I didn’t know what the term “shorter” meant until I started blogging. A “shorter” is someone who exaggerates someone else’s opinion, or creates a false choice between two extremes. Back in the day, such form of argument would be called setting up a “strawman.”

As others have pointed out, Obama loves strawman arguments. His favorite form of argument is to set up false choices, and false equivalencies to make his point. Frequently, Obama uses the device of what “some say” or similar words to accomplish his phony set-up.

One excellent set of examples were the arguments Obama used in support of the February 2009 stimulus package:

Barack Obama promotes his gigantic spending bill in the Washington Post, with a string of straw man attacks against critics: Barack Obama – The Action Americans Need.

“In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems…”

I have not heard of a single person who says “tax cuts alone” are the solution.

“… that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal

Who has ever said this? Who would say such a ridiculous thing?

… that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our
economy and our country to thrive.

“Ignore energy independence and health care?” Again, where can I find the pundits who write these things? Because I read a lot of political opinion pieces, and I don’t recall ever seeing such a viewpoint advocated.

This is the same kind of empty, false rhetoric he employed in his campaign—attacking stances that no one has espoused, and no one even would espouse. The very definition of a straw man argument.

Obama’s “historic” speech to the Muslim world yesterday was full of shorting.

Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

So “many Muslims” object to modernity, and we are supposed to give credibility to those who want to live in the 15th Century just because “many” are afraid of the modern world.

The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights.

The “some in my country” constitute the majority of the population who have legitimate fears of Islamic extremism and terrorism. By setting up the equation this way, Obama is creating a false equivalency between those who fear attack and those who attack.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

Promoting democracy is not the equivalent of imposing a system of government. The false analogy of promoting democracy to imperialism leaves those who seek freedom in places such as Iran left to fend for themselves. Stating that “we will support” certain universal freedoms, as Obama does in his speech, means nothing without actual support. So much for hope.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Zakat is an Islamic term for the giving of charity. What rules prevent Muslims from giving to charity, unless what Obama means is that we prosecute people who give to Muslim charities which support terrorism. Why use this example of a lack of religious freedom in the United States? Is a rule which might limit charitable contributions really the equivalent of rules in places such as Saudi Arabia which prohibit the practice of other religions?

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.

The choice is not between promoting conflict or promoting justice. Obama uses this false choice to minimize the horrible treatment of women and religious minorities throughout much of the Muslim world. Which gets me to the worst of the worst arguments in the speech, the argument that there is an equivalency between women in the West and the Middle East:

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism….

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

The equation of the rights of women in the West with the wearing of head covering is bizarre. The forced wearing of burkas and face covering, the stoning of women who are immodest, and the lack of women’s voting rights and educational opportunities, do not take place in the West. That someone, somewhere may object to a Muslim woman covering her face for a drivers license photo, as took place recently, hardly is the equivalent of what takes place in several conservative Muslim societies. Huffington Post blogger Peter Daou has it right:

Is that a joke?

With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters.

You see, “some say” that Obama has a huge ego which necessitates that he create strawman arguments as part of his self-aggrandizing personality. “Some argue” that Obama uses false moral equivalencies and dichotomies because he has no real, substantive arguments.

“There are those,” some of whom are part of the “many people,” who think Obama is a shorter.

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