Saturday, February 24, 2007

How Liberals Avoid Debate

Despite their professed desire for civil discourse, rational debate, and the like, liberals rarely ever actually debate reasonably. Sometimes they try to and fail for lack of ability. But more often, they use a variety of tactics that serve to stifle debate rather than foster it.

These tactics should be recognized for what they are. Thus follows a list of the most frequent anti-rational tricks employed by liberals.

Ad Hominem Attacks
Ad hominem means against the person. Such an attack is directed against a debating opponent rather than against his argument. It seeks to discredit the source of an argument or discourage him from making it rather than respond to the argument. It is a rational strategy for someone who cannot refute an argument.

"You're a [racist, sexist, homophobe, xenophobe, fascist, etc.]"
Black conservative economist Thomas Sowell defined a racist as a conservative who is winning an argument. This is a specific form of ad hominem attack. These are all emotionally charged epithets. Using them serves to redirect the argument to whether someone is such things. They are used to avoid the issue of what the conservative says is true.

"You're an extremist."
Whether some political belief is "extreme" is hardly important compared to whether it is correct. Alleging extremism avoids the real issue. Many political beliefs that today are considered obvious were once "extreme" positions, including human rights, abolition of slavery, and women's suffrage.

Unspecific Attacks
Statements like "you're all wrong" give the appearance of debate without containing any substance. They are used to try to cast doubt upon an argument. They don't contain any specific assertions of fact or logical arguments that can be subjected to scrutiny.

"I'm Offended."
Claiming to be offended redirects the debate to whether some statement is "offensive," rather than whether it is true. It creates a moral stigma against the discussion of certain issues and the expression of certain opinions.

"I demand an apology."
This redirects the debate and makes the issue whether an apology will be given and whether one is warranted. The real issue is whether the given statement is true.

Political Correctness
Political correctness makes certain topics and opinions off limits by creating a psychological climate of disapproval of their discussion. It mandates the use of convoluted and inaccurate language to hide the truth.

People who have been seriously injured or have lost a family member make political statements. It is deemed insensitive to criticize them due to their victim status.

Group exclusion
This one claims that people in some group have no right to speak on a given issue because of who they are. Examples include claiming that men have no right to oppose abortion, whites have no right to oppose racial preferences, and non-veterans have no right to support military action.

Separation of Church and State
As used by Jefferson, this means that government may not create a state church or discriminate based on religion. But liberals use this to say that religious people have no right to be involved in politics or advocate their ideas. This only applies to conservative ideas, not the religious left advocating liberalism.

Change the subject
If you can't refute a given argument, change the subject. Bring up a completely different subject for which you think you have a stronger argument. For example, bring up Iraq during a discussion of environmentalism.

Attack a straw man
If you can't refute an argument, make up a different argument that you can refute. Attribute it to your opponent. Ideally, it should superficially resemble a real argument, using many of the same words. Bonus points for extra outrage.

"Your source is a conservative."
Use the fact that your opponent's source supports his conclusion to argue that it can't be trusted. Don't provide any evidence that the source is unreliable.

"There's no absolute truth."
This is last resort for someone who can't defend his position. The claim that "truth is constructed by those with power" allows a liberal to ignore all the logic and evidence in the world. This postmodernist philosophy is plainly contradicted by how people live their lives, whatever they say. Reality will catch up with them, eventually.

The fact that liberals regularly employ such debating tricks suggests that they are not serious about desiring "civil discourse." For some reason, they continue to hold beliefs that they cannot openly defend.


A.J. said...

Good post Allan. You forgot words like "fascist" and "Nazi." I've been called both plenty of times, mostly by people who don't know what those words mean. You also forgot the "your party" argument, where they try to blame us for mistakes that legislators of our party have made. I've been told that I can't speak of certain issues because I'm a white male. Of course it's my conservatism that is being attacked, not my race or gender. They then fail to explain why a white male conservative cannot talk about gender and race, but a white male liberal can.
Tom and I had a discussion yesterday with a gentleman who used many of these attacks. To be fair, not all liberals use these attacks. AS you point out, it's the ones who cannot defend their position. I have several liberal friends whom I can debate and they never use any of these tactics, instead relying on logic rather than conecture. Those are the ones with whom I wish to debate.

