There is a tendency in politics and religion (as elsewhere) to link a weak argument with a stronger one, hoping that the strong argument will carry the weak one.  Here are a few examples I could think of from politics and religion:

  • Tea Party Movement.  There were some in the Tea Party movement, largely a movement for fiscal conservatives (e.g. people who don’t want tax hikes for social programs), who claimed that the Tea Party also needed to espouse social conservative principles (e.g. people who want everyone to live by their personal flavor of Christian principles, espousing family values.  Oh, and guns).
  • Earmarked legislation.  It’s a common practice to add a weak piece of legislation (e.g. one that’s of specific benefit to an individual senator’s constituents only) to a stronger piece of legislation.  The hope is that no one will notice the weak legislation or oppose it because of the strength of the larger leslislation.
  • Polemic faith arguments, such as “it’s all true, or it’s all false.”  This is a very broad statement, but has the same problems as the first two examples.  It’s not all true.  It’s not even defined.

Does this approach strengthen or weaken an argument?  I believe it pulls the whole argument into question, IOW, it weakens the strong argument rather than strengthening the weak one.  It’s a trick of the eye akin to dangling shiny keys in front of a toddler, distracting him from the fact that you just shoved nasty creamed carrots in his mouth.  It’s fine if he likes creamed carrots as well as shiny keys, but otherwise, you’re going to have some creamed carrots spit right back in your face.

So, why do people do this?

  • True believers.  I believe it’s because they personally accept both the weak and strong thing, so they are hoping others will, too.  It’s a simplistic way to bypass disagreement, insisting that you already agree.
  • Bolster supporters.  If you really only have 50 supporters for your cause, but there are 1,000 people who support another cause, you can link the two and say that there are 1,050 who support the other cause including your cause.
  • Impulse buys.  Like a shopper who sees that pack of gum or tabloid magazine, you’re already primed to do something (shop), so why not quickly throw one more thing into the cart?

What do you think?  What other weakly linked arguments have you seen?  Why do you think people link a strong argument with a weaker one?  Do you ever do this?  Does the link to a weak argument cause you to discredit the stronger argument?  Discuss.