Tu Quoque

Many in the GOP have tried to play down Representative Wilson’s outburst against President Obama, “You lie!”  Senator Lindsey Graham — also of South Carolina — derogated Obama’s tone, a tactic quite common in academia when someone has advanced claims that one cannot refute.  The Wall Street Journal noted that Obama was fudging, which in this context means that Obama did not accede to the GOP’s twisting of language NOT in House bills to create and exacrebate fears that illegals will crowd real Americans out of liposuction clinics.

I am more amused by use of the tu quoque fallacy.  See “Fallacy Files,” http://www.fallacyfiles.org/tuquoque.html a great aid to refreshing one’s recollection of all the sins one learned long ago to avoid.

One deploys/commits the tu quoque when one excuses missteps by claiming that the person calling one on a misstep has misstepped.  Some of Wilson’s defenders have recalled that Democrats booed President George W. Bush in 2005.  Their implicit inference is that Democrats in 2009 do not get to object about disrespectful behavior once any Democrats have disrespected any GOP president.

To state the implicit inference is to refute it.  Since everyone in public life has either crossed a line at some point or can be linked to someone who did, no one would be permitted to protest incivility or heckling.  Once any Democrat and any Republican misbehaved, then every Democrat and every Republican could be targetted.  If this were cogent, then the Democrats who claimed in some public place that President Nixon might have fibbed would free Republicans [or conservatives or Quakers or Navy veterans] to shout “Liar!” at President Carter [or liberals or some other group].  Republicans who thought that President Clinton lied from time to time had better keep it to themselves lest they authorize Democrats [or Arkansans or governors or satyrs] to shout “Pervert!” at Senator Orrin Hatch.

And, of course, the tu quoque usually amounts to an ad hominem as well and is vulnerable to other objections.

What interests me most about this defense of Congressperson Wilson is the false equivalence between booing or grumbling at President Bush and shouting, “You lie!” at President Obama.  One must presume a rough equivalence to excuse Representative Wilson owing to the 2005 grumbles of Democrats.  Does someone believe that mumbling, grumbling, or booing is tantamount to calling a president a liar? 

What is worse, Politifact.com and FactCheck.org have concluded that President Obama did not lie in the statements immediately preceding the shout.  So a false charge shouted at the President in a joint session is no worse than some grumbles or boos against President Bush? 

If you pundits say so.


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