Politics ad hominem as usual?

An idea has been percolating in my head for some time and the other day it finally went off like a light bulb.

It’s this notion of what I’m calling “personal attack politics.” A lot of people are spending a lot of time and effort to convince me that:

President Barack Obama is a bad person.

Eye catching, isn’t it? I guess it isn’t too surprising that some would be out peddling a message like this in our fast-paced, talking point, sound-bite culture.

Imagine, if you will, that you are the teacher for a debate class. Two of your students are given an assignment called The Great Food Debate: One student is pro-hamburger and the other is pro-hot dog. This is going to be one interesting debate! :)

Hamburger kid goes first and talks about the popularity of hamburgers, how round patties are more efficient than cylindrical-shaped meat, says that hamburgers had better condiment containment, and even has data and graphs to illustrate his points.

The other kid, however, doesn’t talk about hot dogs at all. He starts off by saying that his opponent’s father is an alumni and donated money to the school and that’s the only reason he’s even in this debate. He talks about how “everyone” on campus considers his opponent to be a super nerd and makes fun of the way he’s dressed. And in his closing argument he says that anyone who votes for his opponent is a big nerd, too.

After watching this “debate” and as the teacher of the class, would you feel proud if your students voted the hot dog kid as the winner? I don’t think so.

Personal attacks do little to further understanding in a debate. Nothing that the hot dog kid had to say offered any information or rebuttal regarding the factual claims about hamburgers made by his opponent.

Personal attacks have been around for a long time. In Latin they are known as ad hominem.

So what are some of the personal attacks against Obama:

  • He uses a teleprompter.
  • He’s an empty suit.
  • He’s too smooth.
  • He came from the Chicago “machine.”
  • He bowed to someone, or he shouldn’t have bowed, or he bowed too deeply.
  • He’s a socialist.
  • He wants to destroy America.
  • He’s a “militant racist.”

If you need more examples of ad hominem (and sometimes not-so-veiled threats of violence) against Obama, just look for the most offensive signs at tea party rallies and such:

  • I didn’t vote for the socialist – you can keep the change
  • Fire Line Do Not Cross: If Brown can’t stop it a Browning can (includes picture of a handgun)
  • We came unarmed (this time)
  • One Big Ass Mistake America
  • You Can’t Fix Stupid – But You Can Vote It Out – Change Is Brewing
  • Freedom Will Be Defended
  • Revolt Against Socialism
  • Obama is a Very Bad Man (link)
  • Obama’s Plan: White Slavery

These are the same signs that, when singled out after the fact for criticism, we’re told, “Oh, that sign doesn’t represent the movement.” Yet, somehow, the people holding those signs are never asked to leave or take down their signs by the other tea party protesters all around them. I’ve never heard a single story about an offensive sign being removed from a tea party event. Those signs being allowed to remain represents the tacit consent of those in the vicinity and the movement itself.

In the interest of fairness, I just googled up one example of a sign ejection. Yeah! A guy who is a tea party activist and runs a tea party web site and claimed to be a tea party “founder” was apparently kicked out of a Houston tea party event last year for an offensive sign. I won’t bother to repeat it here.

Politics can be murky and messy. “A tax cut for the wealthiest among us is the best way to help America!” That’s what Bush said (and did) in early 2001. Agree with it or not, at least it is a “factual claim” that can be debated.

I believe that if we want what is best for our country we need more discussion of the issues and less time spent on personal attacks. Keep an eye out for the personal attacks on Obama. If you filter those out, you  might be surprised how little those that are throwing the attacks really have to say.

18 responses

  1. Okay, uhmmmmm, I hope I don’t get in trouble here, but I can’t resist: First, I’m anObama fan. I’m a Democrat, a more conservative one, but a Democrat nonetheless. AND, I agree with you, these ridiculous attacks are useless and outright horrible (especially the racist ones or the Hitler references — RIDICULOUS). With that said, please let’s not forget what was launched at President Bush over and over again. We can dress it up however we want, but the truth is, we all know Bush was talked about, ridiculed and lambasted on a regular basis…the same basic “stuff” was launched at him pretty frequently (not at rally’s though because they never let anyone in that wasn’t a republican, but that’s another story).

