Tu quoque, Barack, tu quoque?!?!?!

Within the world of politics, especially in Presidential politics, every move, every word, every action is a setup for scrutiny or condemnation from detractors. The significant amount of the opinions expressed by critics of Presidents are usually mundane low-brow expressions which are made more for personal gain or as an attempt to validate the critic’s existence than legitimate fault finding. So is the case with the examination of the President’s commentary at the annual National Prayer Breakfast this week.

Here are the President’s remarks which got so many noses out of joints.   

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

What the President is referencing here is that American’s shouldn't judge the Muslim community as a whole because of the deplorable violence wrought by ISIS. And that as a nation we should remember that our own majority faith, Christianity, has its own long dark history of violence and appalling actions to contend with. Accordingly it is not only wrong, it is factually incorrect to refer to ISIS as "Muslim Extremists."

Now before you think that this is a defense of the President’s commentary or that I am in agreement please…think again. His sophomoric and banal attempt to remind us about ethical standards of judgment is anything but coherent or lucid. On the historical front most of the “facts” as presented by Mr. Obama are anything but actualities. My problem is that most of the criticism of the President's remarks have been in the wrong vein, elucidate the critic's lack of  knowledge on historical events and their context, and they combat the Left's sophistry with crude rhetoric.  

But why worry about all of this and these inane and fallacious comments? Is it really that surprising that Mr. Obama would make comments like these considering his background and the philosophy he admittedly adheres to? The answer is no, I am not worried nor upset about anything he has said. However, this is a truly teachable moment and provides great insight to the style of argumentation which the Left tends to employ in its overall strategy. And why I am highlighting it. 

What The President is doing is invoking the informal logical fallacy of 'Tu quoque' or translated as 'you too'. In other words you discredit your opponent's argument by asserting they have engaged in the same behavior or acted inconsistently in reference to the point which they are defending or making. Subsequently, this method does nothing to address your opponent's position except reject it, not argue against it in logical practice.  For you visual learners here is the argumentative structure provided by RationalWiki.

1.       Person A makes claim X about Person B.
2.       Person B points out that claim X is also true of Person A.
3.       Therefore, X is irrelevant/false and A is a hypocrite.

To combat this you have one of two choices. The first is showing that the argument is unsound or that the two premise don’t lead to the conclusion being drawn. The second is that one of the premise being presented is patently false. Meaning if a premise is shown to be inaccurate then invariably the deduction is incorrect.

Take the Crusades for example. Anyone who has a modicum of knowledge about this time understands that there were two centuries worth of historical context which led to the Church launching its forces into the Middle East. Islamic expansionism against Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire, see the Seljuk Turks, made this necessary and unavoidable.

Do I fault the Muslim states for trying to conquer Western Europe? No…I do not. They were doing what empires do and the Western Church—the only unifying agent in Europe at the time--was doing what it had to do to ensure its survival and expansion. Certainly both sides were as much victims as they were perpetrators. However, this doesn’t fit into Mr. Obama’s narrative. You could also go on about the Inquisition, slavery, and Jim Crow and show these premises to be faulty and hollow as well.

The takeaway here is once you understand the structure of the argument being used against you, then you can combat it effectively. 



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