A Philosopher's Blog

Republicans & Rhetorical Explanations

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on October 25, 2013

Mitt-Romney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a defeat, it is natural for people to try to explain why they were defeated. In some cases, the explanation provided is aimed at doing what an explanation is supposed to do: to provide an illuminating account of how or why something occurred. In other cases, the explanation is aimed primarily at influencing peoples’ attitudes and behavior. Not surprisingly, an explanation that is aimed at achieving these goals is a rhetorical device known as a rhetorical explanation.

This is not to say that a rhetorical explanation need be in error—it could provide an accurate account of how or why something occurred. Being a rhetorical explanation is more a matter of intent—that is, those offering it do so at least in part to cause people to have a positive or negative feeling about a matter.

Back in 2012, the Republicans lost the presidential election and various people endeavored to explain how this happened. Some folks pointed to the demographics of America and how minorities played a critical role in the election. Others claimed that the media’s love for Obama handed him the victory. One of the more interesting explanations was that the Republicans lost because they were not conservative enough.

More recently, the Republicans lost on their bid to get the Democrats to agree to delay or defund Obamacare. After this defeat, various explanations have been offered and among them is the claim that it was the result of the Republicans not conservative enough. In this context, this seems to mean not being will to let the shutdown of the government slide into defaulting on the national debt.

On the face of it, presenting the claim that the Republicans lost because they were not conservative enough seems to be a rhetorical explanation. After all, it seems to be aimed (in part) at chastising the Republicans who are being accused of not being adequately conservative. As such, people are supposed to feel negatively about these Republicans.  It also seems to be aimed (in part) at creating positive feelings towards the conservative Republicans—it is supposed to be believed that they had the winning approach (but were betrayed by the Republicans in Name Only). This explanation might prove to have some bite—many Republicans are taking pains to cast themselves as being very conservative and repudiating the charge that they might be moderates.

While rhetorical explanations such as this are often used to make other people feel a certain way (positively or negatively), people can also use them on themselves. Whether the explanation is inflicted on others or self-inflicted, the problem is that such appealing explanations can make it very easy for a person to buy into an explanation that is not correct, thus leading to obvious problems. As such, it is worth considering whether the explanation about these defeats is correct or not.

If the explanation for the 2012 election was correct, then the prediction that would follow would be that the Republicans would have won if they had been more conservative. In this case, winning is clear—Mitt Romney (or a more conservative Republican like Michelle Bachmann) would have been elected rather than Obama.

For this to happen, more people would have had to vote for the Republican than Obama. Since this did not happen, for the explanation at hand to be correct, there seem to be three main options (and perhaps others).

One is that some conservatives voted for Obama because Romney was not conservative enough.  They would have, however, voted for someone who was conservative enough. It seems reasonable enough to dismiss this option out of hand on the grounds that such people would not vote for Obama. Thus, it seems rather implausible to think that a more conservative Republican would have pulled votes away from Obama.

A second one is that some conservatives voted for someone other than the two main candidates or wrote in someone else rather than voting for Romney, thus allowing Obama to win. This is more plausible than the first option, but is still fairly unlikely. That is, it does not seem likely that enough people to change the election voted in this manner because Romney was not conservative enough.

A third option is that some conservatives decided to not vote at all because they thought Romney was not conservative enough, thus allowing Obama to win. Of the three, this is the most plausible. Elections in the United States have a low turnout and it certainly is possible that some of those who did not vote would have voted if there had been a candidate that was conservative enough. These voters would thus seem to have preferred allowing Obama to win over voting for Romney, but this would assume that the voters were rationally considering the consequences of their failure to vote. It could be a simple matter of motivation—they were not inspired enough by Romney (or their dislike of Obama) to vote.

It is also worth considering that the explanation is in error because a more conservative Republican would have merely increased the votes for Obama. As noted above, a more conservative Republican would not have pulled votes from Obama. What seems more likely is that a more conservative Republican would have lost the more moderate voters who voted for Romney. As such, if the Republican candidate in 2012 had been “conservative enough” Obama would have either still won or would have still won with a larger number of votes. After all, most Americans are not extremely conservative and being “conservative enough” would seem to involve holding views that most Americans do not hold. Thus, the explanation seems to fail.

