Thursday, January 26, 2012

The loyal but dishonest opposition

After watching Tuesday nights State of the Union by President Obama and the opposition response by Mitch Daniels I couldn't help but use Daniels' speech as a basis of my next post (read the response here or watch it here).  Obama as usual gave a speech with solid logical points (though with a good amount of rhetoric).  On the other hand, Daniels gave a speech that obscured the problems and confused the issues.

Although, I find many factual as well as logical issues with Daniels' speech I want to focus on one particularly egregious argument Daniels makes.   Daniels attacks Obama's attempt to protect the people of the United States from predatory financial techniques through his new consumer bureau.  But his attack ignores the reality and uses a sneaky technique to try and gain support for his position against new regulations.

Lets start with Daniels' exact words:
In word and deed, the president and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection.  Left to ourselves, we might pick the wrong health insurance, the wrong mortgage, the wrong school for our kids;why, unless they stop us, we might pick the wrong light bulb!
Daniels' appears to be arguing that the government shouldn't be in the business of protecting consumers from bad choices because consumers can protect themselves.  This is of course a blatant falsehood.  No one has the time or the resources to research every product they purchase.  The reason we have an FDA is to test food and drugs to ensure their safety, something no individual can afford to do.

Daniels' appears to be criticizing Obama's new Consumer Bureau designed to protect consumers from confusing loans.  However, to criticize this Daniels' must ignore the fact that our economic crisis was in large part caused by ordinary citizens getting into loans that they did not understand and could not afford.  Daniels' is clearly wrong, because the economic crisis shows that we cannot handle ourselves and we do in fact need government protection.

However, Daniels' has flipped the issue and used some rather convincing rhetoric to make his point look more valid by going after peoples' egos.  Daniel's implies that the Obama administration thinks people are stupid and weak and need protection.  More importantly he implies that he knows Americans are strong and can handle themselves.  This type of speech is ego targeting: Daniels' boosts peoples egos by saying he thinks they are smart.  But even more craftily he undermines Obama's plan to protect people by suggesting that those who need protection are week.  Since no-one wants to be perceived as weak people will end up offended by Obama's attempt to protect them.  But remember, as stated above, we do need protection because clearly people don't understand what they are getting into.

More importantly just because we need protection doesn't mean we are weak or unintelligent.  As I pointed out above no one has the time to research every food and drug to make sure it is safe. Likewise we cannot expect all Americans to study to become attorneys and financial experts just so that they can understand the home loan they sit staring at with a pen in their hand deciding whether or not to sign.

Loans are vastly complicated documents and the banks writing them have all the advantage of being able to create stock forms drafted by high paid attorneys and bankers.  The solution to this large disadvantage in bargaining power is to have the government oversee these processes to ensure that they are fair.  The whole point of government is to come together as a group so we do not all have to specialize.  The government provides a military so we do not all need to fight in times of war.  The government builds roads so that we do not each need to cut our own path through the woods.  And the government should regulate home loans so that we don't all have to become lawyers and bankers.

Lets take Daniels' argument to its absurd conclusion (this is a logical technique called reductio ad absurdum see here for a description of this).  Under Daniels' view that Americans should protect themselves we should remove laws protecting against unfairly high interest rates.  We should also get rid of rules protecting against fraud because people should be able to protect themselves.  Perhaps we don't need police anymore either because Americans are a tough bunch and can stop violence.  These arguments may seem absurd but they follow directly and logically from Daniels' claim that Americans are tough and don't need protection.

Since Daniels point is clearly wrong he has sidestepped the issue and instead tried to use the American public's ego to get them to avoid looking at the facts and instead just be outraged.  Daniels' has used our own ego against us to protect the Banks right to confuse us.  This is a great rhetorical trick, if the facts don't support your argument then spin the issue so that it becomes a matter of ego.  The real issue is whether we all want to waste our time digging through complicated documents that are designed to protect banks or whether we would like to have the government save us some headache and allow us to spend more time with our families.

No comments:

Post a Comment