a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Argumentum ad Talibanum

Posted by Thomas Nephew on February 8th, 2009

Andrew Hofer, a right-of-center online friend who once maintained the fine blog “More Than Zero” and later joined Megan McArdle at “Asymmetrical Information,” used to decry what he called “argumentum ad Talibanum” — he considered it a variety of ad hominem argument usually criticizing Republicans because their attitudes resembled those of the Taliban on certain issues. And Hofer had a point — the comparison could easily be overdrawn, and sometimes it was.

But what if Republicans say the shoe fits?

On Thursday, Republican Congressman Pete Sessions called for a Republican “insurgency” against purported Democratic oppression.  Luckily, there’s a “model out there for insurgency”, as Sessions put it: for his part, he understands insurgency “a little bit more because of the Taliban,” who he believes have set an example “how you go about changing [people] from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message.” (A frontline message that includes squirting acid on schoolchildren’s faces, he neglected to mention.)

Thoreau, commenting in Unqualified Offering (“So, when did you stop stoning your wife?“), comments:

I cannot believe that the Congressman would dare to compare his honorable party to the Taliban.  The Taliban are a bunch of militant religious zealots.  Their base of support is largely rural, uneducated, and deeply religious.  They believe in second class status for women, other ethnic groups, and religious minorities.  They have close ties to all sorts of shady figures in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and their ideology demands violent struggle that would destabilize their entire region.  They are utter hypocrites on morality, simultaneously cracking down on all that they consider sinful while working with drug smugglers.  They have no regard for the civil rights of those that they rule over, and if allowed to regain power they would again devastate the country that they ruined before being forced out of power.

The Republican Party, by contrast….um, yeah.  OK.  Never mind.

Now it would be interesting if Sessions had compared GOP grievances to legitimate Afghan ones — civilian deaths in a counterinsurgency by air war, a seemingly endless occupation rather than a plan with an exit strategy. But he didn’t, and this really is what it looks like — a leader of minority party, crushed at the polls and lacking legitimacy, helping work that party into a rhetorical lather by flirting with the threat of violence — if not yet, this time, quite crossing that line as it’s been crossed in the past. That, too, has been the Republican way.

Maybe the best approach is to laugh Republicans out of the halls of power altogether — coupled with a guarded watchfulness about figures like Sessions.

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