John in California noted yesterday that Associated Press reporter Jennifer Loven has found news in the idea that "Bush Uses Straw-Man Arguments In Speeches." (Or as she's known on Power Line, "Jennifer Loven, Democratic Operative." Tom Blumer has pointed out her husband has worked on environmental issues for Bill Clinton and John Kerry.) Loven argues -- not reports, but argues:
When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.
The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.
He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" - conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.
Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.
Our first question: did President Clinton never use a straw-man argument in a speech? How about San Fran Nan or Dingy Harry? Hillary or John Kerry? Loven then predictably finds liberal academics to back her arguments up, starting with the omnipresent Kathleen Hall Jamieson, as well as:
A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.
"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said. "All politicians try to get away with this to a certain extent. What's striking here is how much this administration rests on a foundation of this kind of stuff."
Bush has caricatured the other side for years, trying to tilt legislative debates in his favor or score election-season points with voters.
"All politicians try to get away with this" is right. This would be more newsworthy if liberal politicians didn't make it a routine practice to argue that conservatives were opposed to the poor, in favor of dirty air and dirty water, and other routine straw-man arguments.
UPDATE: Power Line arrives on the beat, and really effectively notes how Loven's "straw men" are often the actual arguments liberal have made.