Abandoning Equivalence

A few days ago, over at Talking Points Memo Josh Marshall shared an important observation.  He was reporting on yet another asinine demand by yet another asinine Republican operative–in this case, the Chairman of the Republican party of Virginia, who wanted the University of Virginia to open an investigation into Professor Larry Sabato. Sabato is a noted and widely cited political observer; however, according to the Chairman of the “anti-cancel” party, Sabato’s “bitter partisanship.” violated  UVA’s ethical code and justified “cancelling” him. (Of course, he didn’t put it quite that way…)

The University responded, according to Marshall, “by telling the Virginia GOP, in so many words, to STFU.”

Another day, another example of hypocrisy and stupidity. It wouldn’t be worth a post, except for Marshall’s further insightful observation, which I am taking the liberty of quoting at some length.

Years ago – and in some case until quite recently – there was a group of commentators who the prestige news shows relied on for non-partisan, “both sides” commentary on the politics of the day. Two of the most visible – especially on shows like The NewsHour were Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, two think tank political scientists from AEI and Brookings respectively. Another was presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Another was Larry Sabato. Ornstein and Mann tended to focus on the function of Congress; Beschloss, the presidency; Sabato, federal elections. But they each covered the full terrain of contemporary politics. If you go back through 20-plus years of my writing the Editors’ Blog you’ll probably find some criticism of each of them, almost certainly precisely because of this studious effort to see the country’s two political parties in equal terms and treat them as such, even as the evidence for that perspective steadily dwindled….

In the spring of 2012 Mann and Ornstein published an OpEd in The Washington Post: “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem“. The title speaks for itself but if you wanted more you could read the book that it was adapted from It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Ornstein’s twitter feed is now so blistering in its criticism of contemporary conservatism and the GOP that it makes me blush. Beschloss now has a priceless Twitter feed made up largely of historical artifacts, photos, commemorations almost all of which function as subtweets of Trump, Trumpism or some related manifestation of the contemporary GOP.

Sabato was in many ways the final holdout. In an interview with The Richmond Times-Dispatch for an article about the state GOP investigation demand, Sabato chalked the shift up to Trump and the January 6th insurrection. “People had better pay attention because if they don’t, it’s going to happen again.”

These political pundits originally earned reputations as fair-minded, non-partisan political scientists translating research data for the edification of the public. Their whole “schtick” was even-handedness; they were political Joe Fridays confining themselves to “just the facts, ma’am.” They had–and still have– significant professional incentives to be “both-siders” to the greatest extent consistent with scholarly integrity.

So what has changed?

I suggest that what’s changed is political reality. We are at a point in America’s political life when people who actually know what they are talking about can no longer treat today’s GOP as a normal political party. Norman Ornstein was a Republican and to the best of my knowledge, he is still working for a conservative think-tank. Michael Beschloss always struck me as a bit right of center, although careful to maintain objectivity. Ditto Sabato, who never came across as anything but a studied fence-straddler. (Granted, these were my impressions, and may well have differed from the reactions of others.)

There comes a time when knowledgable people who were trained to be dispassionate (and incentivized to bend over backwards to be “balanced”) can no longer ignore the evidence.

We’re at that point.


  1. Thanks. Another thing is Bipartisanship and compromise. When the right wants to kill the gays, what is the compromise? Kill HALF the gays? The time of working WITH these people has long passed. Somehow, we need to roundly defeat them. But I am not super optimistic about that right now. They seem determined to blow stuff up – figuratively and literally. I remain scared.

  2. I agree completely with patmcc. There surely is no way to compromise with someone who has no interest in doing so, as in Republicans in DC. Beat them soundly and then they may come to the powerful begging for compromise.
    While we still have the power of the vote, we must use it!

  3. Sadly, the center has become an extreme position. More so to the right than the left. To the right the center looks like radical socialism and/or communism while to the left it looks like a mere right wing annoyance. Sadly we see “the right” continue its decades long fall into fascism or something very much like it. I say that sadly since it took me until trumps nomination to finally realize the GOP I thought I belonged to was no more.

  4. My generation killed the New Deal Era at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Trump and his acolytes killed the Reagan Consensus on January 6, 2021. Our current goal has to be to make sure he didn’t kill democracy, too.

  5. Sheila; before reading far enough to see your comment, I had decided I would begin mine with the fact that Republicans do not want the public to know, “Just the facts, ma’am!”

    “We are at a point in America’s political life when people who actually know what they are talking about can no longer treat today’s GOP as a normal political party.”

    That fact carries down to the general public when attempting to get information in this Republican owned state. I haven’t yet looked up the board members of the Indiana Public Retirement System but intend to do so. The LOSS of a portion of public retirees retirement income, our 13th Check which we received in lieu of any future COLA since 2009, was enacted by the Republican State Senate after the House approved continuation of the checks and a long sought of $50 YEARLY increase and replaced was with a 1% COLA. In addition to the request by the Retired Indiana Public Employees Association, Inc. (RIPEA) to write to my Representative and Senator, I E-mailed Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS). In November 2017 INPRS informed us we had to re-register our retirement information with State Street Retiree Services, a department of State Street Bank, IF we wanted to continue receiving our retirement checks. Republican privatization/outsourcing, call it what you will.

