Politicians are not necessarily the exemplars of logical reasoning. They are proofs that the Sophists are still among us. But once in a while comes an individual that says things so illogical that even other politicians should be embarrassed by it. Enter Vanessa Summers, a Democratic representative from the Indiana Legislature.
There is currently debate on the Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. An explanation of the bill can be found here. In the midst of this heated debate Vanessa Summers offer some creepy irrational reasons against the bill as the Indiana Star News explained:
The already contentious debate over Indiana’s proposed “religious freedom” bill took a surreal twist Monday afternoon when — in the midst of discussion on the bill — a Democratic lawmaker said that a Republican lawmaker’s child was “scared” of her because she is black.
The comment by Rep. Vanessa Summers drew audible gasps, in no small part because the child — the son of Rep. Jud McMillin — is 18 months old.
“I told Jud McMillin I love his son, but he’s scared of me because of my color,” Summers told McMillin, who is white, during debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the House.
It made me curious and I wanted to look up the accusation in context just in case she was misrepresented. What I found was even more embarrassing with the logical fallacies when she made during her speech on the legislative floor. I have not been able to find the video on Youtube yet but I did find a video that was embedded on this SITE if you wanted to see them for yourselves.
Here’s my transcription of what she said:
Thank you Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of the House. We do things in this legislature that makes no sense and that has no practical application as far as my life is concerned. As far as me being an African American female in Indiana. We do a lot of things that do not have practical applications for a lot of people and I just think when we are in this bubble we do not see how it effects others people. I have told representative McMillin that I love his son, but he’s scared of me because of my color, and that’s horrible. It’s true. And that’s you know, that’s something we’re going to work on. We’ve talked about it and we’re going to work on it. I’ve asked him please, introduce your child to some people of color so that he won’t live his life as a prejudice person. I would like you guys to not vote on this bill thank you.
Now my evaluation as we go line by line:
1.) Her first reason she gave for not voting for the religious freedom restoration act is because it “has no practical application as far as my life is concerned.” Who made her life and the application of things to her life the litmus test of what is good law? Just because the bill has no application for her personally doesn’t mean one should not vote for it. If we vote on a bill for the sake of personal application, it might be applicable to others still even it is not applicable to Vanessa Summers.
2.) She also said “We do a lot of things that do not have practical applications for a lot of people…” But should one vote against a law just because it might not have practical applications for a lot of people? What about laws protecting a minority? Should we say one should not pass a legislation because it doesn’t effect a lot of people?
3.) Picking up with point 2, Summers open up a condundrum: How many people should a law be applicable for before we can say it’s worth being a law?
4.) Per point 1 and 2, recall how she’s against a law that “has no practical application as far as my life is concerned. As far as me being an African American female in Indiana.” According to the 2010 Census data Indiana only 9.5% of Indiana’s population is African American. If she’s consistent with her argument in point 2, then she’s undercutting her own argument in point 1.
5.) Look again at the fourth sentence: “We do a lot of things that do not have practical applications for a lot of people and I just think when we are in this bubble we do not see how it effects others people.” Its a self-contradiction. If a body of people are doing things that has no practical applications how can she talks about it effecting other people?
6.) This is her infamous statement: “I have told representative McMillin that I love his son, but he’s scared of me because of my color, and that’s horrible.” As any parents with babies know, kids cry all the time. I’m not saying you cannot at all, but I think its hard to definitively prove that a child is scared of someone on racial grounds.
7.) Remember also that young children and babies cry for all sorts of irrational reasons. The irrational reasons are endless. Someone is too tall. Someone is quite big. A man has a beard. A loud voice. Laughs weird. Someone a child perceives is a stranger. When I was young one of my sisters cried whenever she sees my dad come home because he works so much and is rarely home. In most instances one just laughs it off because the child is just a child.
8.) For the sake of the argument let’s grant Summers’ premise that McMillin’s son cried because of Summers’ skin color. Therefore, do not vote for the bill? It does not logically follow, as the two are unrelated.
9.) Summers commits an ad hominem fallacy. She’s attacking the character of a child and the character of the father (“I’ve asked him please, introduce your child to some people of color so that he won’t live his life as a prejudice person.”) but it has no bearing as an argument or reason against the bill.
10.) There’s an irony when a legislator talks about a bill is not applicable for people making arguments that is not applicable to the subject at hand.
Are there other fallacies you’ve caught that I missed?