“A made-up version of an opponent’s argument that can easily be defeated. To accuse people of attacking a straw man is to suggest that they are avoiding worthier opponents and more valid criticisms of their own position.”
Prior to Mitt Romney’s pick of Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, much had already been made about this relatively unknown representative from the cheese state. Ryan is the author of a “controversial” budget plan that would “change Medicare as we know it.” Well, at least that is the buzz phrase that the Left is using to misdirect the public and frighten senior citizens.
The Left has a tendency to construct what are known in the political world as “Straw men”. Of course, politicians on both sides have used straw men for eons, but the Left has truly cornered the market on this rhetorical device in recent years. Even before Romney picked Ryan to co-anchor the Republican ticket, the Democrats were aiming squarely at the Wisconsin representative, ready to use misdirection, smears and flat out lies to attack and diminish his credibility. One lie in particular is so transparent, I cannot believe that the Left thinks they can get away with it. It is a simple and elegant deception based in absolute falsehoods.
The Pundits on the Left are using one of the oldest propagandist techniques in the book: repetition. A hallmark of propaganda is a repetition of non-factual or semi-factual information, that over time, begins to coalesce in the minds of those hearing it as though it were fact. This tactic is surprisingly effective, despite its obvious transparency. A recent example of this is the repetition of the unfounded claim that Mitt Romney didn’t pay his taxes for a decade. Here’s what Harry Reid said in an interview for the Huffington Post in July:
“He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain,” Reid told HuffPo. “But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?”
Reid breathlessly claimed that a former Bain investor called him and told him this information. This unconfirmed, baseless, ludicrous claim continues to be repeated as if it were fact. For a Senate Majority leader to make a claim like this in the first place, let alone to continue to stick by it sans any kind of proof, is disturbing. Without revealing his alleged source, and without providing any evidence to back up his claim, Harry Reid has laid out the groundwork for what is quickly becoming an especially despicable campaign on the part of the Left.
This claim is now echoing throughout the news channels and the blogosphere. Repetition of this false allegation has been fairly effective. They will continue to use it until it runs out of steam, then will move on to something equally offensive, I’m sure.
The current lie being levied against the campaign is that Paul Ryan’s budget plan, called “The Path to Prosperity”, will destroy Medicare as we know it and ruin the economy. Here are some recent quotes from top Leftist pundits:
“You see, in Republicanville, Paul Ryan may be some combination of a reincarnated Ronald Reagan and rockstar; but in Normalville, outside of that bubble, he’s the Kill Medicare Guy.” – Rachel Maddox
“When he comes out with his budget that basically gives a great break to the richest people in the country, and really screws the people who desperately need Medicare and programs like that.” – Chris Matthews
“If we were to implement the Ryan plan, you could rest assured that many, many senior citizens would die who otherwise wouldn’t have to.” – Wendell Potter
“Ryan is known in the political world for his controversial budget plan that would call for steep cuts and the Obama campaign said it would change Medicare as we know it.” – David Muir
“The architect of a politically polarizing budget plan to slash trillions in federal funding, including cuts to Medicare.” – Peter Alexander
This is just a small sampling of a much echoed smear, similar to comments made by Obama campaign architect David Axelrod, and Chairman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
If these comments, vague as they are, we’re true, Ryan might have a problem. The only problem is, they are patently false. How do I know? Because I just read the Ryan budget in its entirety. It is a lengthy, somewhat dense, 99 page document, detailing what Paul Ryan would do to restructure entitlement programs, and fix the economy. Only about a fifth of the plan deals with Medicare, but that is what the Democrats are choosing to focus on because that is where they can get the most leverage in terms of political gain. Frightening senior citizens is a classic Leftist way to gain votes, which is why any concept of Medicare and Medicaid restructuring are usually off the table for Republicans during election season.
Paul Ryan is seemingly the only politician on the national stage willing to confront the growing behemoth standing right before us. Let’s deal with one lie at a time.