    In my E-mail to INPRS I questioned why the 13th Checks were ended; I informed them of my deafness and inability to call and that I had written the RIPEA requested letters to my State Representative and Senator. Their response was to give me a phone number to call and told me to contact my Representative (a Democrat) with that question, no mention of contacting my Senator (a Republican).

    “Another day, another example of hypocrisy and stupidity.” The political pundits and the continuing media reports regarding today’s political situation at the the national level are vital information for the public but…thousands of Indiana public retirees will lose part of their retirement income beginning January 2022. Myself, I will be losing almost $250.00, others in higher positions will lose much, much more. Another way to advance the Republican widening of our economic division across the State of Indiana due to partisanship. This issue deserves public attention; those who are to lose a portion of their retirement include public employees, teachers, judges, police officers, firefighters, Excise, Gaming & Conservation Officers, prosecutors and legislators. Are other Republican states facing these same losses?

    Just sayin’

  6. Truth is so much more important than fairness or balance. It’s just a shame we don’t have more of it.

  7. Republicans have put their party into desperation mode. After Trump they realized, I think correctly, that there was only one path left for them which offered even the possibility of raising adequate campaigning funds, getting elected in the states which would even consider it, and keeping their jobs. The fact that democracy was now their enemy became accepted and compared to the prospect of unemployment for most of them, and they chose their jobs over what they knew was as fundamental to the country as the name, United States.

    That calculus compared the power of propaganda over modern social and entertainment media, to their base’s civic literacy. Trump had convinced them that modern messaging technology over media had become so pervasive that the objections of patriots could be outshouted and sufficient funders and voters recruited to support enough Republican candidates of the right persuasion. Their motto became to shrink the government until they could “take it home and drown it in the bathtub” to quote the infamous Grover Norquist.

    The fact that all those lies made them the enemy of we the people had been dismissed as irrelevant compared to maintaining their jobs and their relevance and their donors.

    Did they calculate correctly?

  8. I am glad I subscribed to the Flip Side because it gives me a balanced view of conservative and progressive stances on the issues facing our nation.

    I think the insanity in the current GOP started with Gingrich and would love to know your perspective on the history of the GOP’s slide into its current extremist position which yes, is insane. I rode over the Berlin wall in 1974 and saw the guard, the German shepard, the barbed wire fencing, and the mine field along the border with E Berlin and thought “This is insane!” E Berlin looked like it was stuck in 1945 unlike bustling W Berlin.

    I continue to limit my news to NPR and PBS because I do believe that those journalists are making a serious attempt to remain balanced and truthful, hard as that is in these days of Trumpism.

    Joe Biden knows that representatives on both sides must be willing to compromise in order for our democracy to serve the people of this nation. Too bad McConnell and his cronies don’t understand this and continue with their uncompromising obstructionist ploy.

    I thank God that the leaders of our military refused to comply with Trump’s desire for a coup.

    JD Ford and other democrats in our state have said the gerrymandering is 95% worse than most states. The question is ,will they take this to court?

    Meantime, we need effective strategies that undermine voter suppression which Republicans have enacted because of the Big Lie.

    I wish people understood that only the truth will set us free especially those who are now sick with COVID because they refused to take the vaccine thanks to all the misinformation on social media about the vaccines and the homicidal lies about the vaccine. I’ve known for a long time that people who refuse the vaccine based on misinformation will become sick and that many will die. It is true. We can now kill people with lies and fear mongering. Our words are now very powerful. We all need to practice rights speech.

  9. My only argument with Sheila is degree: we are not “at” the point where we must recognize that each political party should be given equal deference in the public debate; we are well past it. “Deference” should be replaced by “objective reality” and when the GOP is spouting nonsense (essentially all it now does), this should be the point, not, “and, on the other hand” as if this nonsense had value instead of the corrosion to our democratic republic.

  10. I’ve read a lot of Larry Sabato’s work. He’s a political analyst who is calling balls and strikes on what he sees. I’ve always found his predictions and analysis to be very even-handed and well thought out. I’ve never known Sabato to be anything but a straight shooter.

    It seems to me the VA GOP chair doesn’t like Sabato because he doesn’t like that Sabato’s analysis, which often (but not always) is that a Republican candidate is likely going to lose. I know Sabato sees Trumpism as dragging down the Republican Party long term. But that’s not because he’s a Democratic partisan, it’s because that’s what he sees in his crystal ball. Sabato is hardly the only analyst who has reached this conclusion. Almost all of them have and there are plenty of data points to back up those analysts’ projections. Via Trump, the GOP has attached its future hopes to older white voters. Those voters are dying off. Demographics are destiny and the GOP is not on the right track.

