Straw Man Argument : A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.
For most of the life of my blog I have opened with the definition of a word. I left this practice behind about a year ago, but I am reviving it today not for a word, but a debate tactic. The Straw Man Argument has a long and illustrious history online. Your typical online discussion ( argument ) flows like this:
- Someone makes statement in a blog and provides some form of information or justification for a position.
- People disagree with that statement, and find a component element in the blog post to refute the entire blog post. They then attempt to invalidate the whole with the part.
- Debate shifts from the topic of the post to the minutiae contained within the post.
The Straw Man Argument is a standard in the political world as well. The media and politicians love to sidetrack people into these largely pointless debates around components of a statement in order to invalidate ( or distract ) from the original matter at hand. Friday [September 03, 2010] on #yycvote
( myself included ) fell under the sway of the Straw Man.
posted a challenge to mayoral hopeful Naheed Nenshi on her municipal politics blog. It was a challenge based on unclear statements made by Nenshi and his public relations/marketing team across multiple media outlets. Nenshi, in an interview with Fast Forward
, is quoted as saying he would be disclosing donors as he got them. A week later Fast Forward posted another article
indicating that in May, when Nenshi announced his candidacy intentions, that he would “immediately” ( yes in scare quotes ) announce donor lists. On Mr. Nenshi’s website it states he will disclose his donors when “campaigning begins”. In the Calgary Herald
he is quoted as saying “weekly” as far back as late May. Nenshi started asking for money on April 13th, 2010 via his pre-campaign announcement video
on YouTube. On Twitter a member in Nenshi’s camp
( and Nenshi
himself ) stated they would disclose donors on September 20th.
Now this is the heart of Mediamindjen’s blog post: We have a mayoral candidate, who is running on a political platform heavy on transparency issues
being anything but transparent. If anything Nenshi and his team, either through obfuscation or incompetence, have managed to make themselves very opaque in the media when it comes to their campaign finances.
What did people from Nenshi’s camp pick up from Mediamindjen’s post? Her admittedly napkin calculations on price-point for direct mail campaigns. This then became the debate for a good part of the day while this issue was trending on Twitter. Price point. Clever use of a Straw Man Carter_bbold, I must commend you.
But the point still stands, we have Naheed Nenshi campaigning on a platform of transparency, being anything but clear in the media. Nenshi started campaigning in April as far as I am concerned. The moment he started up a Facebook group and twitter stream geared towards his political intentions his campaign was on in my opinion. The moment he announced his candidacy in May, it was official in the eyes of the public. When he submits his paperwork on September 20th, it will be official in the eyes of the law.
Now here is the question I have around all this campaign funding transparency issue and Nenshi: Has the 2010 campaign for mayor of Calgary started, and if so where is the disclosure that has been promised during the campaign?
For me, at a youthful 31 years of age, an arbitrary date for paperwork is not the indicator that a political campaign has started. Signage is a pretty good indication that the campaign is on. Facebook groups tend to say “yup, I’m politicking”. Regular participation on twitter and commentary on political opponents in the media sounds a lot like campaigning.
Am I taking crazy pills here or has Naheed Nenshi’s campaign for mayor started? If so, where is the transparency and why is there such resistance to transparency for the entire campaign, including the buildup to the day we all know Nenshi’s paperwork will be filed? These two questions lead back to Mediamindjen’s original post, and it’s point.
How do you trust a candidate running on transparency policies when they themselves are not acting with transparency?