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Marco Rubio’s March of the Straw Men

February 16, 2013

Watching Senator Rubio’s response the President’s State of the Union message, I was left wondering whether Senator Rubio and I had seen the same speech. It did not take a close listening to the Senator’s response to realize that the Senator and the rest of us were living in different realities. Since the Senator had been given a copy of the President’s address beforehand, we can only conclude that he was reverting to the standard Republican tactic of knocking down “straw man” arguments.

From the source of all human knowledge, Wikipedia:

A straw man or straw person, also known in the UK as an Aunt Sally,[1][2] is a type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.[3] To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.[3][4] This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged, emotional issues.

Senator Rubio opened up the door and out came the straw men marching, so that the Senator could whack them to pieces, hoping to leave the impression that he had landed haymakers on the President. It started with:

Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle-class prosperity.

But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more (emphasis added).

The only people who actually heard that are the people who want to hear it. The President did not say anything remotely like the free enterprise system is the cause of our problems. Although not true, it does fit nicely with the President as a “secret Muslim/foreigner/socialist” narrative.

Take that, Straw Man!

What the President actually said:

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation (emphasis added).

The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem.

…that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.

Take that, Straw Man!

At this point, the Senator goes off on a long riff about the evils of governments that are too big, spend too much and will keep individuals from getting ahead. This warmed over Reaganism circa 1980 would not be a straw man per se, but these remarks were supposed to be in response to the State of the Union address, and since the President not say anything like this, we can again say:

Take that, Straw Man!

The Senator then complains about being unfairly and falsely attacked by the President (the irony obviously escaping him):

There are valid reasons to be concerned about the President’s plan to grow our government. But any time anyone opposes the President’s agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives.

When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air (emphasis added).

It would be very nice for the Republicans had the President actually said anything so preposterous. But he hasn’t.

Take that, Straw Man!

Senator Rubio continues:

And tonight, he even criticized us for refusing to raise taxes to delay military cuts – cuts that were his idea in the first place.

What the President actually said:

Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse.

Take that, Straw Man!


In the short time I’ve been here in Washington, nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the ones the President laid out tonight.

The choice isn’t just between big government or big business. What we need is an accountable, efficient and effective government that allows small and new businesses to create middle class jobs.

That’s the choice? The President did not lay out such a binary choice in his address. This was not only a straw man, but a complete and cynical fabrication. A twofer!

Take that, Straw Man!

The Straw Man argument is a cheap rhetorical trick that high school debaters learn to brush aside with ease. Anyone using it is seeking to deceive, not illuminate. In addition to being dishonest, it is stupid and generally ineffective as Mitt Romney discovered in the 2012 election (“Obama’s policy of appeasement”, “we built that”, etc.).

Senator Rubio appears to be a smart man and a skilled political operator. But he is not ready for prime time. He has lessons to learn and I hope he learns them. If he does not, and he continues to use this part of the Republican play book, then 2016 will simply be a rerun of 2012.

  1. Very good example of a straw man argument

    • I am not going to respond to the warmed over blah blah of the right wing self-righteousness that this article is full of, because it is largely off-topic. However, one thing did catch my eye–when the writer said this:

      “In one of his most important passages, Rubio swatted down the tired, bad-faith, straw-man arguments that the president regularly deploys against his political opponents.”

      This assertion comes with no specifics of any kind. In my post, I compared text with text, showing how Rubio asserted a position that was not true and then attacked the false assertion–in other words, the classic straw man postulation. This author just cries “straw man!” with nothing–I repeat, nothing to back it up.

      Just saying something does not make it true. Provide some specific examples and we can have an interesting discussion. Until then, we will consider this assertion for what it is–all opinion and no facts.

      Even if this vapid assertion can be supported by evidence, it is still irrelevant. The post was about Marco Rubio’s basic dishonesty. Even if the President does it as well, that is the subject of another post and not related to Marco Rubio. Distraction is not argument, and sleight of hand is not reasoning.

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