Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Mindless Syllogism

It seems like every time I’ve turned on the television recently, or clicked on an on-line link, I’ve been subjected to House Speaker Austin Knutsen’s repeated video entreaties to call Sen. Tester and insist that he confirm Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Unless you’ve been in a coma or unplugged from the internet, you too have probably seen the Knutsen video. But in case you haven’t, here it is:



Now, admittedly – and this is particularly true in the era of Donald Trump – when it comes to political advertising, tweeting and the like, we can’t expect much in the way of logic or respect for the facts. But I figure that if Knutsen is going to beat us on the head with the same message over and over again, which presumably means he thinks he’s got something worthwhile to say, he’s fair game for a little critical deconstruction. Here then, verbatim, is Knutsen’s pitch:

I’m Montana House Speaker Austin Knutsen. I know what it’s like to fight against Washington’s War on the West.  That’s why we need Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. A judge who will interpret the law, not make the law.

The Senate must confirm the President’s nominee. Senator Daines is supporting Judge Gorsuch, but Senator Tester, what’s he waiting for? Call Senator Tester and tell him it’s time to confirm Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Nobody, not even Knutsen himself, could possibly regard this statement, taken at face value, as anything other than absurd. Whether or not we need Judge Gorsuch is an open question, but surely the answer to it doesn’t depend on what Austin Knutsen does or doesn’t know. If Knutsen had stayed home in Culbertson tending to his law practice and had never become familiar with “Washington’s War on the West,” would we not need Judge Gorsuch? Is that what he's telling us?

Well of course not. He’s offering us this ridiculous non-sequitur because as lame as it is, it’s better that the mindless syllogism it’s attempting to cover for. That, apparently, goes something like this.

There is some undefined thing called Washington’s War on the West which is inimical to our (read Tester’s constituents’) interests.

There are laws that would protect these interests from Washington's assault if they were properly upheld.

These laws will be upheld if the Supreme Court is populated by justices who “interpret the law, not make the law.”

Judge Gorsuch will be such a justice.

Ergo, Sen. Tester should support the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch.

While the logic in this line of reasoning makes sense, the problem is with the premises, all of which lie somewhere between being at best arguable and at worst figments of Knutsen’s fevered imagination. So really, it's best not to lay out the argument at all. Just stick to the illogical soundbites.

When it comes to Knutsen’s question – what is Sen. Tester waiting for? – the answer is really pretty simple. As Knutsen says, senators “must confirm the President’s nominee.” Presumably, in doing that, we would like them to know who they are dealing with. Tester recognizes that there is a lot more involved in confirming Gorsuch than discovering his views on the War on the West, whatever that may be. There’s corporate involvement in elections, clean air and clean water, women’s health care, and the sovereignty of tribal nations, for example. Here’s a link to Tester talking about his meeting with Gorsuch on those very issues.

So, Speaker Knutsen, what’s delaying Sen. Tester is the need to act with due diligence, and we should all be glad that’s true. It’s something you might recommend to Sen. Daines, who apparently wouldn’t recognize it if it slapped him upside the head. He certainly didn’t think it was necessary as long as the nomination came from Donald Trump, and when Barak Obama nominated Merrick Garland, he refused to even consider it.


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