1. The Ryan plan will hurt the elderly.
Categorically untrue. The Ryan Medicare plan will not effect anyone 55 or older. Those who are already near or at retirement age will get to participate in the Medicare program as it stands. May I repeat, THIS WILL NOT EFFECT THE ELDERLY IN ANY WAY. Yet this blatant lie continues to be parroted by multiple pundits and politicians on the left. The question is, why? The Left needs to win this election, so that they may continue to reshape this country into a European socialist state. In order to win the election, they need the 55 and older vote, and the sure fire way to do that, they believe, is to scare them into it.
2. Ryan’s plan will help the rich, and hurt the rest of the country. Again, not true. The plan makes no difference between rich and other. Besides not affecting those 55 and older, the plan for those under 55, (which maintains that if you want to continue on Medicare as it stands, you may do so), would be something of a personal account, putting the consumer in control and in direct contact with their doctors, rather than requiring a middle man. This would drive costs down, because patient choice would weed out inept physicians, and reward excellent ones. Similar to the school choice program. There would be cost of living increases to the personal accounts as each year passed. That doesn’t seem to be benefitting the rich all that much…or at all.
3. The Ryan budget will slash trillions from government funding. Well, this is partially true. This is an instance of parsing the truth; using half truths to build a faulty case. The partial goal of the plan is in fact to make deep spending cuts to the federal government. This is actually a good thing; this will help lead our government to solvency. This is being used to scare people by making it seem as though “cuts” will hurt the American people. It’s more of an attitude being used to frighten, rather than a direct lie.
4. Now, to the most ridiculous claim. This quote by Wendell Potter: (“If we were to implement the Ryan plan, you could rest assured that many, many senior citizens would die who otherwise wouldn’t have to.”) is quite funny actually. This is a non-sequitur argument. It’s assuming that the Ryan plan will lead to the death of seniors with no explanation as to HOW that will happen . There are two problems with this claim. Regardless of whether or not the Ryan plan is put into effect, seniors WILL die. In addition, it’s making an assumption that the Ryan plan is designed to hurt seniors on the outset. The flaw is that, as mentioned above, the Ryan plan will preserve Medicare as it is for those 55 and older, and further plans will continue to cover the elderly into the future. So, first, the claim is just false. Second, it’s deliberately over dramatic. He is trying to set up a syllogism:
1. The Ryan plan will dismantle Medicare.
2. Seniors need Medicare, often to live.
3. Therefore, if the plan is implemented, seniors will die.
The problem here is the syllogism is invalid, because the initial premise is vague at best and has no merit at worst. So the following points are rendered invalid.
In addition to the direct lies, it’s the emotional wording being used that is particularly effective. “Kill Medicare”, “Slash”, “Die”. All of these words peppered throughout their arguments appeal to emotions and fear, which clouds rational judgement. It is a simple tactic, but extremely effective. The phrase “change Medicare as we know it” has been parroted every day on the news and blogosphere. This simple phrase appeals to fear, because it is just vague enough to make people think that something is wrong, but not specific enough to really mean anything. When phrases like that are used, it’s an intentional scare tactic, and really a lie by omission.
In the end, when they cannot win on ideas, they appeal to fear and division. They believe the 55 and older voting block will be scared into voting for them because of these lies. What they don’t know is that the elderly community is much smarter than they give them credit for. Recent polls are indicating that the elderly (when briefed on both plans; Ryan’s and Obama’s) are strongly coming out in favor of the Ryan plan. When fear is taken out and real figures and simple math are explained, the truth wins. And, in the end, that is what the Romney camp needs to do. They need to take a literal white board and explain thoroughly what is going on. It seems slightly stupid, as far as a campaign strategy, but it will work.
These lies will not work, reason will rule over fear and division. Understanding and recognizing the difference is the most important part of this election season.
COPYRIGHT © 2012 FRANK CAMP