Jumping ahead to the most recent defeat, the matter is somewhat more complicated in that the victory conditions are not so clearly defined. At the start of the battle, the Republicans wanted to defund or delay Obamacare—that would have been a win. However, as the shutdown continued, the Republicans seemed to become less clear about what they wanted—especially when Obama made it clear that he was not going to negotiate Obamacare.

Interestingly enough, the shutdown was explained by some as being the fault of the Democrats and after the Republican defeat, the more conservative Republicans are using the narrative that they would have won if the Republicans had been conservative enough—thus creating dueling rhetorical explanations.

But, to get back to the main point, the victory conditions were not clear. However, it could be speculated that a win would involve the Republicans getting more of whatever they ended up wanted than the Democrats got of what they wanted. So, I will go with that.

There is also the question of what it meant to be conservative enough. Given the rhetoric, it seems that what this means is being willing to take the United States into default if one does not get what one wants. If so, the Republicans being conservative enough would not seem to have yielded a win—unless what they wanted was a default on the debt and the ensuing economic and political disaster. If this is what counts as a win, then being conservative enough would have led to that “win”—a win that almost everyone else would regard as a disaster.

Most Americans disapproved of what Congress was doing and most blamed the Republicans. Presumably if the Republicans had been more conservative, this would have merely made people more annoyed with them—after all, the view of most people was that what was going on was bad, not that it did not go far enough into this badness. As such, it would seem that the problem was not that the Republicans were not conservative enough. They lost because they had a poor strategy and most Americans did not like what they were doing. The solution is, obviously enough, not being more of that—the result will just be worse for the Republicans.

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14 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on October 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Mike, please stop repeating the bit about the U.S. risking default as there was never any risk of default.

    Repeating a falsehood over and over does not make it true. Is there a fallacy along these lines? Maybe the “broken record” fallacy?

    The CEO of credit rating agency Moody’s ruled out the chance of a U.S. government default, even if an agreement over raising the debt ceiling is not achieved by mid-October.

    As the U.S. government shutdown looked set to continue for a sixth day on Monday, concerns that the ongoing political stalemate will cause the Treasury to miss its October 17 deadline for raising the $16.7 trillion borrowing limit, remained at fever pitch.

    If the U.S. government defaults on its debt, it could have negative consequences for financial markets worldwide.

    “It is extremely unlikely that the Treasury is not going to continue to pay on those securities,” Moody’s CEO Raymond McDaniel said in an interview with CNBC.

    “Hopefully it is unlikely that we go past October 17 and fail to raise the debt ceiling, but even if that does happen, then we think that the U.S. Treasury is still going to pay on those Treasury securities,” he added.


    • WTP said, on October 25, 2013 at 9:34 am

      Repeating a falsehood over and over does not make it true.

      Philosophically speaking, it does. Modern political philosophy, that is. Though I suspect such comes and goes inverted with the waves of productivity.

      As the saying goes, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. When the legend is taught as fact by educators, repeated as fact by the media, of what use is truth? You need to be “realistic” about your expectations. Perception is reality.

    • magus71 said, on October 25, 2013 at 10:49 am

      “Repeating a falsehood over and over does not make it true.”

      The Communists of the 1930s may disagree.

    • magus71 said, on October 25, 2013 at 10:55 am

      From the Wiki entry on the Big Lie, harking to 1984. Sound familiar?

      George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four refers to the Big Lie theory on several occasions. For example:
      “The key-word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts.”[9]
      Definition of doublethink: “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed….”[10]


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 25, 2013 at 11:38 am

      There was a risk of default. That is, if the last second deal had not been made, then the country would have gone into default. Now, you could argue that there was no risk in that there was no chance that the Republicans would take us over the cliff. That is, you knew they were just bluffing all along and that they would fold at the last minute.

      But, the Republicans did seem serious about the threat of default and even now some of the Tea Party folks are indicating that they wanted to go all the way.

      The idea that we were at risk does not seem absurd and people did take it seriously:




      Now, I could be wrong about the matter-perhaps it was just an empty bluff on the part of the Republicans. But, given that they shut down the government it would not be irrational to think they would not go further.

      • WTP said, on October 25, 2013 at 11:56 am

        That is, if the last second deal had not been made, then the country would have gone into default.

        This is a lie. The default would only happen if someone decided to not pay the interest on the loans but spend the income elsewhere. If someone has to take a cut in pay, they do not immediately default on their mortgage. They adjust spending to meet income.

