By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
It happens sometimes in an argument: You know the claim you're hearing is false, but you also know that it sounds like it could be true, and it'll be a lot harder to refute the argument than it was to make it in the first place. Measured in time and effort, your adversary's initial argument is quite cheap while your response to it is very expensive. That difficulty is common in litigation, where truth is often on the side of the involved and analytical explanation rather than on the side of the compelling yet simplistic claim. Responding to that situation takes some care. Rather than just hoping your audience can follow the complexity, or giving up and becoming just as glib as your adversary, the trick is to help your listeners rise to the challenge. The trick is to use good teaching to make your explanation as simple as possible without being simplistic.
I'd like to use a current political example to illustrate both the problem and the solution. Through the 2012 Presidential election and beyond, we've seen continuing argument over the Affordable Care Act, also referred to (either derisively or admiringly) as "Obamacare." The new argument to emerge in the last couple of weeks is that Congress is trying to exempt its own staff from the ACA mandates. Attributing the story to "sources in both parties," Politico on April 24th noted, "high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul." Based on this story, "they risk being dubbed hypocrites by their political rivals and the American public." Yes, they certainly would risk that. If Congressional Democrats were to apply the law to everyone except their own staff, it looks like both an admission of the Act's flaws as well as an appeal for special favors. The reality, however, is a lot more complicated and Annenberg's Pulitzer Prize-winning FactCheck.org has labeled the claim "false." The problem is that the reasons why it is false require a bit of explaining. This post uses this curent political argument as an example of the kinds of argument seen in litigation, where a charge is easily made, yet the refutation is difficult.