Two terms to remember.
Railroaded: “If you railroad someone into doing something, you make them do it although they do not really want to, by hurrying them and putting pressure on them.”
ad hominem (from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary):
Main Entry: 1ad ho·mi·nem
Pronunciation: \(?)ad-?hä-m?-?nem, -n?m\
Etymology: New Latin, literally, to the person
1 : appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect
2 : marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made
To this I would add: A political style honed and perfected by Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration.
What’s important to note is that ad hominem attacks, like those launched so frequently by Hannemann’s crew during the rail debate, are based on a logical fallacy.
Here’s a plain-language explanation:
An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting). This type of “argument” has the following form:
Person A makes claim X.
Person B makes an attack on person A.
Therefore A’s claim is false.
The reason why an Ad Hominem (of any kind) is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made (or the quality of the argument being made).
Sound familiar? We’ve heard this a lot. Kamehameha’s rail consultant can’t know much because, we’ve been reminded, he’s from New Jersey. The AIA concerns about rail? They’re just architects, what do they know?
The governor raises cost and environmental concerns. Hannemann responds:
“I believe she’s anti-rail and meaning anti-rail meaning she’s anti jobs, I’m sorry I call like it is because the evidence is compelling.”
Honolulu Weekly runs a story critical of the city’s blanket rejection of flexible light rail. Honolulu Managing Director Kirk Caldwell responds:
Curt Sanburn doesn’t live in Honolulu or the State of Hawaii. He did not cast a vote in the 2008 election, when the people of Honolulu voted 53 percent to 47 percent (the same margin by which President Obama won election, by the way) in favor of the rail project. Instead, from afar, Sanburn continued to display his anti-Mayor Hannemann bias by dwelling on the opinions of the minority in opposition.
There are lots of other examples, but the approach is clear. Find a label that will undercut the person on the other side and wield that as a weapon, claiming that it discredits what they have actually said.
I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of Governor Lingle’s. I didn’t vote for her. I’ve dissected her stands on issues at several points in the past. But I thought her comeback to Hannemann yesterday, as reported by KHON’s Ron Mizutani, was sharp and to the point. Looking around early this morning, I was surprised that it got so little news coverage.
“I think Mufi Hannemann has had a pattern throughout his time in public life and that is when people don’t agree with him he starts to attack them in a personal way, he tries to bully them into seeing it his way.
“Rather than attacking those who don’t agree with him, I think he needs to be much more open minded, much more transparent, and instead of looking at an artificial deadline date that coincides with his political career, we need to get it right, right for the people of Hawaii, not right for Mufi Hannemann,” added Lingle.
But it’s a problem that the issue has now been thoroughly politicized. Hannemann has made clear that he’s going to try to ride the rail issue into the Governor’s office, telling corporations and unions that the stimulus funds will flow only if he’s there to usher it all along at the state level. Could it end up that Hannemann’s city administration will end up passing its potentially flawed environmental review up to a new Hannemann state administration for review?
Checks and balances? Or checkmate?