Posts Tagged ‘arguing’


Political Blogging: The Power of the Premises


What’s more important to an argument — a solid set of premises leading up to a logical conclusion, or the conclusion itself?

The political blogosphere is mainly just opinion writing, most often by non-professionals — myself included.  People take a stance on a law, bill, event, political figure – anything at all, really – and have an opinion on the matter.  So they then write a blog post explaining why they feel that way and why that way is the right way to feel about the topic.  Opinion writing is argumentative writing.  And yes, we’re all entitled to our own opinions; but, when it comes to arguments, there are sound arguments and there are unsound arguments.

A recent comment from one of my older posts began a conversation about this very topic that I thought it was worthy of its own post.  This notion of arguments and logic is something that I find extremely interesting and will be exploring even more in-depth on a consistent basis with a new project of mine coming soon (shameless teaser, I know — but get ready for it).

Something I always try to do with this blog is present my opinions as thought-out arguments, not merely rhetoric spewed onto the page to either rile up those who already agree with me or to infuriate those who don’t see things quite the same way.  There’s enough of that out there already.  I’ve definitely had moments of weakness and failure in this aim, to be sure; and I’m sure that looking back through my archives, I’d find those moments happened more frequently when I began.  And while I know that I will write both solid and weak arguments going forward, they will all be written from the perspective and intention of providing logical rationale to support my conclusion.

Many people read blogs that already cater to their tastes.  If you’re liberal, you probably don’t read Andrew Breitbart.  If you’re conservative, doubtful you frequent the Huffington Post.  (Although, it’s become trendy for some to follow those with whom they disagree just so they can leave extreme comments announcing their disgust through name-calling and other pointless commentary.)  In fact, many with opposing viewpoints are not welcome in the comments section of some blogs — not always by the bloggers themselves, but as evident from the response by the fellow commenters.

Perhaps it’s this chasm between the liberal and conservative blogs and their readership that causes most bloggers to not feel the pressure of forming logical arguments for their opinions — they don’t need them because they have the power of their already-devoted followers to lend their support to any dissenters, should any happen by.  Regardless — we have enough of those blogs out there that merely mimic the thoughts of their political faction and treat dissent without any intellectual respect whatsoever.  I’d like to hold myself to a higher standard and think that we should all demand the same from those bloggers we follow.

It’s true that one can accidentally arrive at the right conclusion despite having a total mess of inaccuracy in the preceding premises.  But that doesn’t lend much confidence to the one behind that opinion.  The commenter on my previous post that got this whole thing started brought up the notion that if one’s conclusion was “2+2 = 4,” it wouldn’t matter what kind of nonsense made this person arrive at that answer because it’s a true statement.  For that I have two rebuttals:  one, the premises do matter, as I recall from my days in high school algebra.  If you happened upon the right answer but didn’t get their the correct way, you lost points.  It’s not always about the answer; it’s also about how you get there.  And secondly, political discourse lives in the gray area and doesn’t always have a right or wrong answer like arithmetic — which makes your supporting evidence that much more important.

I’d argue that the basis for your opinion is more important than your opinion itself.  Think about it.  When someone gives you their opinion, the first thing you most likely will ask is: “Why?”  This invites the person to explain the reasoning behind their opinion.  Unless you blindly follow someone else’s stance on everything without a second thought (and I strongly recommend not doing this), you’re going to want to hear more than a response of: “Just because.”

So, the lesson to be learned from all of this is that we should take care to note the argument’s premises – if there are any – the next time you’re reading an opinion blog rather than only focusing on the conclusion.   You might be surprised.  You might find that while you thought you agreed wholeheartedly with the opinion at first,  after seeing the support being mainly comprised of empty rhetoric and other meandering opinion instead of rational evidence, you’re not so sure after all.

It’s always nice to read something that completely validates how you’re feeling — but it’s even better when you can be sure that you have a factual leg to stand on when people question your opinion and you can respond with more than “just because.”


Sarah Palin Deconstructed: Facebook Note on BP and Obama


I found it interesting when I examined Sarah Palin’s last Facebook note that I thought I would take a look at her latest: “Less Talkin’, More Kickin’.”

As before, my goal is to take a look at her arguments and claims and see what stands up to critical thought and is not just impassioned non-truths that merely espouse an ideology.  Given her track record, this may prove to be a futile effort, but since she is poised to be the next GOP candidate for the highest public office in the country, I think it’s worth the time.

And off we go:

50 days in, and we’ve just learned another shocking revelation concerning the Obama administration’s response to the Gulf oil spill. In an interview aired this morning, President Obama admitted that he hasn’t met with or spoken directly to BP’s CEO Tony Hayward. His reasoning: “Because my experience is, when you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he’s gonna say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words. I’m interested in actions.”

So far, she’s got her facts straight.  After clicking the sourced link, she has properly quoted the President.

