I’ve been thinking a lot about the strawman fallacy lately. Basically, it is an attempt to win an argument by mischaracterizing the arguments of the opposition by 1) portraying their weakest argument as their strongest, and/or 2) over-simplifying or over-stating their argument(s).
Fallacies are by definition errors of logic. But fallacies are also tools of rhetoric if used strategically, i.e. employed on purpose. Politicians have always used them, sometimes strategically.
This is what I’m wondering: At what point does the strawman slide down the slippery slope from strategic fallacy to lie? And, if it does so slide, may we still call it a strawman? Does calling it a strawman at that point hide the very real rhetorical/moral transgression of of lying?
A strawman fallacy sets up this way:
Faction A claims X, but the truth is actually Y.
The claim X is a strawman if it meets one of the conditions above.
We often see it appear in journalism (strategically?) in this form (politicians use this, too):
Some say X, but the truth is actually Y.
So what if X is neither the weakest of the opposition’s arguments nor an over-simplification / over-statement of an argument? What if X is a bald-faced lie? I’m using “lie” to indicate a statement that cannot reasonably be assigned to the opposing faction, i.e. none, or few, of the members of the opposing faction make such a claim.
We may see in any political text the facts of political rhetoric, i.e. the tropes and other tactics employed by the text. These facts exist independently of ideology, although the rhetoric itself may be doing the job of winning an ideological struggle. That politician A employs fallacy Z says very little about the ideology of A. (I qualify that assertion with “very little” because it may be possible to show that certain factions employ certain rhetorical tools for particular reasons. What I’m interested in here is the employment of a certain fallacy that is demonstrably used across the political spectrum in the United States.)
If the rhetorical features of a political text may be identified outside considerations of ideology, then they are reportable facts and should be reported by the news media. Lies are also reportable facts.