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Interpreting political ads

Here in North Carolina we’re having an election for governor, so there are plenty of ads to persuade us to vote one way or the other, which is a great place to apply the enthymeme to syllogism exercise that I described in the blog entry below.

In an ad I just saw, a woman who used to run is now confined to a wheel chair by a deadly disease. She tells her story, then points out that nominee Pat McCrory is opposed to embryonic stem cell research. She concludes by asking, “How can Pat McCrory be opposed to hope?”

Keeping in mind that I’m not conducting a full rhetorical analysis, but only identfyng the heartless logic of the case, here is the structure of her argument:

Pat McCrory is opposed to embryonic stem cell research, therefore Pat McCrory is opposed to hope.

So what’s the hidden assumption?

The term that is in the conclusion but not in the premise is hope.
The term that is in the premise but not in the conclusion is embryonic stem cell research.

So the hidden assumption is that if Pat McCrory is opposed to embryonic stem cell research he is opposed to hope.

Having isolated this assumption, now we can examine it more closely. First, is it true that being opposed to the former is being opposed to the latter. Does ESC equal hope? Are there other forms of hope that McCrory might favor? There’s an adjective in this sentence. Are there other ways to modify the noun phrase? In other words, are there other kinds of stem cell research that he mght not be opposed to? Are there other forms of research that he might favor?

One who is opposed to McCrory might argue that maybe he does favor other forms of research, but they aren’t as likely to lead to a cure.

And they may well be right. But the key point to make is that now we can have a meaningful discussion; now we can engage in a give and take that has some connection to words that mean something.

We were able to move the discussion to the realm of meaningful discourse by revealing the hidden assumption and examining its validity. I keep thinking how nice it would be if our political discourse was more like that.

Oh well, we love giantism, so we got a giant to rule us.

Anyway, the ending of the ad has these words on a dark screen: Pat McCrory: More extreme than you thought.

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