First, to the “informed and enlightened” mainstream media: in all the discussions you’ve had with the White House about the spill, did it not occur to you before today to ask how the CEO-to-CEO level discussions were progressing to remedy this tragedy?

Sigh.  More infuriating quotation mark usage.  I’ll save my breath on this one because I’ve already slammed this arguing technique before and it’s still no more potent today than it was then.  As per her question to the MSM: I’m not sure what she’s getting at.  I assume that she is likening Obama’s job to being the CEO of the country.  It seems that the more pertinent questions would be asking what exactly is being done to stop the spill, rather than if Obama had met with Hayword in person.

You never cease to amaze. (Kind of reminds us of the months on end when you never bothered to ask if the President was meeting with General McChrystal to talk about our strategy in Afghanistan.)

So, this blast of contempt is aimed at the mainstream media, yet the link she provides regarding Obama’s meeting with McChrystal directs over to a Fox News article — her current employer.  It seems that her dig here is actually at Obama regarding the way he came to a decision on what to do in Afghanistan last fall.  Rather unfocused and quite off topic from the oil disaster.

Second, to fellow baffled Americans: this revelation is further proof that it bodes well to have some sort of executive experience before occupying the Oval Office (as if the painfully slow response to the oil spill, confusion of duties, finger-pointing, lack of preparedness, and inability to grant local government simple requests weren’t proof enough).

To recap: the original issue at hand was Obama having not sat down face-to-face with BP CEO Tony Hayward regarding the oil spill.  Then it became about the mainstream media’s ineptitude at not looking into this matter until 50 days into the disaster.  And now it’s about how Obama doesn’t have the experience to run the country — her evidence: because he hasn’t actually spoken to BP Tony Hayward.

This seems to be a rather weak argument. Interestingly though, Palin goes into the reasons that one might be able to make a solid argument in favor of Obama’s potential ineptitude in her parenthetical aside.  Perhaps she expounds on these…

The current administration may be unaware that it’s the President’s duty, meeting on a CEO-to-CEO level with Hayward, to verify what BP reports.

False. This duty is no found listed under the president’s duties in the Constitution.

In an interview a few weeks ago with Greta Van Susteren, I noted that based on my experience working with oil execs as an oil regulator and then as a Governor, you must verify what the oil companies claim – because their perception of circumstances and situations dealing with public resources and public trust is not necessarily shared by those who own America’s public resources and trust.

The difference here is that this isn’t a matter of he-said-she-said: there is an actual event occurring before our very eyes and measures being taken to remedy the situation.  So far none have worked; even the current collection mechanism is missing a large amount of the oil.  Not sure what claims weren’t verified through Obama’s and Hayward’s people that could’ve been done so face-to-face or how that would’ve affected the situation.  It seems to be speculation at this point.  What didn’t Obama verify that he should’ve?

I was about run out of town in Alaska for what critics decried at the time as my “playing hardball with Big Oil,” and those same adversaries (both shortsighted Repubs and Dems) continue to this day to try to discredit my administration’s efforts in holding Big Oil accountable to operate ethically and responsibly.

No links to what she’s talking about here, but her record on her Big Oil stance is far from consistent. Regardless, she’s completely off topic now as she defends her own integrity in her own original post that started off attacking the mainstream media, then Obama’s ineptitude on a number of levels, and to non-truths about the president’s duties.  Let’s see if she gets back on track…

Mr. President: with all due respect, you have to get involved, sir. The priorities and timeline of an oil company are not the same as the public’s. You cannot outsource the cleanup and the responsibility and the trust to BP and expect that the legitimate interests of Americans adversely affected by this spill will somehow be met.

This is a sentiment from both sides of the political divide. Let’s see if she offers ways on how she would have him get involved…

White House: have you read this morning’s Washington Post? Not to pile it on BP, but there’s an extensive report chronicling the company’s troubling history:

“BP has had more high-profile accidents than any other company in recent years. And now, with the disaster in the gulf, independent experts say the pervasiveness of the company’s problems, in multiple locales and different types of facilities, is striking.

‘They are a recurring environmental criminal and they do not follow U.S. health safety and environmental policy,’ said Jeanne Pascal, a former EPA lawyer who led its BP investigations.”

And yet just 10 days prior to the explosion, the Obama administration’s regulators gave the oil rig a pass, and last year the Obama administration granted BP a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) exemption for its drilling operation.

Here’s the real inaction. Here’s the story and the argument. The whole not-sitting-down-with-Hayward-to-order-him-to-clean-up-the-mess-in-person was just a way to get into this.  And here she has some solid ammo for an argument.

These decisions and the resulting spill have shaken the public’s confidence in the ability to safely drill. Unless government appropriately regulates oil developments and holds oil executives accountable, the public will not trust them to drill, baby, drill.

True.  Even Rasmussen reports that support is falling.

And we must! Or we will be even more beholden to, and controlled by, dangerous foreign regimes that supply much of our energy.

