Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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Critical Thinking and the Lack Thereof: A Case Study

posted: 5.4.12 by Jack Solomon

In my last blog I offered a definition of what critical thinking entails, but to keep within the bounds of the blog I did not explore any examples. This week I’d like to offer a case study in the need for critical thinking in everyday life.

One of the keys to critical thinking is the ability to see everything in context—that is, in relation to other relevant information. So, let’s take the current libertarian strain in American politics that is challenging the existence of both Social Security and Medicare on behalf of lower taxes for individual taxpayers. Since this libertarian view is visible both in the Tea Party ideology, which has come to dominate Republican Party policy, as well as in the candidacy of Ron Paul (whose base is significantly represented by younger voters), it is a significant feature of current political life, having moved into the mainstream after years of marginal status. That makes it very much worth thinking about.

I want to examine this from the point of view of someone who embraces libertarian thinking, not from a counter-ideological viewpoint. To begin with, then, libertarianism is a species of individualism (ultra-individualism, one might say), and so reflects a long-embraced American cultural mythology. The libertarian individualist believes that it is in his or her own best interest not to have to pay any taxes for the support of someone else. Ignoring the moral aspects of such a position (and as I said in my last blog, while moral judgments are not absolutely excluded from critical thinking, they are certainly marginal to it), let’s look at it from the perspective of the individual.  [read more]

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Teaching the Election, Part One

posted: 2.15.12 by Barclay Barrios

With a presidential election looming on the horizon, now is the perfect time to incorporate essays that help students think about the cluster of issues surrounding any election: politics, social values, media, power, and more.

One excellent essay to use when teaching the 2012 election is Steven Johnson’s “Listening to Feedback.” Johnson focuses on how feedback loops operate in the news media. His concepts can help students analyze the array of coverage around the election, while also helping them to think about how media functions in an interconnected digital world.

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Rebutter in Chief

posted: 8.12.09 by Nick Carbone

This post by Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly blog features excerpts from a New Hampshire Town Hall conducted by President Obama.

It occurs to me, on reading Benen’s summary and having listened to some of Obama’s press conferences and speeches, that Obama’s legal training combined with his writing ability make him a master of rebutting the critiques of his policies and positions through explicit counter-arguments, no matter–in the case of the illogical and demagogic claim that the health plan under debate in Congress calls for “death camps”–how disingenuous and dishonest the criticism is.

Compare, for example, Obama’s response to the “death panel” claim to one of the most prominent assertions of that claim, Sarah Palin’s.

Palin wrote in Facebook:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion.

What is the logic of her paragraph? What is the train of thought? Can it be mapped by students? Are her claims fair? Is there a “death panel” clause in any of the proposed bills now in Congress?

What is the purpose of the final two sentences? They are statements no one will disagree with; is she using them to assert that the plans in Congress don’t care about dignity?

With those questions in mind, now look at Obama’s explicit rebuttal of this argument as represented by Palin. Obama said in New Hampshire:

“The rumor that’s been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for ‘death panels’ that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that we don’t — it’s too expensive to let her live anymore. And there are various — there are some variations on this theme. It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready, on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.”The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican — then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia — who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people’s options. And somehow it’s gotten spun into this idea of ‘death panels.’ I am not in favor of that. So just I want to clear the air here.”

Obama first categorically rejects the charge that he wants “death panels,” and then looks to the bill in question, to the item in the bill his opponents have distorted, and explains its origins.

How does the use of logic and evidence in the two arguments compare? Which statement is more factually accurate?

Questions such as these make the current debate on health care in our country a useful one for studying and analyzing argument and rhetoric. It might also lead to a good discussion of civil discourse and how to tell it from inflammatory discourse and violent discourse.

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Genre, Popular Culture, Rhetorical Situation
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