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The GOP’s Fraudulent Minor Premises

August 30, 2012

And this week’s award for Most Fraudulent Conservative goes to…Paul Ryan. I think I’m having an overnight conversion experience, because suddenly it seems clear that my recent post pointing out that facts require interpretation is completely beside the point. In an election season filled with lies and damned lies, it’s the facts that count.

Fortunately, even Fox News is pushing back against Ryan. One contributor writes:

Ryan may have helped solve some of the likeability problems facing Romney, but ultimately by trying to deceive voters about basic facts and trying to distract voters from his own record, Ryan’s speech caused a much larger problem for himself and his running mate.

In light of the deceptions and distractions discussed in the Fox News piece and elsewhere, I once again partially retract my post on facts. I still think that facts alone are insufficient in establishing claims that ultimately depend on ethics and values. What I now realize is that it’s not possible to have an honest debate over higher level issues without a basic agreement on the facts. For example, it is factually the case that Paul Ryan’s budget does no more to reduce government debt by 2020 than does president Obama’s plan. The value judgment “this generation has a moral obligation not to compromise the economic prosperity of posterity” may be sensible (and I think it is), but it does not end up supporting the outcome that conservatives think it does (i.e. a vote for Romney/Ryan). On the contrary, voters concerned about long-term deficits have stronger grounds for backing Obama/Biden. In short, you can have the values discussion in the abstract, but apart from an accurate appraisal of facts on the ground it can not issue in right action.

To put the whole thing in Aristotelian terms, right action results from the valid conjoining of a major premise (usually an abstract principle) with a minor premise (facts on the ground). Few people would object to the GOP’s major premises–individual liberty, personal responsibility, limited government, etc. It’s by deliberately appealing to fraudulent minor premises that Romney et al throw the whole syllogism out of whack.

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