama's reflexive go-to rhetorical tactic of creating "straw men" -- setting up fake opponents or arguments that he can then knock down.

Paul Ryan noted Obama's use of the technique in his backhanded slam during the inauguration.

PAUL RYAN: No one is suggesting that what we call are ‘earned entitlements’, entitlements you pay for, you know, like payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security, are putting you in a ‘taker’ category. No one suggests that whatsoever.

The concern that people like me have been raising is we do not want to encourage a dependency culture. This is why we called for welfare reform. This is what welfare reform in 1996 was. This was what the new rounds for welfare reform we’re calling for do, which is to increase social mobility, economic opportunity, self-responsibility, those kinds of things.

But earned entitlements, where you pay your payroll taxes to get a benefit when you retire, like Social Security and Medicare, are not taker programs. And I think when the president does kind of a switcheroo like that, what he’s trying to say is we are maligning these programs, that people have earned throughout their working lives.

And so it’s kind of a convenient twist of terms to try and shadowbox a straw man in order to win an argument by default, is essentially what that rhetorical device is that he uses over and over and over.


Karl Rove also calls out Obama's "straw man" arguments."

KARL ROVE: Not impressed. I agreed with your comments in the lead-in. There was one other thing that the president had kept falling back on -- this habit of star man arguments. Of suggesting that somebody's arguing something that no one has really argued. For example: "No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring jobs to our shores."

Well Who's suggesting that one person could do this? What he's trying to say there is you can't do it. Communities can't do it. Businesses can't do it. Individuals can't do it. We've got to give it all to Washington to do. No one is making the argument he was suggesting.

Here's another one. We must reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that built the future. Well, who's suggesting that we take everybody who's on social security and Medicare today and roll 'em over the cliff?

Now, you know. Once again, a complete straw-man argument. But, you know, the thing that got me most about this was, Sean, the focus. What is the issue facing America today? On this day, fewer Americans are working than were working in this country four years ago. Unemployment is higher. 


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