Foul: Ad Hominem

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Ad Hominem

Latin for “to the man,” this questions your opponent’s character rather than addressing the topic at hand.

So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered? 

At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the si- — on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?  Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?  Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

Remarks by President Biden on Protecting the Right to Vote, January 11, 2022

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday to campaign for two national voting acts. Biden likened anyone who opposes those acts, or changing the Senate rules to allow them to pass by a simple majority, to notorious racists.

Ad hominem attacks are relatively new to presidential politics. Donald Trump made them a trademark. Many voters saw that as unpresidential and threw him out of the game.

But Biden campaigned as the anti-Trump. He rarely speaks out against anyone, except disdainfully about “my predecessor.”

Some background

The whole story is complicated, so I’ll try to be brief. Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, the Elections Clause, says state legislatures govern their own elections. “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators”.

The pandemic disrupted the 2020 presidential election because of lockdowns, social distancing, and staff shortages. State election officials responded in different ways, introducing new ways of voting and loosening existing standards.

Critics said these improvised changes created widespread opportunities for voter fraud. Trump seized on this when he lost the election and said he was cheated.

In response, many state legislatures found the temporary rules were too lax and rewrote their voting standards. Georgia, where Trump and two GOP Senate candidates lost by narrow margins, was one of them. Democrats said those new rules, approved by the Republican majority, unfairly penalized minorities.

Democrats now have a narrow margin in Congress. The vice president can break a 50-50 tie in the Senate. But the filibuster rule means most legislation requires a three-fifths majority to close discussion. If Senate rules can be changed by a simple majority vote, any future Democrat-sponsored bills would then have a big advantage if Harris votes to break the tie.

On Thursday, both Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, announced that they would not vote to change the filibuster. Sinema said she supports the bill, but not the rule changes. Does that still make her a racist?

Who are those guys?

The president’s speech implies that Senators who vote against the legislation—or against changing the rules—are racists. Let’s look at those names he quotes from both sides:

  • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader who is honored by Monday’s national holiday.
  • Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who vowed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
  • U.S. Rep. John Lewis, former civil rights leader and longtime Georgia congressman.
  • Bull Durham, Birmingham, Alabama, public safety commissioner who used dogs and fire hoses against civil rights protesters.
  • Abraham Lincoln, 16th president, who led the Union in the Civil War.
  • Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.

The good, the bad, and the ugly. All were Democrats, except Lincoln, a Republican, and King, who had no known political affiliation.

What do you think? Let me know here. Comments are moderated, and I'll respond as soon as I can. Thanks!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.