Much political debate nowadays is one side putting up a straw man fallacy while the other side tries to dismantle it — all of which takes away from productive discourse.
A straw man fallacy is usually an absurdly inaccurate representation your opponent’s position — so absurd that it’s easy to defeat, or knock down, like a ‘man made of straw’.
We begin using straw men right about the time we start talking.
“Mom! Brother called me a booger!”
“Brother, quit calling your sister a booger.”
“I didn’t. I told her she’s a selfish snot, because she will not share her toys with me.”
“Sis, we’ve discussed this. Share.”
Sis, won’t tell Mom what her brother actually said. She intuitively knows that her selfishness will not gain her much sympathy from Mom. Best leave that part out and turn make it seem her brother made an unprovoked malicious comment.
Using a straw seems to imply one of three things.
1. You know, like Sis, that your opponent’s position is stronger than you’d like it to be, so you carefully avoid the truth and construct the straw man.
2. You expect your target audience to be dumb and not recognize the straw man.
3. You’re dumb.
Most political ads are straw men. “My opponent wants to destroy something or the other! Don’t vote for him.”
These campaigners hope that you’re dumb and that the army of straw men they construct will sway your vote their way.
It must work to some degree. Straw men still exist. Unlike Mom, enough of us don’t call BS and request that the campaigners address the real positions.
Keep your eye out for straw men in this election season.