Her plan then, as I read it, is to increase regulation on oil drilling, but continue to drill so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  Seems like this is actually on par with Obama’s stance — at least until this disaster made him halt new oil drilling.

This has been a constant refrain from me. As Governor of Alaska, I did everything in my power to hold oil companies accountable in order to prove to the federal government and to the nation that Alaska could be trusted to further develop energy rich land like ANWR and NPR-A. I hired conscientious Democrats and Republicans (because this sure shouldn’t be a partisan issue) to provide me with the best advice on how we could deal with what was a corrupt system of some lawmakers and administrators who were hesitant to play hardball with some in the oil field business. (Remember the Alaska lawmakers, public decision-makers, and business executives who ended up going to jail as a result of the FBI’s investigations of oily corruption.)

More Palin 2012 presidential campaign material.  Doesn’t really do much to support her argument.

As the aforementioned article notes, BP’s operation in Alaska would hurt our state and waste public resources if allowed to continue. That’s why my administration created the Petroleum Systems Integrity Office (PSIO) when we saw proof of improper maintenance of oil infrastructure in our state. We had to verify. And that’s why we instituted new oversight and held BP and other oil companies financially accountable for poor maintenance practices. We knew we could partner with them to develop resources without pussyfooting around with them. As a CEO, it was my job to look out for the interests of Alaskans with the same intensity and action as the oil company CEOs looked out for the interests of their shareholders.

Okay, here’s where it all comes back together.  But, in doing so, she actually negates her own argument.  Palin claims that in order to verify that BP would be held accountable, she had a new government oversight office created.  Yet, she states that the Obama administration also had regulators of its own, which means that Palin did the exact same thing that Obama did to verify that BP was being honest.  She didn’t meet with Hayward face-to-face, either.  Whether or not the regulators did their job isn’t what she originally argued – which would’ve been much stronger – so this support doesn’t help her case; in fact, it destroys it.

I learned firsthand the way these companies operate when I served as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC). I ended up resigning in protest because my bosses (the Governor and his chief of staff at the time) wouldn’t support efforts to clean up the corruption involving improper conflicts of interest with energy companies that the state was supposed to be watching. (I wrote about this valuable learning experience in my book, “Going Rogue”.) I felt guilty taking home a big paycheck while being reduced to sitting on my thumbs – essentially rendered ineffective as a supervisor of a regulatory agency in charge of nearly 20% of the U.S. domestic supply of energy.

Back to shameless plugs and Palin 2012 campaign material.  It seems that if one could glean anything from this section, it’d be that in order to stand up for what was right, Palin quit.

My experience (though, granted, I got the message loud and clear during the campaign that my executive experience managing the fastest growing community in the state, and then running the largest state in the union, was nothing compared to the experiences of a community organizer) showed me how government officials and oil execs could scratch each others’ backs to the detriment of the public, and it made me ill. I ran for Governor to fight such practices. So, as a former chief executive, I humbly offer this advice to the President: you must verify. That means you must meet with Hayward. Demand answers.

More Palin 2012.  She’s fueling the anti-establishment angle of her future campaign and one that many Tea Party candidates have been running in primaries across the nation.  She’s merely selling herself here and if the whole argument of this post is regarding Obama’s necessity to verify, she already swung and missed with her own anecdote of doing nothing much different from what Obama has done — or not done, as is her argument.

That said, her demand for answers is worthwhile.  Everyone wants answers for this debacle.

In the interview today, the President said: “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”

Please, sir, for the sake of the Gulf residents, reach out to experts who have experience holding oil companies accountable. I suggested a few weeks ago that you start with Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, led by Commissioner Tom Irwin. Having worked with Tom and his DNR and AGIA team led by Marty Rutherford, I can vouch for their integrity and expertise in dealing with Big Oil and overseeing its developments. We’ve all lived and worked through the Exxon-Valdez spill. They can help you. Give them a call. Or, what the heck, give me a call.

This is more about her own ability and experience in these matters than the credibility of Obama’s advisers.  She doesn’t claim that Obama’s experts can’t help, only that her experts for sure can.  And that she, herself, can be of help.  Though, she doesn’t state how she could be of service.

And, finally, Mr. President, please do not punish the American public with any new energy tax in response to this tragedy. Just because BP and federal regulators screwed up that doesn’t mean the rest of us should get punished with higher taxes at the pump and attached to everything petroleum products touch.

No new taxes. Just a pointless dig that doesn’t have to do with her original argument.

All in all, a failed argument.  She does bring up some valid points and concerns that seem to be universal right now — mainly that everyone feels helpless and is acting out because of it.  We want to be able to blame someone.  We want to be able to just demand that the oil spill gets plugged.  We want to believe that it’s simply a matter of not trying hard enough to plug the hole rather than the more likely reality that this disaster has no quick fix, no simple response, regardless of how much we yell, blame, point fingers, demand, cry, scream, and whine.