Anonymous said...

Both sides do all of these. As a liberal I've been called, by conservatives a "pinko", "commie", "hippie", "tree hugger", "fag"... the list goes on and on. Conservative talking heads (Rush, Coulter, O'Reilly) specialize in ad hominem!

Point being I can replace every instance of liberal with conservative and it would still make perfect sense. I can also replace every instance of liberal with "Christian" or "Pagan" or "Tory" or whoever I happen to be debating against and want to try to discredit.

Wait... doesn't that fall into one of these rules?


A.J. said...

You are 100% correct that some misguided conservatives use a lot of the same tactics. You should dismiss those that want to employ such tactics and instead seek out conservatives who truly wish to debate.

Anonymous said...

As I see it, the problem with the WMUGOP site is that the person most responsible for the slander of all liberals is the one person who is seemingly incapable of making or agreeing with your point AJ. Many times the content of the information provided on this page has been challenged. And, to the best of my recollection, not once has the main contributor to this vile onslaught of dogmatic criticism against liberalism (a group this person evidently sees as a concerted whole) appeared to even indicate a recognition of the fact that there are more faces to liberalism that is suggested by his postings. One must then ask what avenues are available save to criticize the person as some apparently have taken to doing? It seems the roots of the supposed sins of liberalism stem not from liberalism itself but come equally in part from the dogma on the other side. This is the point the other anonymous was trying to make I think.

Anonymous said...


I am very impressed by your admission that many misguided conservatives use the same techniques you described above.

It seems to me then, that you as the WMU GOP have a responsibility to show leadership to the conservative students of WMU. You should encourage your membership at meetings NOT to act in the ways you've described. You should teach the younger students who look to your group for guidance to resist the urge to attack and personally insult those they disagree with.

If you truly believe the things you have described are wrong, you should encourage your party to be known as a group that shows real moral leadership, instead of the party of the Hall of Shame.

Dan Roth said...

I would say we do make an effort to teach younger students in the art of civil discussion of today's issues. I know that through the CR's, I've learned how to discuss issues and not attack.

Also, my favorite is the discrediting. They don't agree with me, so they find a way to discredit my point of view. The men and abortion one is one I run into all the time.

Anonymous said...

If you do encourage civil discourse, I would say that the CR's who keep posting on the CD blog don't know about it.

Anonymous said...

This article seems to contradict itself. It seems the entire article is an "ad Hominem" attack on "liberals"

I have grown used to hearing "the liberals this" and "the liberals that." If you are opposed to Ad Hominem attacks why didn't you write your article about "some people avoid debate this way" Why did you choose to attack "liberals"?

A.J. said...

Last 'Anonymous': good point.

'Anonymous' just above that: What specific posts are metnioning? It appears to me that the two that appear the most seem to be quite civil. Are there others that are not as civil?

Anonymous said...

"Despite their professed desire for civil discourse, rational debate, and the like, liberals rarely ever actually debate reasonably."

Allan, are you implying that the CD's do not debate reasonably, because they are the ones who have been calling for civility on campus. I think you may be confusing people you see arguing on TV with the College Democrats. The CD's have been arguing for civility on our own campus and have no control over what progressive minded people all across the country may say.

The ONLY official comment made by the CD's about civility can be viewed here
All the other editorials were published by the Western Herald and did not represent the will of the CD's

For that matter: what do you mean by "the liberals"? Are you trying to imply that every person on earth who has different views than you are a coherent group? Thanks to pundits like Ann Coulter people have lost all track of what the word "liberal" means. It used to mean they were people who favored more government programs like social security and healthcare. Now people seem to think the word has something to do with abortion and kinky sex.

And even if there was a clear definition to that word there is no "the" in "the liberals". There is no gigantic group of people who act as one and plot to bring your down fall. There is no cohesive group of "the liberals"

For you to continue to refer to this imaginary group is unfair and counterproductive to debate.

