• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

A plate of red herring

Leave it to a libertarian to cut through the clutter and get to the heart of the matter. While everyone else is fussing about church and state issues in the matter of Indiana's "In God We Trust" license plates, Rex Bell of Hagerstown asks:

. . . why we are buying license plates to put on cars that we bought to drive on roads that we paid for. And why does it cost more to get permission to drive a new Cadillac on our roads than an old Volvo? All of the necessary funding for our roads should come from gas and wheel taxes, and that would work out a lot better if they would use the money raised from those taxes on the roads, instead of spending billions on unrelated pork projects. And vehicle ID numbers are already in place if we need to determine origins and ownership.

He also confesses to being "confused on the difference between a strawman and a red herring. I'm not sure what the latest ICLU suit over the 'In God We Trust' license plates would qualify as." Since he's a smart libertarian (oops, a redundancy), I presume he's being facetious. But it can still be instructive to go over the difference for novice argumentarians.

Both rhetorical devices represent attempts, during the course of an argument, to change the subject. A "red herring" is the introduction of an irrelevant topic that seems to be related but really isn't -- for example bringing up "those Godless perverts who want to keep the Indiana House from opening sessions with a prayer" as a reason to support the IGWT plates. A "straw man" is a distortion of the opponent's argument, usually an exaggeration, the better to demolish it. I say, "Offering a specialty plate with no extra fee does not mean the state is endorsing a religion," and you reply,"So, you're not worried about the Religious Right's attempt to turn us into a theocracy?"

Since the ICLU is engaging in a lawsuit rather than an argument, neither term applies. What the ICLU is doing comes under the heading of "wasting our time over an issue of no great importance."

So, a red herring and a straw man walk into a bar . . .

Posted in: Hoosier lore