Mitt Romney won the first presidential debate. Even The Huffington Post had to concede this — so you know that it’s not just conservative spin. Of course, we can argue about whether the victory was rhetorical (in the negative sense) or substantive. But almost every debate victory — political or academic — is a mixture of both. This, I daresay, is a consequence of original sin. No matter how hard we try to purify our reasoning, there will always be that residual irrationality that cannot be eliminated. It’s something quite like what Heidegger says about authenticity: it’s simply impossible to be authentic all the way down. But you strive (or at least pious Heideggerians do) to be as authentic as possible. And, ideally (or so we philosophers would think), you want to minimize the rhetorical and maximize the rational in a debate.
But let me come to the point of this post. The day after his defeat President Obama noted at a campaign rally in Denver that…
The man on stage last night, he does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney’s decisions and what he’s been saying for the last year. And that’s because he knows full well that we don’t want what he’s been selling for the last year.
Clearly we have an informal fallacy here. And I don’t believe that it is one that logicians have yet catalogued (correct me if I’m wrong, good reader). Let us call it the “lying victor fallacy.” It consists in this: when you lose a debate you blame the loss not on your own dialectical shortcomings but on the dishonesty of your interlocutor. It may very well be the case that your opponent lied but that is irrelevant to the committing of this fallacy. A victory in a debate is a victory in a debate (and I am assuming, as I said above, that most debates will almost unavoidably be an amalgam of reason and rhetoric).
Were the president a more skilled debater, he would have (and should have) pointed out the alleged lies of Mr. Romney during the debate. Perhaps then he would not have lost. To point them out afterward and to try thereby to win the debate post factum is typical of those who are guilty of the “lying victor fallacy.”
I admit that there are still some kinks in my theory about this new fallacy. But many informal fallacies are a little sketchy. When I finally manage to work those kinks out, I’ll put up another post about it. And if I find that my great discovery was, in fact, a mere will-o’-the-wisp, I’ll post about that too.
If you think you have a better name for this fallacy, I’d love to hear it. “Lying victor” was the first thing that came to mind but I’m not completely wedded to it.
As always, of course, objections are most welcome.