The American political landscape is strewn with a history of candidates who, when unable to develop a positive strategy for why they should be elected, have reverted to the tactics of the old political playbooks. They attempt to “label” the opponent as untrustworthy and even dangerous to our society by using fear, guilt by association, ignorance, hypocrisy and distortion of reality.
Sometimes politicians will use this ploy in a silly and frivolous way. An example of such a tactic was used by a guy running for Congress in Alabama when his campaign ran a series of impactful political ads accusing his opponent of, “being a proven and practicing Homo-sapien.” George Smathers reportedly used this tactic in a Florida senate primary when he attacked his opponent, Claude Pepper, in a campaign mailing brochure that asked, “Are you aware that the candidate is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to have practiced nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a wicked thespian in New York. He matriculated with co-eds at the University, and it is an established fact that before his marriage he habitually practiced celibacy.”
Using fancy words to create the implication that your opponent is sinister is one thing. But it is quite another to use emotionally-charged rhetoric to purposefully defame your opponent with ideas and sentiments that carry an excess of negative emotional baggage. And we’re seeing a lot of that sort of argumentum ad hominem in this presidential election by candidates who are so desperate they see no other alternative than to attack the man, not his arguments, in an effort to win.
Its use is not only a fallacy in logic it is a fallacy of fact. Here’s why.