False Equivalence

Let’s postpone discussion of yesterday’s election for now. We’ll have two years to see just how bad things in Washington can get.

One of the regular readers of this blog has taken me to task more than once for “false equivalence”–for suggesting that the sins of the Left and the sins of the Right are somehow equally troubling.

I would respectfully respond that I’ve done no such thing. (Just ask my right-wing critics, who regularly complain that I’ve become a pinko-socialist-commie.)

Let’s leave aside the fact that the labels have become meaningless. The U.S. hasn’t ever had a significant Left, and the Right is no longer conservative. To the extent that the GOP/Tea Party folks can be said to have a philosophy these days, it is radically reactionary. As for me, I have pretty much the same political philosophy that got me labeled “too conservative” back in 1980.

But let’s address the complaint, which seems to be that pointing to stupidities emanating from liberals amounts to promoting “false equivalencies.” I would make the opposite argument:  criticizing people who are generally on one’s “side” of the political wars is one of the things that distinguishes progressives from their knee-jerk counterparts on the right. Reasonable people refuse to defend the indefensible, and most progressives are reasonable people.

I do agree with my commenter that efforts to actively seek out “equivalencies” are misguided. We see that sort of phony “balance” a lot in discussions of Fox and MSNBC, for example. MSNBC has a point of view, to be sure, but unlike Fox, its on-air personnel don’t manufacture “facts” out of whole cloth, or routinely indulge in the idiocies that make informed people cringe–not to mention giving Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert so much raw material.

Straining to be even-handed when the errors are anything but equivalent is not only unfair, it’s misleading. That said, refusing to acknowledge that someone on your own “team” got it wrong makes us no better than the closed-minded defenders of the Right.


  1. A wise friend told me years ago, “We are not always responsible for the results of what we say.” This is because too many people have preconceived ideas of who you are and what they expect you to say; in their minds they are busily composing their response to what they “heard” (or read) from you rather than listening – or reading your words. They are usually the ones who live by the standard, “Do as I say, not as I do.” We who try to pay close attention are rarely surprised but often disappointed in the outcome of these standards; hence the accusation against you and the outcome of yesterday’s pitiful election.

  2. After reading the results of this election, I am very sad for our country. So very very sad and …(I can’t even finish the sentence, I’m so sad)…

  3. Sheila, I would also add that, unlike Fox, MSNBC tries to have intellectually based discussions of the issues of the day.

  4. Even though I’ve never met Sheila, I’ve always enjoyed starting the day here because I know each position that she presents us with is eminently rational and carefully and skillfully explained. It stands on its own as she portrays it.

    Given that, I’m surprised and confused by “false equivalence”. Does that imply that for each position one takes there is an equally rational opposite position? One that she does or does not also make?

  5. Not the greatest day we’ve ever had. We had better be about the business of rectifying this sad situation. Right now, this very day, would be the perfect time to start doing that. 2016 is literally right around the corner. Those who paw at shiny objects had their way this time.

  6. Of the many things that I’m sick of hearing, a leader is that “this election is the most expensive”, like elections are priced. What elections cost is equal to what’s donated. When the price goes up and up that just means that big money is investing more and more in buying influence.

    It’s a bad thing. We’ve sold democracy to the lobbyists and campaign contributors. They are very happy today with their new possession. Us.

  7. As a native Kentuckian, I was surprised to see how many people voted for Mitch McConnell when there was a really viable alternative to his “leadership” – Alison Lundergan Grimes. It’s puzzling how a guy with so little personal appeal, so much political baggage, who’s primary goal of winning this election was self-promotion, could create such a landslide. My only explanation is that Kentucky, like other states, still can’t believe that an African-American won the presidency twice, and they chose a Washington insider, with no ideas over a new face with new ideas as a reflection of their disgust with Obama. As I have said before, it all about getting them to vote against their own best interests and Mitch was successful. Should be an interesting ride for the next 2 years.

  8. Pete, I agree with your comments. The Republicans will now have to actually make attempts at doing good things for the middle class. If they don’t, then there just may be a revolution in the not too distant future. What really saddens me is how many people listen to and fall for their propaganda. I’ve almost become numb to the ignorance of it all.

  9. I agree with Sheila’s personal position, that she still has the same position that “was too conservative back in 1980.” I love the way Justice John Paul Stevens answered the question, “you were put on the Court by Gerald Ford, a conservative, so why have you moved so far to the left and are the Court’s leading liberal?” He replied “no, it’s the Court’s new conservatives who have moved it so far right that I seem to be a liberal to you and haven’t moved to the left at all.” (Not a direct quote, too lazy to Google it up). And it is a sad day for me, too, we live in a very ignorant country where less than a half of the people vote, yet will blame the White House occupant for the gridlock in our Capital. Australia has it right, make it against the law not to vote (with a very small fine) or put a lottery number on each ballot and let the local winners get a new $100 bill, that’ll increase turnout!

  10. I have a few staunch Republican friends; women who are seniors and/or disabled, the oldest is 87. We have often talked during the past couple of years about the do-nothing Republicans; how they have stopped almost everything President Obama and the Democratic party has attempted to do to bring this country back to full power. They recognize what he has accomplished against all odds. They have had their Medicaid assistance with Medicare and their food stamps taken away by Republicans. Want to guess how they voted yesterday? I don’t know if I can bother being worried about their living status any longer when they voted against themselves and will probably lose more in the near future. I believe the word “staunch” should be translated to mean stupid. They, and the millions of others in their living conditions, do not deserve what has happened to them this past few years but – sorry to say they will deserve any future losses to their income status and living conditions. They have no idea of the damage they have done to others with their votes yesterday; I am among those who will be affected by changes to Social Security and Medicare if the GOP and 1% owners have their way.

  11. Are there any viable suggestions for getting more people to vote? I am once again depressed over our prospects for next 2 years.

  12. Democracy is in trouble, not from the cold war bad guys but from a collection of knowledge called brand marketing. When effectively used brand marketing creates a loyal culture that research has shown is more pursuasive than knowledge. More powerful than rational thinking.

    It’s threat to us is that it can be bought and sold. It’s as dangerous as an open market of nuclear weapons but it doesn’t end lives but empowers wealth. As if wealth needs more power. It’s dangerous because power currupts as Lord Acton famously reminded us.

    Solutions? The only one that I can think of is campaign financing reform. But, to be inacted that solution would have to overcome the brand marketing that would certainly be directed against it. And yesterday demonstrated how unlikely that is in today’s media besotted American culture.

Comments are closed.