    For those who argue that progressives should never compromise with conservatives, I would remind them that this is a center-right country. Self-identified conservatives outnumber progressives at least 2-1 in the United States. The breakdown usually polls around 40% moderate, 40% conservative, and 20% liberal or progressive. Unless progressives can get almost all the moderates on their side on an issue, they lose. That’s why the “if I don’t get everything I want, I’m taking my ball and going home” attitude of progressives is so self-defeating. If they can only get half a loaf (sorry to mix metaphors), that’s what they need to do. That is if progressives actually want to win, to be players in the game.

  11. Robin,

    Senator Ford’s statement that Indiana’s gerrymandering is 95% worse than other states is self-serving and, as far as I know, not backed up by any analysis. I would think that GOP gerrymandering in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Florida could give Indiana a run for its money. And I won’t even get into the states where the Dems have heavily gerrymandered things in their favor.

    But the fact is partisan gerrymandering is legal so the fact Indiana maps are not fair to Democrats is not a basis for a legal challenge. You’d have to find another basis to challenge the maps, though that other basis might indirectly relate to partisanship. It’s pretty unlikely the maps the Republicans in the General Assembly draw are going to improve their fortunes much. They’ve pretty much maxed out their advantage. Also, the GOP is losing its edge in the suburbs, especially in places like Hamilton County They will shore up the 5th District though and my guess is they’ll go from 7-2 GOP advantage in the congressional districts to 8-1 by splitting up Rep. Mrvan’s district in NW Indiana.

  12. As a Baby Boomer I watched the 3 major news networks and newspapers covering the Civil Rights, anti-draft and anti-war demonstrations. These demonstrations were coast to coast and were huge.

    Since at the time I was in blue collar work, the older generation with some exceptions were angry about all the publicity these demonstrations were receiving. They liked the Norman Rockwell, Leave it to Beaver or Dick and Jane version of America. I heard more than one of my elders lamenting about all the publicity the demonstrators were receiving.

    Today the cable news networks have carved out their own niches. Social Media like Face Book have also. Silos of information and misinformation are available.

    I can understand a very few people being skeptical of the Covid Vaccine. If you watch enough TV for drug ads there is a long list of side effects some very nasty.

    What I can not understand is the brutish, willful ignorance of a sizable number of Republicans refusing the Covid vaccine. The Covid vaccine has somehow become a political statement. The vaccine has become a litmus test for these fools to show off their “Freedom” and maybe give the middle finger to Joe Biden.

  13. The Republican party is dead. It underwent a slow and painful death starting with Nixon and shifted into high gear with Reagan. It is now the NAFP (New American Fascist Party). They just haven’t gotten around to officially changing the name.

  14. If I say “finally”, it is just my belief that the false equivalency, always saying “the extreme right and the extreme left”, as if there are any “Weathermen” in the Democratic Party, has allowed the Overton Window to move so far to the right that Reagan looks a little “pink”.

    It continues today in newscasts that call “Mr. Blue Dog” Manchin a “moderate” or the properly very conservative Liz Cheney a “moderate” because she isn’t a wacko.

    Sandy Bickel – Our generation didn’t ruin anything at the Chicago convention in ’68, but Daley using the police in a manner that Trump would love hurt a lot. Maybe our generations not voting did in the New Deal coalition, but even then I am not certain. LBJ said it, when he forced civil rights legislation – the South was lost to the Democrats after that.

    Whatever “Reagan Consensus” existed was not destroyed in 2021. The slide to Trump started with Nixon’s “Southern strategy”. Reagan’s Philadelphia, Mississippi continued the dog whistling.

    Robin is more correct with pinning the start of the steep descent of the GOP to Gingrich (or Steve going back to Nixon). My timeline includes these “greatest hits”.

    1992 – Clinton wins and Republicans go apoplectic, because besides Clinton’s general sleaziness, they believed that Reagan changed the electorate forever
    1995 – Gingrich becomes speaker
    2000 – The Supremes stop a recount of the votes in Florida by a 5-4 vote, including members who were appointed by the winner’s daddy. We now know that a state-wide recount using the most commonly accepted standard for counting “chads” would have meant President Gore (before anyone questions this non-attorney, I have that information from my brother who has been a recount specialist for over half a century)
    2001 – Karl Rove declares the “Permanent Republican Majority”
    2003 – Tom Delay, acting on this premise, devises a second redrawing of the districts in Texas after the Republicans take control of the legislature. The Democrats still ask about the Marquis of Queensbury Rules at a gun fight. They do not reply in kind.
    2008 – A Black Democrat is elected. Racists go ballistic.
    2009 – The rise of the Tea Party
    2014 – Mitch “I make up any rules I like and change them at will” McConnell takes over
    2016 – The crazies complete the takeover of the GOP

    One party went off the deep end. I was never a fan of the GOP, but they were a needed balance in our democracy. I hope they, or a suitable replacement, comes back.

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