WASHINGTON — Democrats often complained about President George W. Bush’s frequent use of a rhetorical device as old as rhetoric itself: creating the illusion of refuting an opponent’s argument by mischaracterizing it and then knocking down that mischaracterization.White House Memo - Some Obama Enemies Are Made Totally of Straw - NYTimes.com
There was much outrage in 2006, for example, when Mr. Bush said that when it came to battling terrorists, “I need members of Congress who understand that you can’t negotiate with these folks,” implying that Democrats backed talks with Al Qaeda. That assertion was promptly, and angrily, disputed by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Now that there is a new team at the White House, guess who is knocking down straw men left and right? To listen to President Obama, a veritable army of naysayers has invaded Washington, urging him to sit on his hands at the White House and do nothing to address any of the economic or national security problems facing the country.
“There are those who say these plans are too ambitious, that we should be trying to do less, not more,” Mr. Obama told a town-hall-style meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 18. “Well, I say our challenges are too large to ignore.”
Mr. Obama did not specify who, exactly, was saying America should ignore its challenges.
Similarly, the next day in Los Angeles, Mr. Obama took on Wall Street and Washington, two of his favorite straw men. “I know some folks in Washington and on Wall Street are saying we should just focus on their problems,” Mr. Obama said. “It would be nice if I could just pick and choose what problems to face, when to face them. So I could say, well, no, I don’t want to deal with the war in Afghanistan right now; I’d prefer not having to deal with climate change right now. And if you could just hold on, even though you don’t have health care, just please wait, because I’ve got other things to do.”
Mr. Obama continued on the offensive against straw men that day in Los Angeles, pointing out that critics told him not to go on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on NBC because “I can’t handle that and the economy at the same time.” Then, his audience primed, he delivered his standard kill line: “Listen, here’s what I say. I say our challenges are too big to ignore.”