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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Introduction to Logical Reasoning 101

Yesteryday, I wrote a post pointing out that the hordes of right-wing pundits condemning the Larry Craig outing have no standing to voice such complaints, since the very tactic that they were purporting to condemn (publicizing innuendo about private sexual behavior and exploiting sexual morality for political gain) is one which their political movement has used repeatedly, over and over, as one of its central weapons. I cited countless examples -- including some from this week, along with others throughout the last 15 years -- which demonstrate that the right-wing of the Republican Party centrally relies upon tactics indistinguishable from the Craig outing, and that unlike the Craig outing (engineered by a single, obscure individual), the entire right-wing political movement traffics continuously in those tactics.

As was painfully clear to anyone who can read, I did not make an argument about whether outing is justified -- either in general or specifically in the Larry Craig case. My post had nothing to do with whether outing is a legitimate tool and I expressed no opinion whatsoever on that topic. I might think that outing is the most evil act in the world, or I might think that it is the greatest good, but either way, it does not impact or have anything whatsoever to do with the argument I made -- that their condemnations of outing are completely inconsistent with the way their political movement operates.

In the face of that clear and obvious point, various Bush followers began replying to my post by ignoring the point I did make (that their whole political movement is based on tactics like the Craig outing). Instead, the first few who responded "understood" my post to consist of a defense of outing and I thus became the example of a pro-outing advocate and a symbol of its evils.

From there, this "understanding" that I was pro-outing was passed along from one to the next like some rapidly mutating groupthink virus, so that by the end of the day, in Bush Follower Land, I was the symbol and most vocal advocate of outing (along with Mike Rogers, the actual outing advocate who outed Larry Craig and who -- like Ward Churchill and Deb Frisch before him -- has overnight been catapulted from obscurity to become the embodiment and Leader of both "the Left" and "Democrats"). Thus, by the end of the day, one could read this in an anti-outing screed on Hugh Hewitt's blog, by Dean Barnett:

I’m sorry if this topic causes embarrassment to Larry Craig and his family, but I assume by now they’ve figured out that politics in 2006 is a thoroughly rotten business. Still, there’s nothing new under the sun. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr fought a duel when their personal animosity reached a tipping point. In short, the Republic will survive the odious presence of Mike Rogers and Glenn Greenwald. . . . .

In the Greenwald/Rogers worldview, it is simply impossible to be gay and oppose gay marriage. . . . THE MOST DEPRESSING THING about Greenwald and his ilk is that their sincerity is unquestionable. They truly believe that they have a monopoly on decency and goodness and that no person of good faith could possibly disagree with them.

The irony is that it’s always people like Greenwald and Rogers who blast President Bush for having a simplistic Manichaean world view that divides the world into good and bad. Look in the mirror, guys.

It goes on and on like that, railing against the "Greenwald/Rogers" threat to all that is good in the world that comes from outing. Even though I've never outed anyone nor defended anyone's outing, I'm now Mike Rogers' Chief-Comrade-in-Outing, all based exclusively on the post I wrote yesterday which had nothing to do with whether outing was justified. Barnett's sermon became the Genius Post of the Day in Bush Follower Land -- the one they all cited, urging their readers to go visit and behold the brilliant "takedown of the thuggish, pro-outing Left."

There is a very basic principle of logical reasoning that is apparently evading the leading lights of the Bush-following punditry world. It is expressed as follows:

Where Group A condemns Behavior X, and Commentator B points out that Group A itself routinely engages in Behavior X and therefore has no standing to condemn it, Commentator B is neither praising nor criticizing Behavior X -- only pointing out that Group A is simultaneously condemning Behavior X and engaging in it.

Is that really such a difficult concept to grasp? It shouldn't be, to anyone. It entails nothing more complicated than taking someone's espoused rationale and applying it to their own conduct and arguments. But it seems that, at least in some circles, this is a concept that cannot be digested, because this is not the first time I've seen swarms of Bush followers incapable of understanding it. Current official blogger of the George Allen campaign, Jon Henke, once tried (fruitlessly) to explain this to his fellow Bush supporters on yet another occasion when they completely misunderstood an argument based on this same inability to grasp this same basic principle of logical reasoning.

The reason why this matters is because, at least in my view, the cynical and manipulative advocacy of moral standards by Bush followers -- accompanied by their repeated and endless violation of those same standards -- is one of the most corrupt traits of their movement. And adopting their reasoning arguendo (meaning assuming it to be true only for purposes of the argument, not actually adopting it) and then applying it to their behavior or other views is an indispensable -- and very commonly used -- analytical method for demonstrating that. When one does that, one is not actually adopting the reasoning as valid -- only applying their reasoning to them in order to demonstrate the inconsistency. Are there really people who don't understand that?

