It’s s simple thing to advance the other fellow’s argument as that which we wish it to be. Shorn of context, with fundamentals omitted, we can, if we squint just so, convince ourselves that we’ve put a real knife to something that matters.
I recently argued two distinct things in the same essay:
A) While I oppose the drug war and its immoral excesses, the tools used to prosecute that drug war — indeed for all crime suppression — are not, for the greater part, unconstitutional. Ergo, I oppose the policy of drug prohibition, not the tools used for that policy. The tools are themselves a neutral asset, capable of being used to both good and bad societal effect. Just as the use of such tools in counter-terror programming, which I believe has more moral legitimacy than the drug war, is constitutional and credible.
B) Given the last forty years of an unimpeded drug war, the sudden, hyperbolic reaction to these same tools used by the NSA in counter-terror programming is indicative of a callow self-concern, and general legal ignorance, on the part of those who now oppose one of the tools when it is aimed, even less invasively, at a wider swath of the population.
A is true independent of B. My belief in B is in no way the cause of my belief in A.
Understanding that the easiest rhetorical temptations are too much for some, I even cautioned, early in the essay: “Before you get wound up prematurely and choose the too-easy, I-didn’t-read-deep-enough argument, I am not saying that overreach in other realms of the criminal justice system justifies overreach anywhere else.”
While he may not share my conclusions, this particular gentleman is addressing the actual argument, and not a mangled and muted facsimile. He gets it:
This fellow? Not a chance in hell.
There’s a good argument to be had in the NSA imbroglio, and there are substantive points that need to be addressed from all sides. But if The Atlantic wants to be relevant to such, they need to bring a much better game.
Perhaps the same thing can be said about the rhetorical and argumentative potential of the internet as can be said about the technological possibilities of the NSA data pile. If used well and honestly, some good can result. If misused, not so much.