The Rules of Engagement

I really didn’t want to do this, however, with the politicians ramping-up their campaigns, I definitely want to say my piece before the Hollywood “B-listers” once again undertake their verbal assault on my answering machine.


So far, the closest we’ve come to any real issue is whether or not Hillary can beat Obama in the Iowa Caucuses’ swimsuit competition. But, before the races really heat up, I thought I would fire a warning shot across the bow of the political campaign machines. And this goes for local politicians as well. If you want my vote, you absolutely, positively must be well-educated, well-prepared and especially well-spoken.


Lost are the days of getting a direct answer to a direct question. Gone are the straightforward explanations of a candidate’s political aims or personal goals. But what really drives me crazy is the complete and utter disregard that most candidates have for the true art of debate. Unfortunately, far too many politicians have given up sawing the budget in half and instead prefer to perfect their capacity to deceive, practicing the art of misdirection using flashy props or scantily clad assistants.


It’s bad enough when a candidate deliberately dodges the question, but worst amongst the evils of political prestidigitation is the logical fallacy. You may not be familiar with the terminology but we all know how the arguments go. With the Latin translation compliments of the Cal State Northridge website, here are a couple of the most used…


Argumentum ad hominem [personal attack]: Unfortunately this is the most predominantly used tactic in the political arena. This method redirects the focus of the argument on the character of the person instead of the ideals they propose. Obama will be dismissed as “lacking experience." Guliani will be criticized for his marital track record. And Kucinich will no doubt be called every name in the book. By attacking any perceived flaw in the person they avoid exposing themselves to making critical judgments of their policies.



Argumentum ad numerum [appeal to numbers]: Similar to the fallacy argumentum ad populum [appeal to popularity], this is the equivalent of your childhood plea “come on mom, EVERYONE else has one, why can’t I?” To which your mom would invariably retort: “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” No matter how many people believe something, that doesn’t necessarily make it true, but rare is the candidate that will push an agenda that doesn’t get good polling numbers.

Argumentum ad nauseam [argumentative repetition]: The quickest way to strengthen your message is to say it loud and say it over and over again. And the easiest way to start the process is to limit your speech to short, easily-repeatable quotes. How a candidate does in a debate is often evaluated by the number of sound bites that end up on the evening news; rarely is the meaning behind the rhetoric equally evaluated.


Argumentum ad misericordiam [appeal to pity]: Yes, sex sells, but nothing gets votes better than a tug on the old heartstrings. Granted, I do think we need to help the homeless, fix medicare, and care for the environment. However, rarely are we told how legislation will help, usually we’re only shown who it will help. And trust me, there is a big difference.


Argumentum ad antiquitatem [antiquity or tradition]: This method tries to equate acceptability with the standardization of practice. More simply put, it’s the “well that’s the way we’ve always done it” argument. You’re most likely to see this type of defense when the younger candidates challenge the establishment.


This is not the entire list, but you get the general idea. The key is that use of any of these tactics represents an active attempt to avoid direct discussion and indicates a person who doesn’t put enough value on their own position. I can respect a person even if I disagree with their viewpoint, but I have trouble even listening to any person who hides behind the tricks of the tongue.

So, remember candidates, no gerrymandering, no flip-flopping, and no hitting below the Bible Belt. Keep to the issues and out of the gutter. Now touch gloves, go to your corners, wait for the bell and come out fighting.

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Volume 3, Issue 16, Posted 5:47 PM, 07.28.2007