With those premises in place, I want to respond specifically to one of the posts written yesterday based on the "understanding" that I advocated outing -- this one, by "liberal" Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers. One of the tactics which Fox News innovated and then perfected was to cast the appearance of ideological "balance" by featuring carefully chosen "liberals" who are either: (a) quite stupid, (b) extremely annoying, (c) the embodiment of the worst stereotypes of liberals, and/or (d) driven by the primary goal in life of being patted on the head by Bush followers for being one of the "good, sensible liberals" and who consequently spends most of their on-air time praising Bush followers as wonderful, brilliant, patriotic Americans and bashing the "bad liberals" to show that they one of the good ones.

It's the Susan Estrich/Joe Klein Model, and that's the role Kirsten Powers has eagerly assumed -- she goes on Bill O'Reilly and giggles with him and Michelle Malkin about all the crazy and radical liberals that hurt the Democratic Party, praises Bush followers for how tough they are on terrorism, etc. etc. And her posts are frequently cited by right-wing blogs with the prefix: "even-liberal-Kirsten-Powers-finds-this-behavior-disgusting." So that's Kirsten Powers and the role she plays. In any event, her post yesterday responding to my "pro-outing" argument -- praised by Michelle Malkin and Hot Air -- says this about my post:

Update: this is a ridiculous argument in defense of outing gay (or allegedly gay)Republicans. Since when does bad behavior justify other bad behavior? "Their entire political movement over the last 20 years has been fueled by sleazy sexual innuendo; dragging private sexual behavior into the public arena..." Oh ok! So, let's do it too! It's sleazy and disgusting...so by all means let's start outing gay people.

And all the examples listed in this blog deal with extramarital affairs. The outing of gay people is about what exactly? What is their "moral" crime that is akin to adultery? Don't liberals believe that being gay is ok? Ahh...yes. But being gay and not thinking like liberals think is apparently "immoral." Who says so? The Liberal Police. Who will they target next?

When I first began blogging, I operated from the premise that debates even with the hardest-core Bush followers could be fruitful because indisputable facts and unassailable logic can break through even the most fortified partisan allegiance (on either side). With that quaint assumption in mind, I engaged in many earnest debates with Bush followers during the first few months of blogging. Many months ago, I reluctantly abandoned that belief as the naive nonsense that I discovered it to be, and now use Bush-following blogs almost exclusively to illustrate points about the Bush movement and rarely to engage in actual debate. This "argument" by Powers illustrates why.

Powers makes three "points," as best I can tell: (1) I'm advocating outing on the ground that the GOP does similar things and, Powers points out, two wrongs don't make a right; (2) my only examples of the right wing's exploitation of people's sexual and private lives "deal with extramarital affairs"; and (3) it might be acceptable to expose adultery because adultery is immoral, but being gay is not, and therefore the Craig outing is wrong whereas the GOP's treatment of the Clintons is not wrong. This is the same way she "reasons" when she goes on Fox -- which, of course, is why they put her on.

In order: (1) I wasn't defending outing, only pointing out that while one lone person outed Craig, the entire right-wing political movement in our country routinely uses these same tactics; (2) many of the examples I used had nothing whatsoever to do with adultery (such as Ann Richards' alleged lesbianism, John McCain's illegitimate black child, Jonah Goldberg musing on Bill Clinton's abandoned child and the lovelessness of the Clintons' marriage, the insinuation by Ohio Republicans that Ted Strickland is gay, Cindy Sheehan's online porn addiction, and on and on and on); and (3) if Larry Craig did what he is reported to have done -- namely, had sex with men while being married to his wife -- that is adultery, so nothing could be more incoherent than Powers' "argument" that it is acceptable to "out" someone (such as Bill Clinton) for committing adultery, but terrible to out Larry Craig because he did nothing wrong.

As I pointed out yesterday when documenting the false claims about the torture and detention bill which Mort Kondracke made so emphatically to Fox viewers, a significant impediment to fruitful political dialogue in this country is that many people receive incomplete or outright misleading information. But another impediment -- which one can't really do all that much about -- is just basic denseness of the sort illustrated here.

I don't have any hope that this post will change that (although I do have hope that the basic logical principle, set forth above in bold, might be understood somewhere). But this post nonetheless seemed necessary because, in its absence (and probably even still), the phrase "who thinks that it's acceptable to reveal people's private sexual activities" is going to follow my name around in certain circles. It therefore seemed necessary to make clear how false that is. And since responding to these types of Bush followers is usually a waste of time and energy more than anything else, I thought it would at least be fruitful to try to illustrate some points about how Bush followers reason, just as a way to have this exercise be something other than a complete waste of time.

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