If you want to talk about The CD's say the "college democrats" if you want to talk about the National Democratic Party say "the Democratic Party" if you want to talk about the western herald say the "Western Herald"

Your article is harshly critical of several groups of people. And if you are going to make criticisms, it is only fair that you be clear who you are talking about, so that your readers can judge if your criticism is fair or not. When you simply say "the liberals" no one can be sure who you are talking about.

Anonymous said...


I continue to be impressed by your humility!! You admitting that it was a "good point" that the article itself was an Ad Hominem attack is very impressive. However, now that you have acknowledged this, I wonder if you will take the obvious next step and speak with Allan about this?

I urge you to act on your principles! Allan went back and edited his article after your suggestion earlier. Suggest that he edit it again; if he wants to talk about "ad Hominem" attacks make sure the article itself is not an Ad Hominem!

In regards to your other question, some of the blogs on the CD's blog accused people of being hypocrites, others accused the CD's of not having an agenda and implied the group would die out soon. I can't remember exactly where those blogs were posted and it would take a long time to find them, but if you really want me to go to the effort of a long search, let me know and I will do so.

Conservative First said...

So pointing out liberals' illegitimate debating tactics is an illegitimate debating tactic?

That's a good one.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps I was not clear: Lumping all those people you disagree with into one giant group called "the liberals" is what is illegitimate. Progressive minded people do not act as one group. Please clarify if you were speaking about any specific groups on campus.

Also, your article denounces Ad Hominem attacks, while it is itself an ad Hominem attack.

A.J. said...

Thank you for complimenting me about my humility. Unfortunately, perhaps for both of us, I cannot accept such praise. When I was pointing out a good argument being made, the point I was conceding is that as pointed out, the "left" or "liberals" are not monoltithic. This was pointed out to me previously, and I now take pains to point put "many" or "the majority of" or "traditionally" and similar terms in front of words identifying liberals.
Also, I must decline to talk to Allan about his posts. His opinions are his own, and he does not speak for the WMUGOP as a body or the GOP as a whole any more than I do. We have a disclaimer at the top of this blog that says as much. I have posted comments disputing him in the past, and I imagine that I will do so in the future. I feel however that it is not my place to influence the way in which Allan presents his point. I started this blog a year ago so that all those participating could exercise their speech rights in a widely accessible forum.
I appreciate your readership and encourage you to continue posting your counterpoints as you see necessary.

Anonymous said...


If you are opposed to Ad Hominem attacks, I call on you to denounce Ann Coulter for calling John Edwards “a faggot” on national news.

Your group is very closely associated with her after all, since you raised so much money and worked so hard to bring her to our campus. This is not some raving nut you found on the internet. This is a speaker the CR’s clearly admire. Will you denounce her?

Or are you only opposed to Ad Hominem attacks when fringe liberal groups make them?

Anonymous said...

I find the incivility of some of the exchanges on your site breathtaking. But your recent entry celebrating Ann Coulter's visit to WMU cleared things up for me. With a role model like her, how could the tone of this site help but be vile.
Some samples:

On Freedom of Speech: "(Liberals) are always accusing us of repressing their speech. I say let's do it. Let's repress them. ... Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the First Amendment."

On Freedom of the Press: "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."

On World Trade Center Widows: "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief- arazzis. I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

On Respect for the Judiciary: "We need somebody to put rat poison in Justice Stevens' creme brulee,"

This isn't a Conservative speaking, it's a looney.

A.J. said...

Do you have beef with the site as a whole, or with one author? Let's make sure we don't confuse the two.

Anonymous said...

Well my beef is very specific.

1. I want a response from Allan on whether his initial post was talking about any specific groups on campus or to some giant "liberal conspiracy"

2. I want a response to Allan in regards to the fact he claims to be against Ad Hominem attacks, while the entire post is an Ad Hominem attack on "liberals." I also want to know if he's against Ann Coulter calling John Edwards "a faggot" because that seems pretty clearly to be an Ad Hominem attack to me. If Allan were to denounce her, I think it would ad a lot of validity to his claim, because it would prove he was willing to practice what he preaches.

I'm waiting Allan...Sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is admit they made a mistake.