In WSJ, UCSD Professor Shrouds Wily Argument in Race   Leave a comment

Being a political science major at UCSD, I’m alerted when faculty from this school seem to say strange things about politics. Associate political science Professor Zoltan Hajnal doesn’t come off as radical as the guy who wanted to dissolve the US and give it back to whoever it was ostensibly stolen from, but writes an awful piece in the WSJ about party, race, and future demographics. Give it a read if you have time, it’s interesting not for the points it makes, but for the manipulative method employed.

I highly doubt he believes the arguments he makes, but rather intended to reinforce misguided liberal opinions and manipulate conservative readers into counter-arguments that presuppose bad premises. It’s disappointing that a UCSD professor teaching classes in my major would pen an article like this in a national newspaper– it does our mild prestige no favors.

To summarize, Hajnal’s article argues that since the proportion of the American populace that is white is declining and will no longer be a majority by 2050, appealing to white voters won’t work forever. Profound. But he doesn’t get into that until a couple paragraphs in. He uses his first sentence to label the GOP as nearly “a whites-only party.”–

I see what you did there! “Whites Only” is a reference to segregation, so Republicans are racist! And you triggered that connection in my mind without ever having to say the word “racist”! Slick! Hajnal deliberately leaves out the word “racist” though he fully intends it– when the reader fills it in himself through the provided context and trigger phrases, it’s more difficult to dismiss.

American Thinker has an interesting response to the article, puzzling out that Professor Hajnal is essentially implying that the GOP is racist while ignoring the platforms Republican candidates ran on. Republican platforms had no reasonable connection to race, but Hajnal declares a causal relationship between race and voting behavior. So American Thinker correctly points out the weaknesses in the Hajnal’s argument, and scratches as the implicit racism charge, disputing the premise of there being a GOP racial problem. But it’s more sinister than being merely incorrect.

The strategy reveals itself further as Hajnal goes on to offer no evidence as to how the GOP appealed to race in this election, but cites statistics showing a strong majority of white voters voted GOP. This is a simple correlation-causation fallacy. Hajnal notes that 75% (and falling) of the population happens to be white, and says the GOP won by appealing to white voters. As if race was the critical factor and not some merely correlated factor in GOP victories. The author has to know this is poor reasoning, but there’s a reason for it. He’s advancing the “racist” theme and laying the foundation for another claim.

Hajnal concludes that since the proportion of whites in America is declining, continuing to only appeal to white voters will doom the GOP in 40 years when they are no longer the majority. My initial response is to point out that running on the platform of anti-communism and anti-Soviet oppression isn’t as effective in 2010 as it was 40 years past. To somehow imagine that the GOP is going to rely on the same strategy forever assumes too much. But to burst headlong into that counter-argument is to fall into Hajnal’s trap.

It seems Hajnal wants the reader to buy into the concept that the GOP employed a “whites-only” strategy. Through previous framing implying that the GOP is racist, he’s laid the groundwork for the reader to accept the claim that they might continue to appeal only to white voters. But, hey! I never really accepted the premise that the GOP was only appealing to whites in the first place! To argue that its not a sound strategy going forward, having conceded that it worked this time, attempts to legitimize the claim that it actually happened. If you don’t play close attention, it’s easy to get swept away in the future-oriented argument and not address the claim about 2010 with the appropriate amount of scrutiny.

Counter-arguments about the GOP’s possible future strategy, how they will naturally accommodate minorities as those groups grow more politically powerful, are what Hajnal is trying to induce. It buys into the argument that the GOP primarily appealed to race in the recent elections, stimulating simple explanations as to how it can be remedied. That’s not the case, and any such counter-arguments would be based on a false pretense. Hajnal lures any indignant readers into accepting that the GOP appealed only to whites in the recent election when they attack his argument that this strategy will fail long term.

I may be reading too far into what Hajnal is trying to accomplish and maybe the WSJ only published the article to show that people with the viewpoint expressed do not reason particularly well. That’s entirely possible. I’m making a connection between Hajnal, a UCSD professor, and my UCSD education, which encouraged me to look out for tricks like the ones I’ve noted. If Hajnal’s argument seems compelling to someone, it’s not because it’s well reasoned, but rather due to scheming cognitive and logical traps.


Posted November 28, 2010 by Wada in Linguistics, UCSD

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