Saturday, April 6, 2013

The slippery slope argument

We hear this one (mostly in back rooms) in politics all the time. It is usually used by ideologues who are defending a position and assume that any small change in the status quo is an attempt towards undermining it. Ultimately, the slippery slope argument is a conservative (in the truest sense of the word) strategy. It suggests that in order to defend a position, the current state of affairs must be maintained regardless of changing circumstances. Any adaptation is a threat.

You can bet your bottom dollar that gun rights activists are engaging in this kind of argument right now. In their minds, ANY attempt to restrict the right to own guns is a slippery slope towards the demise of the second amendment.

But liberals have used it too. Most often it has been one of the reasons that any attempt to limit a woman's right to chose is a slippery slope towards ending Roe v Wade.

I would suggest that - while not always stated up front - its the slippery slope argument that is behind much of the lefts reaction to the President's proposal to implement chained CPI. I say that because a 0.3% reduction in the cost of living increase for affected programs is NOT the end of Social Security as we know it. And yet you'd think that is what President Obama is proposing from the reaction we've seen so far.

In addition, we have yet to see the specifics of how his proposal will mitigate the effect of this change on the most vulnerable. But we do know the principles under which it will be designed.
There are two major changes necessary. First, add a bump in benefits to the very old, who are more likely to have high healthcare bills and to have exhausted their savings that supplemented their Social Security income. Second, exempt Supplemental Security Income, which serves the poorest, disabled and blind but still often leaves people below the poverty line.
Given that, its discouraging that we're hearing things like this from politicians we're supposed to trust.


Once we see President Obama's actual proposal, that first sentence will not be true...the disabled on SSI will not be affected. But ultimately, its the slippery slope argument Senator Warren is making in that second sentence.

At its root, I reject any argument made on the basis of the slippery slope. If you believe that chained CPI is a bad policy or bad politics, make your case. I think its possible to do that on this issue. So lets talk.

But slippery slopes are what we rely on when we want to fear-monger rather than discuss actual policies. I don't think liberals should be relying on fear-mongering to make our case. Its counter-productive to our basic values. Here's how President Obama talked about that.
I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate...

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

13 comments:

  1. The slippery slope mentality is a slippery slope.

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  2. The small decrease (and it is a decrease) in future income will, if you live long enough, mean starvation and/or homelessness.

    This isn't a slippery slope here. It is a pulling the rug out from under your feet, but slowly, hoping you won't notice you're about to end up on the ground or dead.

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    1. And that is exactly why - when we actually see Obama's proposal - it will include an increase in benefits to long-time SS recipients as an offset.

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  3. Frankly, what folks who go on about 'protecting SS' are doing is advancing defensive and conservative arguments to protect the status quo. How on earth is that 'progressive'?

    ebogan63

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    1. I think it's a great idea to take a small step at trying to improve the long run viability of the SS program. Other Republicans should join me in applauding the President.

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    2. You are correct, Bob, those that advance the status quo of doing nothing would have three quarters of SS benefits paid out by 2033, which is a real cut to SS. But of course, 'principles'.

      ebogan63

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    3. That would be a devastating argument, ebogan...if it were 2032.

      But of course, what folks like you really mean, is that Barack Obama is such a wise and indispensable man that we literally cannot trust any task to any other person ever. Not even with 20 YEARS to line up a more progressive, Democratic congress.

      Presumably, if the President is doing such a solid job leading the party and the country (as I believe he has), it shouldn't be a logical stretch to assume that Democrats can win future congressional elections and expand the scope of social security benefits for the poor and middle class alike, instead of needing to do everything now, now, now and at the expense of pitting one group against another.

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    4. Anon, it has nothing to do with trust and everything to do with taking steps to strengthen SS. And I can do without your snarky nonsense.

      ebogan63

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  4. I've been fighting against 'slippery slope' arguments for years. Not only because there is little foundation for the argument (moving closer to a hated position does not mean you will be accelerating the movement towards a hated position), but also because it is counter-productive.

    There is no such thing as a perfect policy. All policies have flaws. And all the flaws in policies become more evident as times go on and the circumstances change. A reality-based individual acknowledges this and "tweaks" the policies to address these flaws as they become evident. A failure to do so does no protect the policy you are trying to defend. It only makes it that much more vulnerable to future attack.

    For example, my state, Oregon, has had some of the strongest land-use protection laws in the country. They were held up as a model for how to manage urban growth. Yet, they had problems. There were examples where perfectly innocent individuals were harmed in ways that the average person might consider unjust (I wish I could cite specific examples, but it's been years since this happened and I can't recall them right now).

    But the defenders of the policy made a slipper slope argument against any attempt to reform the policy. The result was that the problems continued to mount and public pressure for change grew to the point where some pretty sweeping changes were enacted through a ballot measure. Those changes were much more harmful to the sustainable land-use movement than would have been the originally proposed reforms. But the obstinance of the no-change people made those more severe changes even more likely to occur.

    Fortunately, some of those changes were subsequently repealed, but the current land-use policies of Oregon are no longer the shining example they once were.

    It was that fight that began to teach me that "slipper-slope" arguments were fundamentally dangerous. Thank you for highlighting the point once again.

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    1. Excellent point about no policies being perfect. To cling to the status quo is inherently unprogressive.

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    2. There's also the issue of "things change." Here where I live, there have been stringent land use policies for decades (it's all a state park). The problem with those policies has become rather stark, as the policies that were meant to limit building and preserve the local environment just meant that there were numerous breaks in the area as people built on a defined "allowable parcel." Now the revisions are being debated to allow "clustered" development, which keeps a larger land area free.

      The fact of the matter is that we have to do something about SS and Medicare, and fairly soon Neither program, as currently constituted, is viable for the long run. This isn't the first time that this has happened, the last "patch" for this was 30 some years ago. We have a big bulge of retirees starting to hit, and it's not going to get better for a while. So the sooner we come up with something, the better.

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  5. Whenever I start to feel the 'OMG' or 'No Noes' about a policy issue, I look for a Smartypants blog on it. The 'OMG' or 'No Noes' subside, and I leave with a calmer and more informed attitude about the policy.

    Thank You Smartypants for keeping me informed enough to slide down that 'slippery slope' just a little!

    @DaleF3

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