OK, I swear this won't always be a political blog, but on SoU night, it's hard to resist.
A while back, I posted an entry about Wicked, the musical. Since then, I've been reading the novel that inspired the show, and I'll no doubt have something about that when I'm done... but tonight, after listening to the president's State of the Union Address, the word "strawman" means something to me other than a denizen of Oz.
Throughout the first, foreign "policy" related, section of the speech, the president consistently contrasted his administration's policies to "isolationism," as if his political critics were isolationists. (I was hoping to quote directly from the speech, but the text is apparently not online yet. It's "coming soon" here.) Really? The opposition that urged him to pay more heed to the United Nations is isolationist? The folks who begged him to give Hans Blix, Mohammad al-Barradei, et al., more time (and credence) are isolationists? Those of us who were ridiculed by our own leaders because we refused to expunge from our junk food's names those "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," the French... we're isolationists? It is to laugh!
This is a classic strawman argument. The president wants us to understand that his policies are infinitely superior to isolationism... never mind that none of us is actually advocating isolationism. Among those of us who oppose Mr. Bush's adventure into Iraq, there's a wide range of diverse opinions about what we should do instead... but even those pushing for immediate withdrawal of our troops there are not, as the president would have it, advocating "retreat to within our borders." The president's liberal and Democratic opponents are generally more internationalist than the president has ever even dreamed of being (not for nothing does the classic bumpersticker begin "Think Globally..."). We want to engage the global community; we just would prefer to engage it in a somewhat less brutal and useless way than we currently are in Iraq. I think we can all agree to oppose "isolationism"; I just wish we could get the president to agree that the opposite of isolationism needn't necessarily be imperialism.
Later in the speech, the president invoked the examples of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and (IIRC) FDR, praising them for persevering... for not giving up. Well and good, as far as that goes, but these icons' greatness lay not merely in their perseverance, but in the nobility of the causes in which they persevered. For not giving up to be a virtue, it is a necessary precondition that what you are not giving up not be evil. A lesson, sadly, our leaders don't seem to have learned.
PS: On the subject of strawman arguments, at one point the president called for strong legal prohibitions against the horrors of human cloning and its related technologies, including "the creation of human-animal hybrids." As if anyone outside a Jules Verne novel were even contemplating the creation of human-animal hybrids! Those of you brewing up centaurs and mermaids in your basements... well you just go straight to bed without your supper! Shame on you! ;^)