What About Whataboutism?

There are two kinds of “whataboutism.”

We’re all familiar with the first, which became fashionable thanks to TFG and is now a repeated response by those defending him. Did he try to overturn the election? Endanger American security by stealing classified and highly sensitive documents? Brag about grabbing women by the you-know-what?

Well, what about Hilary’s emails?

That particular expression of what has come to be called “whataboutism” is considerably less effective as the evidence of Trump’s activities has mounted; rational folks (granted, a smaller part of the population than I used to think) understand the difference between traitorous behavior and inadequate attention to the rules governing electronic devices.

Another form of whataboutism seems to be growing, however, and it is far more destructive of the civic landscape. It is manifested by otherwise reasonable people–many of whom hold progressive political values, but for one reason or another, have given in to cynicism and embraced a “plague on all their houses” viewpoint.

Has Republican A expressed a particularly racist or misogynist worldview? Critics of Republican A are met with “well, what about Democrat C, who once made a Polish joke?”

Is a Republican officeholder accused of criminal behavior? Well, there are undoubtedly Democrats who are just as crooked. Or just as greedy. Often, expression of those sentiments is followed by a pledge to abstain from voting, or an equally counterproductive plan to vote for a doomed third-party candidate.

Here’s the thing: the cynics aren’t wrong when they point out that no party has a monopoly on virtue. Are there dishonest, greedy Democrats? Sure. Does the Democratic Party include officeholders who shade the truth, act in less than honorable ways, harbor prejudices, and (horrors!)fail to prioritize your pet issue? Undoubtedly.

Excuse me, but– except in very rare, very outrageous cases–it shouldn’t affect your vote or your other  political support.

Talk about a double standard: non-insane Republicans who recognize the lunacy of the contemporary MAGA base repeatedly excuse the pandering and lying of the party’s candidates by telling themselves that candidates “have to” feed the prejudices and support the conspiracy theories of the GOP base in order to win elections. They assure themselves that those candidates really do know better, and they obediently march to the polls and cast ballots for anyone sporting an “R” next to the name.

On the other hand, Democrats all too often consider themselves too pure to do likewise.

Those who embrace a “pox on all your houses” view ostentatiously wash their hands of the political process, nursing their offended virtue. The offending candidate doesn’t even need to be dishonest or bigoted–in many cases, the mere fact that he or she once took a position with which the critic disagreed is enough to justify a self-righteous withdrawal of support.

This display of ideological purity isn’t simply immature. Given the agendas of today’s political parties, it’s suicidal.

Today’s Republican Party embraces an agenda that represents a U-turn from the principles that once characterized it. It is now the party of Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis,  Marjorie Taylor Green, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. (When even a thoroughly corrupt Mitch McConnell begins to look statesmanlike by comparison, the GOP rot is all too evident.)

The current Democratic Party is all that stands in the way of control by a cult that wants nothing more than a return to the “good old times”– separate drinking fountains for Whites and Blacks,  LGBTQ citizens consigned to the closet, and women dying  from back-alley abortions.

Some wise person coined the a phrase that’s appropriate to the choice Americans face in upcoming elections: Never let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

We got Donald Trump because a lot of Americans didn’t like Hillary Clinton. They didn’t agree with positions Bill had taken, or they found her personality unpalatable, or they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a woman…So they stayed away or voted for Jill Stein in states where those decisions made a difference.

And America got Donald Trump and an alternate reality that continues to appeal to a  number of  Americans whose lives aren’t going the way they wanted and who desperately need someone or something to blame for their problems.

Joe Biden has been an impressive and consequential President. It is a travesty that more Americans don’t recognize the significant achievements of his administration. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been considerably better than good.

I’m confident that more Americans will vote for Biden than for whatever mean-spirited candidate emerges from the chaos of today’s GOP, but–given the Electoral College–Biden could be defeated by the “whatabouters” who consider themselves too pure to cast a ballot for an old guy who’s less than perfect.


  1. SK Says : “but–given the Electoral College–Biden could be defeated by the “whatabouters” who consider themselves too pure to cast a ballot for an old guy who’s less than perfect.”
    That thought scares me a lot. The R Nut jobs are so dangerous. This could go very badly.

  2. And while we are at it, why all the attacks on Kamala Harris? She has been a good vice-president, fulfilling her role, albeit a prescribed and very limited role, with dignity and honor. She has created no scandal, she has presented herself as a calm and reasonable woman, and she has been where she needs to be without drama and on time.
    As for Joe Biden, I honestly must say that I have continually underestimated him. He amazes me, more so because we are the same age, and there is no way I could put in the day’s work he does. I want what he’s drinking.

  3. Hear, hear! If our good, decent, well-intentioned Democrats and Independents succumb to whataboutism or simple political fatigue, we might well end up living in a fascist utopia led by Donald Trump. We have heard, repeatedly, that “this is the most consequential election of our lifetime,” but unfortunately that statement is as true today as it was in 2018, 2020 and 2022.

    I don’t know how many elections we have to win before the threat of Trump and his ilk is eliminated, maybe forever, but we have to continue to show up. More importantly, we need to emphasize civics education – in K-12 education, in churches, civic organizations, labor unions, newspapers, cable news, bars, and wherever else the politically untutored may be found.

