I recently linked to an article by Arnold Kling in which he criticized Paul Krugman for making “Type M” (as opposed to “Type C”) arguments. By a Type M argument, Kling meant an argument that focused on the other side’s motives, rather than the consequences of the other side’s proposals. I observed at the time that while Type C arguments were certainly preferable, it was actually Krugman’s right-wing opponents who had first lowered the debate to that level, with a steady outpouring of Type M arguments.
Another nice example of that is the Republican party’s first campaign ad, due to begin airing this Sunday. It features images of Bush delivering the last State of the Union address (no, not the part of it that subsequent events have shown to be lies, but you have to admire their chutzpah even bringing up the speech at all). As they show Bush delivering lines that absolutely no sane person would disagree with, they run the following words underneath: “Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists.”
Note the classic Type M argument. It’s all about motivations. And not only does the argument focus on the motivations of Bush’s critics, but it also completely mischaracterizes those motivations.
Howard Dean (and others) who have been criticizing Bush’s Iraq policy have not been criticizing him “for attacking the terrorists.” In fact, their argument has been just the opposite: They have been criticizing him for not attacking the terrorists. By dropping the ball on al Qaeda and going after Iraq instead, Bush gave Osama bin Laden the breathing room he needed to rebuild and reorganize. By alienating our traditional allies around the world, Bush undercut the international cooperation that is essential to effective anti-terror efforts. By overthrowing the Iraqi government without having an adequate plan for the aftermath, he has saddled the US with a costly and deadly quagmire of an occupation that seems likely to increase, rather than decrease, the anti-US sentiment that fuels terrorist funding and recruiting. And so on.
Note what’s going on: Bush’s critics have been making a nice, rational, Type C argument about the consequences of Bush’s policies. But rather than debate with them on that level, the very first Republican campaign ad descends immediately to Type M: Bush’s opponents are criticizing him because they don’t want him to attack the terrorists!
Which is really a pretty pathetic argument. Were I to stoop to Type M arguments myself, I’d probably observe that the people running this ad must believe they can’t win an objective Type C argument, since everyone pretty much knows that Bush’s policies are objectively failing, with many of the strongest justifications he previously offered for them having turned out to be lies. As a result, mischaracterizing his opponents’ motivations is all they have left.