More Specious Logic

A while back I wrote:

People often use terrible, specious logic when arguing things political.  I have particularly seen this over the last 6 months.  The argument typically goes like this:

  1. I make a critique of a policy in the Obama administration, say on health care
  2. Sometimes as an opening response, or sometimes when [the] other person is unable to specifically counter what I have said, they respond instead, "well, your guys  fill in the blank ." The latter part might be "got us into Iraq" or possibly "are pushing this birther nonsense."
  3. I respond that  fill in the blank was not something I support(ed) and that if  by "my guys" they mean Republicans, that I was not a Republican, that I do not think the Republicans have an internally consistent position, and that I disagree with many programs and policies typically advocated by Republicans.  And besides, how did this have anything to do with the original conversation?
  4. They respond to me now as if I am somehow cheating.  Confusion reigns.

Michael at Q&O has a good example today, from the White House blog reacting to criticisms that there are too many unaccountable czars running around:

But of course, it's really the hypocrisy here that is noteworthy. Just earlier today, Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and one of the leaders in calling for an investigation into the Obama Administration's use of "czars", had to admit to Fox News that he had never raised any objections to the Bush Administration's use of "czars". Many of these members who now decry the practice have called on Presidents in the past to appoint "czars" to coordinate activities within the government to address immediate challenges.

That addresses the charge, how?  Unbelievably, the White House is resorting to the kindergarten playground argument "well, you started it."

By the way, I had asked before if such an argument had a name.  Its clearly a subset of ad hominem arguments, but I suspected that something so common must have be labeled.  It has:

Tu quoque (pronounced /tuːˈkwoʊkwiː/, from Latin for "You, too" or "You, also") is a Latin term that describes a kind of logical fallacy. A tu quoque argument attempts to discredit the opponent's position by asserting his failure to act consistently in accordance with that position; it attempts to show that a criticism or objection applies equally to the person making it. It is considered an ad hominem argument, since it focuses on the party itself, rather than its positions.


  1. Zah:

    I'm glad other people are noticing this. In dealing with Obama supporters last year (one in particular) it was always a game of "well, Republicans did X so the Democrats are OK in doing Y".

  2. me:


    This has been one of the most upsetting arguments not only on the political level but also with a person in my private life recently. Glad I am not alone!

  3. filbert:

    Also known as the "I know you are, but what am I?" argument from grade school.

  4. m:

    "Unbelievably, the White House is resorting to the kindergarten playground argument 'well, you started it.'"

    Unbelievable? More like, par for the course on both sides of the aisle.

  5. James H:

    To me, it seems more of a race to the bottom. Each bad policy justifies the next. Don't we hope for change towards better policies? Are we just stuck in mediocrity forever then?

  6. Rob:

    Never respond to a shift of the debate. It is part of the Alinski method and avoids the debate.

    I have found it useful to sit on the point until the terms are defined. If you allow your opponent to define the terms, he wins. If you define them your opponent may learn something.

    On the Saturday RecessRally a few weeks back, a group of us were standing along a busy street and we were engaged by a youngish gentlemen who wanted to challenge us on Obamacare being "Socialist". He immediately derailed to other programs (medicare, Social Security...) that are ostenibly socialist and asked if we wanted to kill those existing programs.

    There are a number of problems with such:
    1) It is not on the point. The discussion is ObamaCare, not the nose of the camel already in the tent.
    2) It can be argued that these are not socialist, because we have taxes specifically to "our accounts."
    3) If #2 is denied then we can open a front against these sacrosanct, to the left, "programs" (revenue sources for the general fund).

    He didn't know what to make of the Phd researcher for a small pharma company who asked simply: "Who is going to pay the outrageous dollars to develop the new drugs needed?" He pointed out that venture money for firms like his was drying up rapidly as VC folks run away from developing new drugs because of a legitimate fear that ObamaCare will kill their investments.

  7. Ken:

    Well, I don't agree with the proposition "it must be all right because you did it first."

    But it's a little more complicated than that.

    If I say "Obama shouldn't appoint czars, czars are bad", then arguably the response "Bush and Clinton and Reagan did it too" is irrelevant.

    If I say "Obama is evil and totalitarian because he appoints czars", or "Obama's administration is so extreme that it is appointing czars", or "Obama has so transformed American democracy that he is using czars," then I think that the observation "dude, we've been using czars for years. Where were you?" is entirely apt. At least some of the czar-shouting strikes me as falling into the latter categories.

  8. Ken:

    Also, I would be remiss if I did not admit that tu quoque can be extremely entertaining.

    I mean, if you don't find it completely hilarious that Senator David Vitter is shouting about ACORN encouraging prostitutes, you have to be made of stone.

  9. Joseph Hertzlinger:

    I think the idea is that our only control is voting for the other guy. If that's the case and the other guy is just as bad, there isn't any point to "throwing the bums out."

  10. Chris:

    I am afraid "Tu quoque" is too hard to pronounce. Why don't we just continue to use the word "politician".

  11. Chris:

    A related but distinct annoyance is when pundits accuse their adversaries of hypocrisy regarding their position on issue A versus their prior position on issue B. Nevermind that the pundit's side was on against the adversary on both issues, which by definition, makes pundit's side equally hypocritical.

  12. Doug:

    I work for a company which all of you would immediately recognize. For this conversation, it shall remain nameless. The CEO of said company has financially backed liberal politicians --- he was a hippie in his youth. I attended a company meeting on this last election day. The CEO's presidential choice was a given. As the meeting ended, the CEO closed with "please, go vote. I don't care who you vote for (ha!), but vote." Then he looked down and grinned, and said "for God's sake, whoever you vote for has GOT to be better than what we've had for the past 8 years." The implication was obvious to all. Since the employees are also of a liberal bent, they wildly hooted and applauded. It's safe to say the the CEO got his wish in election 2008.

    Now given THIS attitude --- that whoever we get in the election MUST be better than what we have today --- Warren's point is quite appropriate. Wasn't Obama supposed to be BETTER than W? Was not Obama going to overturn W's agregious violations of power?

    Instead, we end up with "so what ... W did it, too." More of the same, kids.

    I hope my CEO is happy with his choice: W, without the Texas twang.

  13. epobirs:

    More to the point, most of the 'czar' positions in the bush administrations weren't just appointments at the whim of the White House. They were positions that had to pass through Senate scrutiny. Challenging the question on the basis of 'Bush did it' only serves to make the question regarding obscure individuals being given both considerable power and taxpayer funds to control all the more important.

    So let them try to play their game. It's a trap for the unwitting.

  14. Elaine Bolynn:

    I think you meant to use the word egregious rather than agregious. As a high school English teacher, I would like to offer you a piece of sound (and not specious) advice. If you don't know how to spell a 50-cent word such as egregious, you will probably come off looking smarter (that is what you were going for, wasn't it?) if you use a 5-cent synonym phrase such as obviously very bad. At least more people will understand what you mean. :)