    As citizens, we have a duty to learn about and understand how our governments, local, state and federal, work. I’ve been interested in politics for over 50.years, and I’ve never been so aware of the looming cliff’s edge of authoritarianism.

  4. though the demos are not without fault,the message to the blue collars like myself seems non existant. jargon be noticed and said. seems the voice to the less than educated gets drowned by the,other side. few if any demos,progressives etc, voice in terms that stimulate or lead in our class. doing whats right gets the points,getting a prevailing wage is from the only side that would consider it.
    recognized and appreciated. but as far as knowlege,many in my class dont read beyond the headlines and whatevers. context,and some same class input is essential. we vote blue because like many in this have read past history and disregard main stream news. if thats all we have, we have little in regard to a voice in the mainstream political system that moves us. gathering a feeling of we.ll win again,just doesnt get it. trump won the first time,hillary disregared the working class for thier political take,on polls and whatevers. lesson learned? nope. its still doesnt resonate in our class of liberal blue collars again. we dont take educated,we dont have time or resources to educate between elections. passing the shuck and jive between us is cool, but it doesnt settle into a solid foundation. when the working class is divided as we are,its obvious, the right has BSed its way into many minds by cheap jargon and rehetoric. maybe some street talk is a way to promote the ideals and rewards of a blue working class society as a whole. its the biggest voting block, and would devistate mcconnels shit about the popular vote killing the last republican standing. words and good lines from some dead writer is all good and well, whatabout talking to us in a manner we understand,as a whole, the working class.

  5. The news yesterday about the republicans 2025 project, basically a plan to turn the USA into a single party theocratic autocracy with a government staffed solely by trump lackeys or neo-fascist loyalist should be a wake up call to those who think they are above voting for Biden because 40 or 50 years ago he helped pass legislation that turned out to be destructive and counter productive to progressive desires. Look at Biden and his policies today. Look at how is helping complete FDR new deal and LBJ Great Society. Look at how he, not trump, is actually working to make America a great democracy and a better nation for all its citizens.

  6. It’s hard not to use whataboutism when referring to both political parties since they are a joke. Is one less of a joke than the other? Sure.

    Does one of the parties appeal more to the intellectuals/educated in this country? Yes.

    However, neither party is appealing to Americans based on favorability ratings. RFK, Jr. leads in favorability but is getting hammered by the mainstream media. TFG is wonderful for the media moguls who get millions of clicks (eyeballs) to discover the latest Trump shenanigans.

    This is all performative for the masses. The oligarchs do NOT want RFK, Jr. even though some of his policies will save them money by reducing taxes. Just voting for a Dem or Gop isn’t enough if we want real changes in Washington.

  7. Sigh……if only your words today could be heard by those who consider themselves ‘too pure’.

  8. Well, all this blather about this or that party pales compared to the manifesto announced by Trump on Saturday. In this psychopathic rant, he vowed to consolidate the power of government in his own tiny hands. He promised to absolutely weaponize government to attack all his enemies, real and perceived. What would that really mean to many people on this blog, for example?

    Jack Smith, me and several others here would end up in his sights as “un-American” because we wouldn’t pledge fealty to the orange hairball.

    Frankly, the prospect of the mindless re-electing this monster is enough for me to start planning which country I will escape to, you know, like the Jewish Germans did in 1934 and beyond.

    Psychopaths don’t joke about taking absolute power. They announce it proudly then destroy everything they touch. Will Trump die of some affliction or old age before he destroys the world?

  9. Todd – please enlighten the rest of us about what you see wrong with Biden’s accomplishments so far.

    It appears that no matter how crazy RFK Jr. reveals himself to be or the fact that republican oligarchs created and are funding his campaign as a way to split the Dem vote, you still prefer his insanity and are willing to risk putting trump or another horrible fascist R into the White House.

  10. The thing about Biden is that he is an old political pro. He knows how everything works. I have watched him win over much of the progressive caucus, after first pissing them all off by not putting their agenda items into a bill. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to get it through the Senate with the climate issues they wanted to address. What did he do? He delivered in the IRA, a bill that didn’t need 60 votes in the Senate. He didn’t get everything, but he got a lot more than anyone expected.

    Yes, he isn’t perfect, but perfect people don’t get much accomplished in an imperfect world. I’ve already spoken many times about measuring everyone by today’s standards rather than trying to understand what was happening at the time. Yes, he did considerable damage with his anti-crime legislation, but that same bill included a ban on assault weapons. At the time crime was an even bigger (non)-issue than it is today. Today, most of that legislation has been rescinded by other bills, but we’d all love to have that ban back. The reason we don’t is “W” and the NRA.

  11. Vern – that orange hairball cannot be put behind bars soon enough to suit me and I hope to see his criminal associates convicted much more quickly.

  12. The Founders must be doing somersaults in their graves as elections are about Party, not persons. Per Mr. Lennon, “Imagine no more Parties…..”

