Second Presidential Debate Fallacies

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
With the election days away, the political scene has been heating up, and the debates especially have become very tense. Anyone who has been watching can see that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are as different as can be. However, they do have one thing in common: they both want to get elected. And to do so, they’ve been using devices called logical fallacies to convince the public to vote either way.
Logical fallacies occur when a person, perhaps a governor or president, uses insufficient evidence to substantiate his argument. His reasoning may seem conclusive, but it doesn’t completely add up. There are many different types of fallacies, and many were used in the second Presidential Debate.
A red herring is a type of fallacy that occurs when someone completely switches subjects in order to avoid the topic at hand. In the first few minutes of the debate, both candidates were guilty of using red herring fallacies. They were asked a question about students who graduated from college, yet didn’t have a job. Both of them avoided the question: Romney gave examples of how Massachusetts allows students to get scholarships if they’re in the top of their class, and Obama talked about helping to provide students with financial aid.
Obama also went on to use ad hominem to rebuttal. Ad hominem is Latin for “against the man,” and this fallacy occurs when a speaker, instead of continuing to speak about a certain topic, diverts the conversation to highlight an opponent’s shortcomings.  The moderator asked them to specify what they would do for the graduated students, and both candidates used this time to invalidate each other’s previous argument instead of addressing the subject at hand.
When asked whether or not it’s the Department of Energy’s job to reduce gas prices, both candidates completely ignored the question, using the red herring fallacy to talk about energy production. When the moderator asked, “Governor, on the subject of gas prices?” Romney immediately responded, “Well let’s look at the President’s policies, alright, as opposed to the rhetoric.” He then went on to talk about oil production and creating new jobs for the middle class. Neither candidate actually address the reason for high gas prices, except for when Romney mentioned that gas prices were much lower before Obama took office. Obama only mentioned the world economy once when speaking about gas prices, which is truly a global issue.
The moderator then asked about the reason that gas prices were so high, and Obama addressed the recession the country fell into in 2008. He said “When I took office, the price of gasoline was $1.80, $1.86. Why was that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapses … as a consequence of the same policies Governor Romney’s now promoting.” This is an example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, Latin for “after which therefore because of which.” This fallacy occurs when someone says that a certain event is a cause of something only because it happened before something else.  Obama says that gas prices went up because the economy was collapsing. That is not the only reason for skyrocketing gas prices, but that’s the reason he gives in order to make Bush’s (and Romney’s) policies seem like the cause of high prices.
Romney used quantitative evidence when describing talking about the tax rate, bringing attention to his past experience as a businessman. Quantitative evidence includes numbers, statistics, and countable specifics. Using this kind of evidence makes a speaker seem more knowledgeable and more trustworthy.
Another fallacy is called the straw man fallacy. These are used to ridicule an opponent by connecting his view with something simple or silly. Obama used the straw man fallacy when responding to Romney’s defense of his tax plan. Obama first used quantitative data, stating that Romney would be spending $7 trillion to cut taxes and add to military spending. But Obama said, “We haven’t heard from the governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood in terms of how he pays for that.” He uses Big Bird here to not only refer to a statement Romney made in the first debate (about how he would cut funding to PBS) but to belittle Romney’s argument and ridicule his viewpoint.
Look for yourself, in debates, speeches, and the media. Logical fallacies are everywhere, because they can be helpful in convincing people one way or the other. They are mostly truthful manipulative tools. These fallacies aren’t really lies – but fact-checking both of these guys is a whole other story.