    So, I say this: Let’s agree that ALL PERSONAL attacks or EXTREME idiots need NOT be listened to from either party. In the same respects, I don’t give these morons attention from either party becuase they don’t deserve it. And as much as I may disagree with the conservative right and/or republicans, most are passionate respectable Americans who I can listen to and still disagree with — and most times have a drink with afterwards!

    The Analogy you posted was brilliant, however, I’d have issue with the teacher for putting up the hotdog idiot to begin with. In my analysis, I would say the teacher represents the American people. And for the most part, we Americans may make some mistakes along the way, but at the end of the day, I still put my money and faith on us..the voting folk. We usually get it right, and if we don’t we fix it.

    Forgive me — just watched the healthcare vote: I’m a little fired up! ;)

    ~Nadia!

    1. Very true. Bush was subjected to a lot of ad hominem, too. I didn’t mean to imply he wasn’t. His variety, however, was just a skosh above what is considered normal for that sort of thing. And I think that’s based on the way the 2000 election went down and the sum total of his decisions while he was in office.

      Obama, on the other hand, won his first term with light years of more American support than Bush had in 2000. And yet he’s been skewered, eviscerated and thrown into the wood chipper of vehemence with criticism that has been ratcheted to unprecedented levels of froth. Something does not add up.

      Thanks for the comment! If I had the choice between you stopping by and a health insurance plan that covered me, I think I’d choose your comment. Of course, I currently don’t have that choice! :)

      1. Well, I’ll try and be as objective as possible here, but it’s hard for me. Is it possibly that your a little biased towards Bush becuase you didn’t like him or maybe, didn’t respect his point of view or politics? Bill Clinton got the same kind of thing — I think what I am trying to say, is in Politics it comes with the job.

        And yes, these attacks seem vicious because they are full or hate and “yukkiness” in a way that a lot of people are not used to. Unfortunately, as a woman of color, this is normal fodder for dumb-ass folk. This may sound wierd, but I would have more “respect” for the folks lambasting Obama if they called him “stupid” or “dumb” or just a “bad President” and the like as they did Bush. The difference is, dumb-ass people act: DUMB-ASS. Period. So, they go to what they only know: vulgarity. And throwing racial slurs is easiest, so….it just doesn’t surprise me or alarm me any differently. Maybe that’s sad. But its the truth. Again, I would just insist that we not give extremist idiot of any kind more of voice than they already have. Good contructive dialogue and criticism is a very good thing in any society (yeah, yeah, I so want to live in Utopia! I’m singing Kumb-ya as we speak!). ;)

        Now, I don’t think I get your comment about choice between health insurance and my comment — except that I think I just remembered you’re Canadian, right? Hmm…well, luck you! (We passed health care last night, so…we’re definitely friggin’ slow, but…we eventually get to where we going….) ….”Kumb-ya My Lord, Kumbya-ya”

        Ha! Sorry for being so silly… but great POST! I love POLITICS!

        Have a great day!

  2. Counter Culture Clown | Reply

    Bah, Obama isn’t a bad person…

    Just a horrible leader and choice for President. And now I feel like I owe the whole nation an epic “I Told You So”. He’s a schmuck, just like every other politician. We’d be better off voting a pinball machine president. Or me. Yes, let me do it.

    My healthcare bill: Let ‘em die. Population control will eliminate most of the health issues in a few years.

    I should write a blog on the “Let ‘Em Die” theory… I smell an FiS post coming up here…

    1. If they adopt the “let ‘em die” act of 2010 then the denizens of the abyss will be the first to go. It was nice knowin’ ya, pal. :)

      1. Counter Culture Clown

        I’ll find amendments to the plan. Let me think it over and I’ll try to write a blog on it today, hah.

  3. Ooops! Apologies! I don’t think you’re Canadian now… sorry, not sure why I thought that. Well, I admit to being a little slow myself, so I really didn’t get your last line in your last post… forgive me!

    Happy day though…
    ;)

    1. Yeah, I’m American made. Born and bred in the USA. From my silky long hair to my sexy long legs…

      OK. Wait. I think I might have taken that song reference just a bit too far. :)

  4. Sigh.

    You forgot one – Obama is black. It drives a visceral fear in folks that they can’t even identify.

