There are arguments against statehood and we have heard them all. Some of them are worse than others. Some of them, in fact, are classic logical fallacies.
The arguments for statehood include things like this:
- Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, yet cannot participate in presidential elections. This is unfair.
- Puerto Rico has no senators and just one, non-voting Member of the House. This unfairly limits the participation of Puerto Rico in the government of the United States.
- Puerto Rico does not receive the same benefits as states, even though residents of Puerto Rico pay payroll (Social Security) taxes.
The arguments against statehood include some which are classic bad arguments.
Argument ad hominem
The argument ad hominem, or argument “to the man,” is one which focuses on a criticism of someone who believes in the issue, in this case statehood.
This is the argument in which someone says, “So and so is for statehood, and he did a bad thing.” People make this argument with many different names and actions, but it never is a good argument against statehood. Statehood will provide equality for Puerto Rico. Scandals do not change this fact.
The straw man
A straw man argument involves setting up a false claim to distract from the actual argument being made.
Some people suggest that statehood supporters are opposed to self-determination for Puerto Rico, arguing that Congress should not force statehood on Puerto Rico. In fact, Puerto Rico’s voters have chosen statehood three times, each time in a clear example of self-determination. No statehood supporter proposes that Congress should force any status on Puerto Rico.
Another example is this claim: “The possible establishment of an English language requirement could create a cultural crisis for Puerto Ricans.” No statehood bill has included any English language requirement. Imagining one in order to argue that it would create a cultural crisis is defnitely a case of setting up a straw man.
Appeal to irrelevant authority
Arguments based on the opinions of experts are good support for claims. Unless those experts are not experts on the claims being argued, but on a quite different subject.
While we quote constitutional experts and representatives of the Department of Justice, we see statehood arguments based on the anti-statehood positions of celebrities. While celebrities are entitled to their opinions, those opinions aren’t authoritative.
Appeal to fear
Claims that try to scare people into an emotional reaction without sticking to facts are another classic fallacy.
We see claims that Puerto Ricans would be crippled by income tax if Puerto Rico became a state — even though there is no reason to think this would be true. The average household in Puerto Rico would not owe any taxes, just as half the residents of states don’t pay any taxes.
A hasty generalization is what happens when people apply something that is true in one situation to other situations.
For example, people who believe that statehood admissions have to be ratified by 38 states are taking something that is true about constitutional amendments and falsely applying it to the admission of new states. New states don’t have to be ratified by existing states. In fact, this has never been done.
The argument of a slippery slope says that one thing will inevitably lead to another — when there is no evidence of that.
So some people claim that admitting Puerto Rico as a state would require admission of all the territories, even though most have not requested statehood and don’t have large enough populations to do so.
Argument from consequences
An argument from consequences imagines some negative consequence and uses that possibility to refute the arguments for a position.
For example, Mitch McConnell said that admitting Puerto Rico as a state would bring on “full-bore socialism.” There is no evidence that this claim is true; even if it were, that would not be an argument against the claim that Puerto Rico needs statehood to gain equality with other U.S. citizens.
Don’t be deceived by logical fallacies.