President Barack ‘Argumentum Ad Populum’ Obama

According to recent polls, most Americans support tax cuts, and according to Obama, they support his recent compromise with Republicans to extend all of President Bush’s tax cuts for the middle class and millionaires alike.

I don’t know if all of that is true. I can’t tell from the polls if Americans just like the sound of tax cuts, or that they fully support Obama’s latest compromise. Ask most people if they want tax cuts and they’ll say they do. Ask them if they think taking on massive debt to pay for them or start slashing Social Security, Medicare, education and the military budgets to pay for them, and I’d wager they’d be less enthused.

But what Obama is doing is that he’s saying, “The American people support what I’m doing therefore I’m right.” In other words, he’s not saying that this is the best policy decision, in fact he’s said that his latest compromise is not the best policy, but the American people support it so that’s what we should do.

Unfortunately, he’s wrong. He’s making an argumentum ad populum fallacious argument. If many people believe this to be a good thing to do, it therefore must be a good thing to do.

What if a majority of Americans think wiping out an entire race of people is the right thing to do? We don’t need to wonder, the genocide of Native Americans is a perfect example. What if a majority of Americans believed that enslaving millions of human beings was the best policy for US prosperity? There was a time when that was presumably the case. There weren’t public opinion polls back then, so I can only assume a majority of people supported slavery.

How about a woman’s right to vote? Did a majority of Americans support the desegregation of the military? Did a majority of Americans support the Civil Rights legislation?

The fact is that mob rule is rarely ever the cornerstone of effective and just public policy. And while we like pretend that the US is a democracy, it’s actually a republic. Our government was formed to as a republic so that so-called “virtuous men” would not be swayed by the passions of majority “factions.” If you don’t believe me, read the Federalist papers written by James Madison.

Now if Obama were a great politician – a great president – he would form coherent policies and work to convince 51 percent of the people that it’s the best thing for the country to do. He would tell the American people that this is what he believes is the right course to take and why. He doesn’t do that though. Obama waits for either Congress or the Republican party to come up with a policy and then he goes along with it.

Obama governs by consensus – consensus gentium (“agreement of the clans”). He doesn’t lead. He follows. He follows the GOP. He follows the polls. What we have is President Barack “Argumentum Ad Populum” Obama.

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