Words from the Week and the No True Scotsman Fallacy

GOP Dinosaur Distress Flag Understatement of the Week: On the resignation of John Boehner (R-OH): “Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believed he was too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and too likely to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation. The approaching confrontation over government spending had raised the prospect of another possible challenge to his speakership by conservatives, something Boehner has beaten back several times before.” [LVRJ]

Word salad from times past:  Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) on his vote for Rep. Boehner for the speakership: “

“So we ‘fire Boehner’ and start a month-long or longer election for his successor at a time when we should be dismantling the Affordable Care Act, taking care of our veterans, reducing the deficit, navigating foreign affairs and solving Nevada’s federal issues? That’s a great plan, if you want to continue the dig on Congress as a place where nothing gets done. 

“I am perfectly fine with differing views. Not everyone is going to agree all the time. But it is a bit discouraging to get lit up on an issue where in some cases a person has taken a thought or two from one source and treated it like the complete and final word.”

Present Palaver: Representative Amodei’s right on one score – the Congress has a 14% approval rating. [Gallup]  And, he may be correct on another.  When Amodei spoke to the previous “fire Boehner” attempt and predicted a squabble for the Speakership, the comments might have been predictive, this round could see yet another scramble between supporters of Rep. McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Roskam (R-IL) and perhaps others. [TheHill]  And then there’s the comment from Rep. Peter King (R-NY) – “this is a victory for the crazies.” [TheHill]

Possibly very true words:  The extension of Representative King’s remark — “You can’t appease these people.” [TheHill]

More words:  There are two ways to see compromise, and Winston Churchill expressed both.  On one hand he said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last;” while on another occasion he said, “The English have never drawn a line without blurring it.” [FQ] There are situations in which either or both might be true.  However, the current manifestation of the American GOP seems to have glommed on to the former without consideration of when the latter might be more appropriate.

The Republicans have become more conservative, and thereby less likely to appreciate Churchill’s second comment on compromise.  The Poole-Rosenthal study emphasized this point:

“The short version would be since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It’s been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furtherest (sic) to the right that they’ve been in 100 years.”  [NPR]

Perhaps Rep. King’s ‘crazies’ have adopted the line attributed to the script writers of the 1949 oater “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” in which John Wayne’s character said, “Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.” [AskMeta]  There are some interesting pieces covering this general topic.  See, for example, Paul Rosenberg’s “They’ll always move further right: Why every defeat only makes Republicans more extreme,” in Salon, June 24, 2015.  Or, Ryan Dennison’s post in Addicting Info, “As Democrats move left, Republicans have moved dangerously to the extreme right,” June 28, 2015.  Or, Bill Schneider’s article, “How far right can Republicans go?” written for Reuters, May 21, 2014.

The current flap involving the Republican Congressional leadership illustrates another pattern that may be afflicting the GOP as it moves inexorably to the extreme right – the “reinterpretation of evidence in order to prevent the refutation of one’s position.” AKA The No True Scotsman Fallacy. [LF.info]

The fallacy is a form of circular argument which substantiates an existing belief by dismissing any counter-examples to it. Such as the classic form:

(1) “Angus puts sugar on his porridge,” (2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge; therefore (3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.” Therefore, Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

By changing the characters, we could create another example. (1) Economist A demonstrates that lowering taxes doesn’t create more tax revenue. (2) No true Economist would argue that lowering taxes doesn’t increase revenue; (3) therefore Economist A is not a true economist; and therefore Economist A is not providing counter-examples to the claim that no true economist would claim otherwise.

Or we could say: (1) There are instances in which the circumstances of a pregnancy call for abortion to be provided as a medical procedure; (2) No true conservative would ever countenance an abortion; (3) Therefore no one advocating abortions under these circumstances is a true conservative; therefore there is no counter-example to the claim that there are circumstances in which abortion is an appropriate medical procedure.

Playing the pseudo-patriot card is easy in the creation of a foreign policy example of the No True Scotsman Fallacy.  (1) Diplomat B drafts a treaty with a nation not recognized as an ally. (2) No true American would ever agree to a treaty with ____; therefore (3) Diplomat B is not a true American; and therefore, the fact of the treaty doesn’t provide a counter-example to the proposition that no true American would agree to a treaty with ____”

The problem, of course, with the application of the No True Scotsman Fallacy is that the definition of “TRUE” becomes inextricably entangled with the policy proposals under consideration, and the further the illogical thinking extends the more narrow the definition of “TRUE.”   Thus, the No True Scotsman Fallacy hinges on a definition of  a “true” American or a “true Christian” which serves the advocate’s personal set of ideological beliefs – and only the advocate’s personal set of ideological beliefs.

Hence, no TRUE Republican could compromise with the Democratic side of the aisle in Congress.  Speaker Boehner compromised with the Democrats. Ergo Speaker Boehner is not a “true” Republican.   And then the Republican Party becomes too extreme for Republicans?

Comments Off on Words from the Week and the No True Scotsman Fallacy

Filed under Boehner, conservatism, Nevada Congressional Representatives, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans

Comments are closed.