The Straw Man Tactic

We’ve grown accustomed to hollow phrases, evasions, and clever mystifications from Enbridge spokesmen. But, as we have already noted, what Larry Springer offers up in his statement to David Hasemyer is a series of untruths. Once again, here is Springer:

“While there has been recent publicity and activity by special interest groups, most who live and work along the pipeline are not opposed to Enbridge’s plans to replace Line 6B,” he said. “While the media may choose to focus on controversial situations, Enbridge’s actions show that we deal openly and honestly with all stakeholders, including landowners and local governments.”

Let me first put this in some context.   Springer seems to be taking an approach here pioneered by his boss CEO Patrick Daniel. You might recall that about a month ago, Daniel went on the radio in Canada to complain– I am not making this up– that the reason the Northern Gateway project had become so controversial was because of a bunch of loudmouth, unrealistic environmentalists were making a bunch of noise. And poor, honest Enbridge just couldn’t seem to get a word in edgewise. Here’s Daniel:

“Everything that we say sounds defensive and self-interested, and on the other side, everything they say … is really taken as gospel — and it isn’t”. . .

“I think we’re facing a very strong, almost revolutionary movement to try to get off oil worldwide, and it creates a lot of passion and drive in those revolutionaries that are trying to change the environment in which we work.

“They know that going after the end user, going after you and I when we drive our cars, … won’t work. So they’re coming after what they consider to be the weak link in the whole process, and that’s the infrastructure part of it.”

This is a very old and clever, though totally disingenuous, tactic: the straw man argument. Just paint a simplistic, distorted portrait of your critics, one that’s easy to tear down. You can, for example, cast them as crazed “revolutionaries” who secretly want to take away everybody’s cars! After all, a bunch of radicals bent on subverting our very way of life are much easier to dismiss than, say, a family forced to abandon its home because of a totally preventable oil spill in their backyard.

So Springer takes one from the Daniel playbook and casts those who are raising concerns about the Line 6B project as “special interest groups” “opposed to Enbridge’s plans to replace Line 6B.”  And he does so because he knows that just like automobile-banning revolutionaries, nobody trusts “special interest groups.” He also knows that there is a good argument against anybody who would “oppose” the replacement of Line 6B; it is, after all, a 40-plus year-old pipe.

The obvious problem, however, is that presumably Springer also knows– and this is what makes his statement untrue– that the citizens speaking up about the Line 6B project, the citizens that David Hasemyer spoke to, are NOT a “special interest group.” He also knows that most (perhaps all) of them do NOT “oppose” the replacement of Line 6B.

Since I am quoted in Hasemyer’s article– and hence must qualify in Springer’s view as one of those “special interest groups”– let me reiterate that I do NOT “oppose” the Line 6B replacement. When my wife and I first heard about the project months ago, we didn’t immediately spring into action in the hopes of stopping Enbridge’s plans. Nor are we now trying to stop Enbridge’s plans. Even at this late date, we still do not “oppose” the replacement of Line 6B. As we’ve said before, it is a 40 year-old pipe. It is surely better to have a shiny new pipe built with 21st century technology in our backyard than a deteriorating old one. So I guess that Springer says at least one true thing: most who live along the pipeline don’t oppose Enbridge’s project. I believe that is true.

But leave it to Enbridge to find a way to turn a true statement into a false one. It’s false because it casts a series of legitimate concerns about the way Enbridge conducts business in Michigan, including but not limited to the way the company conducted itself in Marshall in 2010 (and before), as “opposition” to the replacement project. You see, if you can distort the position of your critics then you don’t have to confront their actual concerns; you get to pretend like those concerns are not legitimate.

What’s more, Springer’s otherwise true statement turns out to be false insofar as it implies that the pushback Enbridge is receiving is coming from a bunch of other people– “special interest groups”– who do oppose it. And that is simply, demonstrably, not true. The pushback (not opposition) is, in fact, coming from people who live and work along the pipe: the Debora Henses and Beth Dumans and Laurie Lentzes. People just like us.

Up next: a closer look at Enbridge’s “actions” and what they show