Valid Arguments Can Sometimes Be Inefficacious Arguments

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Recently, Governor Chris Christie attacked the NRA for their political ad using President Obama’s children as tools to make political points. He called the ad “reprehensible.” (See the ad and Christie’s response below.)

While I think “reprehensible” is too strong a word, at least Christie isn’t being hypocritical here. His right-wing critics on this issue are the real hypocrites. The right enthusiastically cheered Christie on when he lambasted a liberal constituent who mentioned the schooling of his children in order to attack him politically. But the same people who were cheering him on then are now angry at him because he is also against involving the children of Democratic politicians into political debates. At least Christie is intellectually consistent on this issue. Evidently, Christie’s hypocritical critics on this issue only dislike involving the children of Republicans into political debates. Although, again, I think the term “reprehensible” is somewhat inapt, the fundamental point that Christie made is a good one. The children of politicians should not be used to make partisan, political points—regardless of whether the politician is a Democrat or a Republican.

The problem with the NRA ad about Obama’s children isn’t that it is glaringly logically invalid. The problem is that it’s a politically foolish point to make. As I said in the title, logically valid arguments can sometimes be inefficacious and unappealing. The whole point of debate is to make the most persuasive, valid arguments. Bringing Obama’s children into this political discussion is not an effective way to convince people that the pro-gun position is worth supporting. It’s rather crude and turns people off to hearing the logic of the conservative position.

Another valid-but-unconvincing argument that I have consistently heard during this gun debate is the notion that the Second Amendment isn’t just for self-defense against other citizens, but it is also a defense against a potentially tyrannical federal government. While this argument is incontestably valid, it is foolhardy to employ this as the principal argument for the importance of guns in our society. Right-wingers already have the largely unfair reputation of being paranoid gun nuts who are desperately trying to recreate the Civil War and secede from the nation, so why feed into that notion by assiduously making this valid-but-unpersuasive argument? The main argument that should be used by conservatives is that guns in the hands of law-abiding, magnanimous members of society help to reduce crime. Moreover, we must argue that gun-free zones are tantamount to well-decorated invitation cards to mass murderers for them to go on unencumbered killing sprees against innocents. Gun-free zones in schools make children less safe by broadcasting their lack of protection to deranged, violent murderers—and even just repealing these laws will make children safer in schools.

When conservatives talk about gun-free zones and make the lives of innocents the priority, people will be more willing to listen to us. When conservatives make arcane and abstract constitutional points about the intent of the Second Amendment being largely about protection from a tyrannical federal government, Democrats can easily engage in demagoguery and argue that the conservative position is one where the protection of innocent life is secondary to a phantasmagoric vision of Obama being the second coming of Hitler. (And that is not hyperbole. Democrats will make that argument.)

Conservatives need to be smarter here. A good debater isn’t just someone who can differentiate between logical validity and logical invalidity. A good debater is someone who can marshal the best arguments to win the most converts; a good debater understands that a valid argument isn’t necessarily an efficacious argument.

Serious conservatives who are interested in conservative ideas being translated into public policy will agree with the logic of this piece. Talking-point conservatives who just care about repeating what they’ve been told ad nauseam by their conservative superheroes—regardless of whether it has a positive effect in changing the minds of the masses—will probably call me a RINO. But I can live with that…