An uncouth guide to logical fallacies guaranteed to be used during the 2024 legislative session

The 2024 legislative session is just around the corner so let’s explore the world of political talk, where logic often takes a backseat, and arguments are twisted daily. Bluster is an equal-opportunity instrument/tactic so be assured that this post does not target one party or leader. That said, you are guaranteed to read some of these and think, “Hey! So-and-so does that all the time!” That’s our point.

1. Ad Hominem (Or, “I don’t have a better idea so I’m going to insult your mom.”)
What It Means: Instead of arguing about an issue or policy, let's just insult the other person's appearance or characteristics. Or family for those who embrace a scorched-earth approach. Example: Politician A says, "Politician B's plan for health care is as bad as his taste in ties." Fashion police=policymakers?
Rational response: Fashion sense doesn’t equal common sense and bad ideas can originate with even the most dashing, well-dressed person.

2. Straw Man (Also known as, “Battling imaginary goblins”)
What It Means: Creating a dumber, scarier version of the opponent’s idea and then heroically defeating it. Example: "Senator Smith thinks we should give companies tax breaks. Next, she’ll come for your first-born child!"
Rational response: A wild imagination is fun for storytellers but elected officials should stick to facts. Senator Smith likely thinks her tax breaks will improve the economy or otherwise be good for the state/citizens.

3. False Dilemma (The “You’re either with us or against us” fallacy)
What It Means: Life is either black or white; grey is for losers who aren’t brave enough to die on this hill. Example: "If you don’t support this education bill, you clearly hate children. And you probably want to make them walk uphill to school every day. Both ways. In the snow." Seriously, has anyone ever campaigned on sticking it to the kids?
Rational person response: We can reasonably assume this person has other ideas about helping children not contained within this bill. Or just thinks this legislation is, to quote a former legislator, “butt dumb.”

4. Slippery Slope (AKA, “Next thing you know, we’ll be living in caves!”)
What It Means: If we do X, then Y will happen, and life as we know it will end. Example: "If you eliminate this bus stop, the riders will lose their jobs and our entire economy will collapse!”
Rational response: This route may serve only a handful of riders and better transportation alternatives might make sense for these folks. Economic collapse in this situation is unlikely.

5. Circular Reasoning (Or, “I’m right because you’re wrong, which makes me right.”)
What It Means: I’m just going to keep talking until you realize I’m right. Example: "My amendment to this bill should pass because it’s better than the others." Hard to argue with that...because it makes no sense. And gives everyone a headache.
Rational response: Amendments (and all legislation) should be judged on their merits, not on being the least-worst or most-discussed option.

6. Hasty Generalization (AKA, “Jumping to conclusions without a parachute”)
What It Means: Making big assumptions based on tiny evidence.Like assuming every hiker in Alaska will be attacked by a bear because at least one mauling occurs every summer. Example: "I received an email from a constituent who did not receive her mail-in ballot, so obviously, the entire system is rigged."
Rational response: Some ballots will be mailed to the wrong person/address. Barring any evidence of widespread system failure, this is normal and safeguards against voter fraud are already in place. (In the same vein, it’s also OK to ask what those safeguards are.)

7. Red Herring (Or, “Look over there! It’s Elvis!”)
What It Means: Distracting from the issue with something totally unrelated but way more interesting. Example: "You think we need to cut the budget? The real issue isn’t spending—it's that we haven't found Bigfoot yet. Think of the tourism revenue we’re missing out on!"
Rational response: Maybe the budget should be cut (or not), but what does Bigfoot have to do with anything? Pro-tip: Red herrings can make for some of the most entertaining and outlandish exchanges. When you hear a good one, grab the popcorn. Things are about to get good.

8. Dubious Expert (Or, “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.”)
What It Means: Using a famous person’s opinion to support your position on a policy issue. It’s like using your mom as a job reference. Example: "According to Pierce Brosnan (aka James Bond, or DOUBLE-O-SEVEN dontchaknow) we should stop drilling for oil and gas in Cook Inlet.” Because when I think of someone who understands the deeply complex subject of Alaska oil and gas development, I naturally think of Pierce Brosnan.
Rational Response: Do I really need to elaborate on this one? And this is a true story, BTW. Stick to movies, Pierce.

9. Cherry-Picking Data (Or, “Eating only the center of the cinnamon roll”)
What it means: Use only data and statistics that support your position, and “forget” (oops, my bad!) to include the rest. Example: You're at a legislative reception, but instead of piling your plate with a balanced selection of foods, you grab only jumbo shrimp and cheesecake. Only jumbo crab and cheesecake exist, right? Hey, is that a tray of sliced cucumber and celery sticks?
Rational Response: Senator Jones makes a good case with his numbers. Is he citing all the numbers available on this topic? If not, what is his motivation?

10. Bandwagon Fallacy (Or, “Everybody’s doing it, so take another shot of Fireball!”)
What It Means: If it’s popular, it’s right. Like fanny packs, mullets, and Stanley mugs. Example: "Nine out of ten Alaskans support making summer last longer.”
Rational response: For the record, we would support this. But just because an idea is popular doesn’t make it good public policy, or even feasible. Seriously, though, we’re 100% in on this idea if someone takes it up.

Hopefully, the next time you hear elected officials make speeches or read their press releases and Facebook posts, some of these logical fallacies will jump out at you. Gentle reminder: No one party or person enjoys a monopoly on using these tactics. Honestly, anyone who tries to persuade others occasionally uses at least some of them—especially if they are particularly passionate about an issue. The key is to identify when they’re being used and ask why that is. Because sometimes, we all enjoy a good straw man.

Disclaimer: The examples used in this post are fictional/hypothetical, but admittedly inspired by watching many, many hours of Gavel to Gavel.

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