False Equivalence

When my children were little, cries of “He started it!” and “He did something worse!” were staples of household debate.

I think about those arguments between four and five year olds when I hear complaints from the political Right about the “liberal media,” and retorts from the political Left about “false equivalence.” Most genuine journalists ignore both, figuring–reasonably enough– that if both extremes of the political spectrum are unhappy, they probably got it right.

That said, I was struck by a comment made by David Niose during a recent interview. Niose is legal director for the American Humanist Association and a past president of both the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America.

In his remarks, Niose shared his concerns over the disproportionate influence of corporations on American politics, and especially on the current upsurge in anti-intellectualism (an unfortunate American mainstay), but along the way, he also made a point worth considering about the relative influence of the crazies on the Right and Left. As he noted, anti-intellectual left-wingers, such as Marxists invested in “dialectical materialism” and other Leftist ideologues who insist on doctrine over facts, are routinely dismissed and politically irrelevant. Meanwhile, Republicans who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old can and do get elected to political office.

Extremists and zealots of any stripe are equally dangerous, but in the U.S., the political Left has rarely gained much traction. (And no, raising the ire of Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin doesn’t make one a Leftist–I doubt either of them could define¬†socialism.) Over the past quarter-century, however, the Crazy Right has become positively mainstream in many areas of the country.

The nutso Right and Left may exhibit equivalent insanity and ignorance, but only one of them currently influences–and debases– the national narrative.


  1. Ms. Kennedy:

    I’ve spent a lot of time on the Right, and after speaking with the 6K people, I think most of it is an act. I think that a great majority of them, if strapped to a lie detector, would flunk the test question concerning the Earth’s age.

  2. Ms. Kennedy:

    Your post gave me cause to reflect on the Republicans. In reviewing the range of their opinions from the late 80’s until today, I struggle to find a single core idea that has run that entire span.

    I’m left with only a few:

    1. They generally like guns, but they have no problem policing and criminalizing the Black population so extensively as to deny the Blacks almost categorically their right to own guns.
    2. They love military meddling around the world, and they love anything that lets the U.S. push around other countries.
    3. They love the police, and they like a world in which given a moment of conflict, obeying police is to be given supremacy over demanding and exercising one’s civil rights.
    4. They hate people being on welfare (but turn a blind eye to SSI, Medicare, Medicaid, police and military pensions and luxurious and abundant military disability benefits).
    5. They like people having to show respect to national symbols.
    6. They love, love, love corporations.

    As far as enduring party planks or shared social mores, that’s about it. Everything else comes and goes. The Republican Party is ultimately a working experiment in positive liberty.

  3. Here in its entirety is the basis for democracy.

    Power currupts.

    So the founders, having been exposed to the corrosive effects of the currupting of England’s aristocracy, reasoned that while government is the difference between primitive and civilized society it must be done in a way that limits the power of all individuals to temporary and at the pleasure of the governed.

    Today the concept of entitlement to power has moved from the European model of family lines to the purely American one of accumulated wealth.

    So the actions of say the Koch Bros are predictably colliding with with democracy’s notion of power corrupts. They believe that their business success of starting wealthy and ending wealthier entitles them to power. The founders would have said you can have power for a few years, shared with many others and only if you can get elected by the people. The Koch Bros could be expected to reply, no, that’s the not the way business does it. We buy and sell loyalty among our employees for as long as we want them.

    So, people like them and similar moguls like Trump, and Limbaugh are corrupted by the economic power that they’ve accumulated and want to convert it to political power. They believe that that dream is achievable through the miracle of mass media brand marketing which was developed as an art form to give power to products and created the thoroughly contemporary motion that people are the products of the celebrity business.

    Democracy, has the power to just say no. We didn’t fall for family power (well maybe a couple of times) and we (the left) won’t fall for wealthy power (oligarchy). But the right is not so sure. They love business. They worship the hierarchy. They believe that if God wanted people to be equal he wouldn’t have created ownership.

    The right vs the left. Oligarchy vs democracy. Weak purchased government under business vs strong democratic government over business.

    Choose. Act. The Great Oligarchy Plot has.

  4. There IS no left. The last hurrah was the 60’s, and after all the beatings, shootings and jailings, coming on the prior generational heels of the ‘red scare’ of the 50’s, they never reformed. So any time I hear ‘extremism on both sides’ what they are really arguing is whether the country club republicans are going to get their way, or are the christians going to be thrown some pagans to gnaw on. Either way, there is nothing, NOTHING on the left. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren come as close as it gets in this day and age, and quite frankly, their views are pretty damn tame. And look who is being jailed–is it the Bundy folks? The Klan? The Militias? Hardly. But the Kenyan Socialist President (if ONLY) has consistently jailed whistle blowers and environmentalists. So who is working for whom? What I DON’T get is why the republicans hate Obama. He has been completely consistent in expanding war, privatizing education, waging a war on civilians (Vietnam had civilian casualty rates of 70%, the Iraq and Afghanistan war have blown past that with 90%, but Media, Inc. has completely ignored this and instead spends its time commentating on Duck Dynasty) and trashing the environment. You know, business as usual or ala Koch America. The screaming is so that all the rubes think there is daylight between Clinton and Romney/Christie/Walker/King. Not that I can see. So, please, Sheila, do me a favor and stop acting like there is anything other than crickets on the left.

  5. Perhaps girl cousin, the left achieved great progress in the 60s, rested on that and now are defending those gains rather than creating new ones. Defending them from oligarchy and business which are both based on buying and selling loyalty (bullying).

    It doesn’t strike me as trite to say the basis for the left is intellectualism and the basis for the right is favoritism in all of its disguises. Loyalty, branding, marketing, good old boyism, religion, hierarchy.

    Both are necessary, neither sufficient. Balance is the key. It may be argued that both the progress and excesses of the 60s were out of balance to the left and the Bush/Reagan dynasty was as, or more, out of balance to the right.

    Ok as long as we vary around the middle rather than the extremes.

    Offense is way more fun than defense but balance requires both.

  6. Thank you Sheila for so clearly stating what I have been yelling about for years. Growing up in Detroit, I learned how organized labor had basically purged itself of anyone that was “too far left”. The “far left” never obtained much real power. While they may have pulled the “liberals” along on many issues, they were always shunned by the base of the Democratic Party, even if not as blatantly as Presidents Clinton and Obama going out of their way to bash the “left” and prove their “centrist” credentials.

    The Republican Party, however, has been captured by the “extreme right” or live in fear of them. Legitimacy has been granted to groups and ideas that “conservatives” of the past would have shunned.

    As I see it, Camelot wasn’t just President Kennedy, but a great confluence of factors that lead to the enactment of “left-leaning” policies from FDR through the great middle class boom, the civil rights movement and finally LBJ’s Great Society (with maybe a preview in the TR/Bull Moose/Progressive era). Then it ended. Too much change is scary and the opposition found the fear easy to exploit — then didn’t know when or how to stop the down hill slide to where we are today.

    So no equivalence. Thank you for pointing it out with your usual great clarity.

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