One of the more severe allegations I level against people is that of arguing in bad faith. A bad faith argument is an argument that one knows to be false but uses anyway, or that purports to be a logical argument with the goal of convincing one’s opponent, but that actually has a different goal, such as defaming the opponent. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong or even with arguing in favor of a position that turns out to be wrong, but if you argue in favor of a position that you know to be wrong, you’re arguing in bad faith.
There have been a troubling trend of bad faith among Republicans and other conservatives. This is disturbing because it indicates that they are not actually trying to communicate with other people, but merely to consolidate their own base. This in turn indicates that they are not trying to engage their own beliefs, address their strengths and weaknesses, and modify them based on new information, but rather have assembled a set of ideas to cling to and are attempting to fortify them from any kind of criticism.
Modern conservatism is rife with bad faith. There are ulterior motives, such as people under the thumb of big oil and coal arguing that global warming isn’t real. There were the death panels, which may have been an honest belief on the part of Sarah Palin and her ilk, but were propagated by many people who had to know it was an outright lie. There are revealing moments, such as when conservatives applauded Chicago’s failed Olympics bid, proving that their desire to see Obama fail was their true driving force, rather than their purported desire to see America succeed.
There are, however, two specific bad faith arguments that I’d like to address. In both cases, an argument appears to be made, but in reality, the speaker is just using loaded terms to create a knee-jerk response. This strategy has to be employed because, in both cases, the pseudological argument being made is actually contradictory.
There’s the deficit. Once Obama took office, fiscal conservatives started railing about it, saying that fiscal responsibility has always been a central tenet of conservatism. Nothing could be falser. We’ve had deficit under Reagan, Bush, and Bush, and a surplus under Clinton. For eight years, we turned a surplus into a deficit and no conservative turned a hair. Now, it’s true that Obama has run up a large deficit this year, even in comparison to Bush’s deficits, but I doubt that fiscal conservatives have a tipping point just over $500 billion, below which any amount of deficit is acceptable and above which it suddenly becomes utterly unacceptable. The real issue is that they don’t like what he’s spending the money on. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with his choices, but they should be open about what they’re disagreeing with. Instead, they’re using money as a stick to beat him with. It’s an argument in bad faith.
Next, there’s Medicare. Every conservative knows that the healthcare bill is bad because it established government-run healthcare, regulates private healthcare companies, and cuts back on Medicare. But wait–Medicare is a government-run healthcare program. If government-run healthcare is bad, wouldn’t cutting back on Medicare be good?
I can think of two possibilities. The first is that conservatives, many of whom have had experiences with Medicare, know that it works and that cutting it would be bad, but have established sufficient cognitive dissonance to not consider that an analogous program for all Americans could also work. But conservatives also opposed the proposed expansion of Medicare. If you’re keeping score, Medicare for ages 65 and up = sacrosanct; Medicare for ages 55-64 = completely unacceptable. Thus, the second possibility seems more likely. It’s that conservatives don’t have the remotest concern with what the bill actually proposes. They don’t care about Medicare, healthcare prices, denial of claims, or any of the rest. Their sole goal is to negate anything Obama proposes, because they want him to fail. In either case, when they argue against healthcare in general but in favor of Medicare, they’re inevitably arguing in bad faith.
In the cases of both the deficit and Medicare, conservatives are using the same tack for the same reason. They’re attacking an action they don’t particularly care about so that they can unequivocally label all Obama’s actions as Bad Actions, thereby allowing them to label Obama a Bad President, which allows them to further categorize all his actions as Bad Actions because they’re done by a Bad President. Yes, it’s circular. They know that too. That’s why the argument is made in bad faith.