Bad Reasoning: “Americans Want Action, so Pass This Bill”

President Barack Obama has again pushed for Congress to pass the American Jobs Act, by saying:

“This is about what the American people want. Everywhere I go, they tell me they want action on jobs. Every day, I get letters from Americans who expect Washington to do something about the problems we face.”

Even if it’s true that all Americans want action on jobs, it doesn’t follow that Americans want the same action on jobs. This flawed reasoning is sometimes called “The Birthday Fallacy”, after this fallacious argument:

Premise: Everyone has a birthday.
Conclusion: Therefore, everyone has the same birthday.

It’s also called “The Only Game in Town Fallacy”, from the similarly fallacious argument:

Premise: Everyone likes games.
Conclusion: Therefore, everyone likes the game of baseball.

Even if every American wants the government to do something about unemployment, that doesn’t mean they all want the same thing done. A lot of them probably want federal stimulus spending, but others likely want tax reform, deregulation, or something else.

Obama tries to beef up his claim about what Americans want — and how that means supporting the American Jobs Act — by quoting several letters from Americans who support his proposed bill. Needless to say, the number of letters from Americans that he cites is less than 310 million. It’s not even ten. He’s generalizing about what Americans want from a very small sample size.

And a selective one, too. You could make the same flimsy argument against him: “Every day, people say they expect Washington to do something on unemployment different from Obama’s bill.”

Obama should focus on convincing Americans that his jobs bill is a good idea, rather than making flawed arguments claiming that Americans already believe that it’s a good idea.

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