Let's Retire These Tired Straw Men in 2013

College students familiar with my study guide know that I am especially keen on spotting straw man arguments. 

A straw man argument is constructed against an imagined or perceived opponent who is unrealistically stupid and/or heinous.  For instance, if I say, "conservatives want to destroy women, but I support their liberty," I am doing the straw man thing.  It's too easy.

Obama's first four years as president were particularly strong for the straw man industry.  For 2013, though, I think it's time to let some of these overworked and worn-down figures rest, so they can have some down time in their respective cornfields, where they might actually succeed in scaring crows.  They haven't done such a great job of scaring away conservatives.

Straw Man #1

How about we give a rest to those anti-education Christians who think the earth is only 6,000 years old?

Academics proffer many references to a particular phantasm of their liberal paranoia: the anti-education corporatized Christian who flirts with intelligent design and must therefore reject all of science and must believe that the planet was created in seven days by God.  Whether it's Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich, if a public figure is conservative and believes in God, he or she must believe that the world is only 6,000 years old. 

Straw Man #2

While we are at it, let's retire the preachers who want people to "pray the gay away."  If someone says to pray the gay away, the person is the ideal opponent in a political discussion.  "Pray the gay away" is a term that reeks of ignorance. 

Now, for some bizarre reason, it didn't matter to all the people who bristled at the idea of "praying the gay away" that the term was disseminated mostly by gay activists who liked to make fun of Christians.  It is not a term, as far as I know (and I know a lot about Christian views on homosexuality), that Christian counselors coined themselves.

Generally, yes, Christians believe that prayer is a powerful and important part of life.  Christians believe that temptations exist for a reason: to test our will power and our obedience to God, our ultimate master who gave His only son so that we could be saved from sin.  Most Christian interpretations of scripture consider that adultery and other forms of sexual pleasure outside marriage are what we would call "sin."

A lot of Christians, myself included, reject the notion that biological causes are so powerful that they overwhelm personal choices, or that a biological cause outside someone's control confers a "right" to satisfy an appetite.

Does this sound rather complicated?  Yes, it is!  That's because Christianity is complex, whereas gay identity politics is based on platitudes like "I was born this way" (but pedophiles are born their way and don't count), "don't tell me whom to love" (but you have to like what I do), and "stop the hate" (as soon as I finish making fun of Marcus Bachmann's lisp and outing Rick Perry's campaign adviser while tweeting vileness about Carrie Prejean).

So who do you think came up with the term "pray the gay away"?

  • Christians, who struggle to reconcile ancient dictates with modern influences and must wrestle with a holy text that most people have never read in its entirety...or
  • gay activists who spend lots of time watching Glee?

Straw Man #3

Since they're so exhausted from serving as a metaphor of convenience, let's also declare a holiday for evil Republicans who protect Wall Street and want to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the poor, and the sick -- in the process cutting off veterans, nurses, and -- our all-time favorite -- "teachers, police, and firefighters."

No matter how many times you tell a liberal Democrat the following things, the facts will never sink in:

  • George W. Bush expanded social welfare spending, boosting outlays for education and labor by 70% and 65% by 2003, according to the Cato piece linked here.

  • The highest income brackets voted largely for Obama, though the percentages are hard to nail down because of the small turnout in polling samples for this demographic. Here is one snippet from CNN: "High income voters -- those who said they make at least $100,000 a year -- went in Obama's favor, 52 percent to 47 percent."

  • Barack Obama voted for the 2008 TARP bailout, as did most Democrats. It was overwhelmingly Senate and House Republicans who opposed the bailout. In 2008, the result was a massive standoff between Bush and his own party.

The notion that somehow the budget is going to be balanced "on the backs of" a sacred-cow contingency (usually teachers, policemen, and firefighters) is quite difficult to respond to, simply because it doesn't make any sense coming from Obama and his party.  The Democrats extended the Bush tax cuts in December 2010 when they had total control of the federal government.  In January 2011, the Republicans gained control of only the House and couldn't push changes to tax policy.  Moreover, the Bush tax cuts helped the middle class and working class tremendously.

Straw Man #4

These questions got noticeably harder to pose over the din that rose from Wall Street in the late summer of 2011.  I have sat down and tried to talk to the Occupy Wall Street affiliates many, many times in an attempt to see if there is any truth to their 1%/99% binary.

Lo and behold!  The protesters were on to something!  I realized that there is a 1% demographic that controls the government, media, and economic activity of the United States.  This is the 1% of America that graduates from the universities that charge more than $50,000 per year -- encompassing the Ivy League, Stanford, NYU, USC, the Seven Sisters, and a host of other expensive and elitist institutions. 

Kerry, Clinton, Obama, Bush, Romney, Rumsfeld, Sonia Sotomayor, Larry Summers, and Elena Kagan are all part of this 1%.  They run the United States and control virtually everything.  It's very easy to trace their money and power to specific institutions, which are shielded from scrutiny and protected by their status as non-profit corporations and institutions of higher learning.  Such institutions are allowed to charge exorbitant tuitions because the federal government confers tax breaks on them, shovels out billions in research funding to them, and backs student loans without demanding that they rein in their matriculation costs.

The presidential race of 2012 was an electoral contest between a tall, lanky, handsome, Harvard-educated, elitist black guy and a tall, lanky, handsome, Harvard-educated, elitist Mormon.

There is a 1% -- and it takes all of five minutes of thinking to see it. 

But why isn't OWS occupying Harvard the way it occupies Wall Street?  And why is the movement causing violent disturbances in downtown Oakland and at Cal State Long Beach, instead of breaking windows and wrestling with police in Palo Alto?

Straw Man #5

Before they decide they've had enough and go on strike, we also ought to offer furloughs to the agents of "police brutality."  Despite outbreaks of infectious diseases, sexual assaults, murders, deaths, and mayhem on a highly dangerous scale, the supporters of Occupy Wall Street are convinced that there is no reason to be alarmed when they show up and set up tent cities.

Starting in late October, lasting until November 2, 2011, riots tied to Occupy Wall Street broke out in Oakland.  Police had to quell the disturbance with tear gas.  A canister fell on the head of an Iraq War veteran, Scott Olsen.

Sixteen days later, and only 66 miles away, in Davis, California, a policeman named Lt. Pike pepper-sprayed a line of protesters who had their arms interlocked.  He was called a Nazi within hours as video of the event went viral.

Never mind that people who looked much like them had caused a riot affiliated with the same movement, two weeks earlier, and there was a veteran in intensive care.  The pepper-spray did much less damage than rubber bullets or a flying canister of tear gas, but rather than get credit for doing less harm, Lt. Pike was maligned, and his home address was posted on the internet so he could get stalked. 

A year for more imagination...

I am not advocating for the wholesale elimination of straw men.  Just a few new ones, perhaps -- is that too much to ask?  We've had enough of these ones.

Robert Oscar Lopez is the author of three works of fiction to come out in 2013. The first of the series, Johnson Park, will be coming out in March 2013.