I’ve been accused of straw-manning when I wasn’t. It is usually after I have responded to a terrible argument that I actually heard. This is always an obnoxious criticism. I want to say to my accuser:
No, look buddy. Someone actually made this terrible argument. In fact, it’s ubiquitous. I hear it all the time. If you have a more sophisticated version of this argument, we can discuss it. But people in your tribe are saying these foolish things. I’m glad you agree that the argument so often presented in favor of your position is a bad one. Maybe you can join me in helping to dispel it.
Of course, they never want to help. They never want to quench support for their favorite policies, even if it’s support coming from useful idiots. They want to hypocritically benefit from converts who were sold on a lie while criticizing people who spend their time debunking that lie.
(scoff) You’re refuting the bad version of the argument, not my preferred super-sophisticated version.
When someone stews over being snubbed in this way, my response is that the bad version is what dominates public debate. I’d love to have the more sophisticated version of the discussion, and in fact sometimes these are fascinating and I learn quite a lot from them. But the unsophisticated version is still out there doing enormous harm. I want to say, "Help me stop people from spreading the bad version, and we'll focus more intellectual energy on the 'sophisticated' version."
As often happens, I wrote this post and discovered Bryan Caplan made the same point better than I could possibly make it.
Examples: I can truthfully say that until I started studying economics when I was 17, I had never heard that the minimum wage or drug safety regulation had any conceivable downside. "Raising the minimum wage makes the poor richer, end of story" and "Stricter drug safety regulation makes everyone healthier, end of story" weren't straw men. They were the only men in sight.
I take his point about libertarians sometimes making terrible arguments for my favored policies. I find this cringe-worthy when I see it. And actually I see this as an important test of intellectual honesty: Do you find bad arguments equally cringe-worthy when you agree with their conclusions as when you disagree?