Obama and the non-additive nature of excuses

Seeing the hubbub over the “Change me! I Stink!” Obama mockery billboard, which makes fun of Obama’s endless excuse-making for his failures, something occurred to me:


Modern-day crime-themed reality shows like The First 48 and Dateline and America’s Most Wanted for the first time allow average folks to see how real criminals act when they’re being interviewed by cops and videotaped in interrogation rooms. In almost every instance, the criminals rely on a logical fallacy: That excuses are additive. In other words, they foolishly think that if one excuse or alibi is good, then two excuses or alibis are better, and the more you think up, the more you’ve proven your innocence.

The interviews generally go like this:

“First of all, I don’t even know what you’re talking about — I never heard about any murder. Secondly, I was in Brazil when I first learned of the shooting, so it couldn’t have been me. Thirdly, I’ve never fired a .38 caliber gun in my life. Also, I was having sex with my girlfriend in her apartment on 71st street that night, and she’ll vouch for me. Furthermore, Jimmy borrowed my .38 to kill the guy with, so if you find my fingerprints on it, that doesn’t prove anything. And you can ask the other guys — I was just driving the getaway car, so I couldn’t have been the shooter. And I didn’t even mean to shoot him — I was just waving the gun around to scare him. It was an accident. Not only that, I didn’t intend to kill him — I aimed at his knees, not his head. And lastly, officer, it was a case of self-defense: he was trying to kill me first, so I had no choice!”

“So, let me get this straight: You’ve never heard about this case AND you were in Brazil when you first found out about it AND you’ve never fired this specific murder weapon AND you were a mile away having sex with your girlfriend AND it was your gun AND you were just driving the getaway car AND it was an accident AND you just tried to injure him AND it was self-defense?”

“Yup — with so many excuses, I’ve simply got to be innocent!”


Of course, the veteran cops know that anyone who offers multiple contradictory excuses is almost certainly lying — in fact it’s the primary “tell” which identifies a liar. An innocent person just offers a single story — the truth — and does not elaborate.

Which brings us back to Obama. As the billboard so acutely points out, Obama offers up a constant cavalcade of excuses and dismissals, most of which are mutually incompatible: The Tea Party is an irrelevant extremist fringe group AND they’re so powerful that they’re holding the entire country hostage. The economy is Bush’s fault AND Europe’s fault AND it’s actually doing quite well. I’m the post-racial president AND we need to continually talk about race. There was an earthquake AND a revolution AND a bankruptcy AND things are looking quite rosy! I will cut spending AND increase spending.


And every time he opens his mouth I flash back to those criminals in the interrogation room, and I think: He’s cornered. The “additive excuse fallacy” is the last resort of a cornered man.



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