    1. Pamela, my poetry friend! Thanks for stopping by and reminding me I need to drop politics and write something poetic again. :) I’m still an avid reader of your blog although time has limited my comments of late.

      You know what? I literally forgot he was black. I apologize for that. And things have taken an ugly turn in that area lately. I know this topic stirs the emotions, but I read a news report yesterday that alleged tea party protesters were yelling the N-word at black legislators.

      I was actually surprised by this. I guess in my naive world view that sort of thing is impossible. Apparently elsewhere it is not only possible, it actually happens.

      Of course, as soon as it was reported in the news came the standard “plausible deniability” defense on the part of the tea party movement since they don’t have “official” members.

  5. Not everyone considers “socialist” to be an ad hominem attack (It’s not fair you get to use italics and we don’t!) Some people think it’s a compliment.

    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/jeff-poor/2010/03/22/al-sharpton-american-public-overwhelmingly-socialism-when-they-elected-pr

    1. Oh I think it’s quite fair! Mwuhahahahaha! :)

      You may have a point there. Factual statements that are pertinent may not be ad hominem.

      On the other hand, if the factual statement is false, then it has more problems than just being ad hominem.

      Of course, I don’t think everyone is quite ready to stipulate that “socialist” is a fair word to describe Obama quite yet. If the label is a bone of contention, then it may very well be ad hominem IMHO.

      Look at those italics go! :)

  6. I predicted it right after the election. But it took a little longer than I expected. I wonder how many of Obama’s enemies have thought, if not said, what at the top of this guy’s SIGN.? :-|

      1. Wow! I really have to get out more! Uh wait, I forgot. I’m out of touch on purpose! :shock:

  7. One of the themes explored in the book The Obama Nation is “past drug use.” (Or so I just read.)

    For those who are confused, it works a little like this:

    Clinton (pot): ZOMG! That is like the worst thing ever!!! Outrage, outrage!
    Bush (alcoholic, DUII, cocaine): Move along, move along. Nothing to see here, you nitpicky filthy bastards.
    Obama (cocaine): ZOMG! That is like the worst thing ever!!! Outrage, outrage!

    See? You just need oxen that can select their own targets for goring.

    1. Now, now, W.’s past drinking was definitely mentioned and frowned over quite a bit. Frankly, I never cared all that much about any of it, unless they were currently using on the job. What I want to know is when is Obama doing all this drinking now that his doctor (in recent check-up) wants him to quit? When does he have the time!

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1254684/Barack-Obama-try-harder-kick-smoking-habit-doctors-say.html

  8. I’m a rabid anti-smoker. I don’t like that Obama smokes. Again, though, what was I going to do? Vote for McCain because of that? :)

    I remember the brouhaha about Clinton and pot. How could we even consider allowing someone who tried pot to be president? You’ll never meet anyone more anti-pot than me, I can pretty much guarantee that, but please. Like most Americans haven’t tried pot at least once.

    Bush had a friggin’ DUII. Due to secrecy we don’t know the extent of his alcoholism and cocaine use. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that both were significant.

    In any case, my point is that the same people who ran around shitting little green apples because of Clinton’s pot are the exact same people who went “ho hum” over Bush’s foibles, then kicked it right back up into high gear for Obama because he did the dreaded cocaine. I doubt I’ll ever see such blatant over the top hypocrisy during the remaining days of my life.

    Sure, some people raised legitimate concerns about Bush. Not surprising in the way that Clinton was eviscerated and had his entrails strewn about the place over pot.

    On a personal level, I didn’t really worry too much about Bush’s drinking and alleged cocaine use (except for the hypocrisy angle). But when I found out he had a DUII I was stunned that at the disparate response from the SAME people when it came to Clinton’s pot vs. Bush’s DUII. Partisanship can forgive a lot.

    I personally find drunk driving to be reprehensible almost beyond comprehension. Bush could have killed himself and, more importantly, could have killed others. But that’s just my opinion.

Bringeth forth thy pith and vinegar

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