        As for “people did take is seriously”, Robert Reich, The Huff Po, and Slate are only reliable sources of balanced information in the parallel universe that exists inside your head. Seriously. Stop bullsh*tting. If you worked for the Democratic party or were involved directly in politics, this would be within your prerogative. It is definitely NOT if you wish to claim “fairness” or to be a true philosopher.

        • WTP said, on October 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm

          Heh…forgot to add, most importantly the MARKETS did not take it seriously. When there is much sturm und drang, watch what the people with skin in the game do with their money.

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 25, 2013 at 11:20 am

    The 2012 election popular vote total was actually very close, especially for a sitting POTUS:

    Obama (Democrat) – 65,917,257
    Romney (Republican) – 60,932,235

    Obama won the electoral vote (332 vs 206).

    In short, the GOP is radically Zionist, whereas the Democrats are Zionist-Lite.

    “Mitt Romney says any public differences between the United States and Israel only embolden adversaries. The U.S. presidential candidate says it is a ‘basic truth’ that the United States and Israel will always stand together. Without mentioning the tensions between President Barack Obama and Israel’s leaders, Romney suggested in a Jerusalem speech Sunday that the diplomatic differences only encourage Israel’s enemies. Obama has, at times, broken with Israel’s leaders and called on Israel to follow through on its commitments, such as to halt building of housing settlements. Romney says he would never criticize Israel and would be a steadfast ally to the Jewish state.” (July 2012)

    “Our commitment to the security of Israel is rock solid. And as I’ve said to the Prime Minister in every single one of our meetings, the United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security. This is a bond that is based not only on our mutual security interests and economic interests, but is also based on common values and the incredible people-to-people contacts that we have between our two countries.” ~ President Barack Obama (March 5, 2012)

    “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.” George Washington (1796)

    The US presidents change, the Western Wall rabbi does not: Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall & Holy Sites of Israel: see: http://www.aleh.org/eng/board.asp?SID=6

    Mitt Romney at the western wall: http://youtu.be/G96taybpGt4

    Barack Obama at the western wall: http://youtu.be/wUFa6d4R6OU

    Bill Clinton at the western wall: http://youtu.be/0518Bs4hpxg

    John McCain at the western wall: http://youtu.be/YHLd_5RNAs4

  3. TJB said, on October 25, 2013 at 1:17 pm


    The Republicans never had the power to cause the U.S. to default. Only Obama had the power if he deliberately chose not to service the debt, but why would he do that?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Both had the power, in a sense. The Republicans could have refused to restart the government and Obama could have decided to throw down some executive craziness.

      • WTP said, on October 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm

        But they didn’t. They provided bills with plenty of funding to finance the debt. The senate and Obama refused those bills. Stop making sh*t up.

  4. T. J. Babson said, on October 25, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Mike, as a philosophy professor, shouldn’t you be able to pierce through the fog of Dem talking points?

    When you open your monthly bill from Visa V +0.07% or Mastercard, have you ever thought of telling the credit card company you cannot possibly pay even the minimum balance due, and you are going to have to default on the debt, unless the company immediately increases your credit limit? What do you think your creditor would tell you if you did? Would you expect to get the increase in your credit limit that way?

    That is the same silly, illogical argument that your President Barack Obama is peddling to the entire country, to considerable success, given the fundamental breakdown in this generation’s ability to handle self-government. Not raising the debt limit does not mean defaulting on the national debt, any more than not increasing your credit limit means you can’t pay your monthly credit card bill, and must default on that.

    As the outstanding federal debt becomes due, it can simply be paid by newly issued debt, without violating the debt limit, as the total outstanding debt would not change. President Obama’s own budget estimates total net interest on the national debt for this year currently totals $223 billion. But his budget also estimates total federal income taxes for this year at $1.7 trillion, or $1,700 billion. So just as you use a small portion of your monthly earnings to pay your credit card bill, current federal tax revenues are more than enough to pay the current interest due on the national debt. So not increasing the national debt does not mean defaulting on the national debt. QED.

    But our party controlled press, like the Washington Post and the New York Times, which behave voluntarily in regard to the Obama Administration just as Pravda did under compulsion in regard to the old Soviet dictators, foolishly echo this Obama party propaganda, “reporting” that default on the national debt is imminent unless Congress increases the debt limit. Even some conservative commentators have been buffaloed into lamely repeating that such default is at issue in the debt limit debate. There should be personal liability for commentator malpractice.


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