  13. Nancy and Vern—alas, I fear that even with conviction and imprisonment, the orange hairball could still be elected as president. In fact, his supporters would become even more rabid. And in one respect, I agree with Todd about the loathsome oligarchs, who doubtless are fueling whataboutism with unbridled glee. (I certainly, however, don’t understand his enthusiasm for RFK Jr, someone who’s almost as wacko as TFG, and whom TFG has actually expressed admiration for! If that doesn’t say something about the guy, wtf does?!)

  14. I confess that I am one of the persons who elected TFG by refusing to hold my nose and voting for Hillary (I voted for Gary Johnson). I learned my lesson and did vote for Biden in 2020, even though I was convinced that he would be incompetent. At least he wouldn’t threaten the continued existence of our Republic like TFG was.

    Well, I am man enough to admit that I was wrong a second time. Biden has been a great president who has done his level best to be the president of “all of the people.” If any president has ever deserved a second term, it is Biden! He has been the protector of our Republic and I am confident that he will continue to do so in his second term.

    TFG has made it clear that he will make every effort to subvert our precious Republic if he is returned to the office. He MUST BE STOPPED!! And his acolytes must be stopped as well. Collectively, they are a cancer that will destroy the body politic if ever returned to power.

    This is really important folks. The place is here and the time is NOW!

  15. I do not know the details of Todd’s supposed love for RFK, Jr. that is being referred to, today,
    but his reference to the GOP’s 2025 Project is spot-on!
    My very progressive grandfather told me, in the ’50s, that even that iteration of the GOP
    wanted a king, in the U.S. I have long seen this as hyperbole, but not any longer. Trump’s sickness
    has allowed the GOP’s real agenda to express itself.
    FDR twisted the arms of the oligarchs of his time by arguing that if they scuttled his program, they
    would be opening the way for a revolution, here, I have read. The “Reagan revolution” appears to
    be the response to FDR’s New Deal, and with Biden working to complete that new deal, the GOP
    has gone into frenzied battle mode, with the Roberts court paving the way, parenthetically.
    “Whataboutism” is a form of pre-adolescent balderdash, sadly filling in the empty spaces in the
    minds of too many fellow citizens. It’s little but the newest version of TFG’s imbecilic “…good people
    on both sides.”

  16. The ONLY way I could support a third party candidate is if it would lead to a runoff election. In other words, in a close election, the top two vote getters would compete in a second election. Unless Trump is convicted of a crime, a third party candidate would very well lead to Trump’s election. As what happened in the previous elections, the media gives far too much time to TFG. Despite the weakness of other candidates now running , media must allot more time to them if for no other reason than to lessen TFG’s impact.

  17. Personally, I don’t understand how a man who incited an insurrection of government is not in a jail cell right now. I thought trying to overthrow the American government with one party mob rule was “traitorous” territory not “patriotic”. Furthermore, I don’t understand how “Making America Great Again” entails inciting Americans to hate people different from themselves. If you are so brainwashed with hatred you will be ok with living under a dictator who will subjugate and lash out (possibly with violence) at anyone who dares refute him and Who shapes law according to HIS desires alone? Is that your idea of what America is and should be? Be careful what you wish for. Have these people never watched “The Lion King”? You are being duped fools. Oh wait! Is your mob going to ban that now from public schools and libraries? I don’t even know how to get these people to stop drinking the Kool-Aid. “But Brawndo has electrolytes! It has what plants need!” I haven’t even heard one intelligent argument from Trump supporters on why they believe what they do… They just run around chanting “U.S.A” and “Trump!” like they are at a sports game. Reminds me of the zombies in the Mummy movie saying “Imhotep!” If you want to convince me your not completely crackers then your going to have to build a more sophisticated argument.

  18. Read the article written by Dr. Caitlin Bernard. We need more people like her to stand up to those who pass laws that dehumanize citizens.

  19. Cornell West is certainly looking very presidential. White, liberal women would never vote for him over the old,tired,afflicted and nasty segregationist because of their racism. There is nothing more genuinely racist than a liberal white woman.

  20. One doesn’t need to be admonished for refusing to support the wealthy white segregationist,Joe Biden. Especially when that admonishment comes from someone ruefully decrying the days when Republicans were a great party up until 2000. Well, those ruefull tears require me to forget about Reaganism and Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

    Consider me unconvinced.

  21. Remember all who are considering voting for 3rd parties or not voting….a tie at the Electoral College goes to the Freedom Caucus…..

  22. Just read this….how “refreshing”!! Follow the money…down a black hole.

    “Who are the donors behind No Labels?
    Other than a few prominent CEOs who have spoken at their events, we really don’t know. No Labels and a handful of affiliated Super PACs are organized in such a way that they can keep their donations anonymous.”

  23. Mitch D. nails it; especially with his imbecilic “… good people on both sides” observation. We seem to have no intellectual room for absolutes these days, always leaving room for minority views no matter how utterly asinine they may be. (See Trump, today’s Kennedy, Bannon et al.). Perhaps it’s time to become close- minded where there exists no reason not to be, as in murder is great, dictatorship is wonderful, and Dahmer menus are tasty. Close-mindesness when appropriately employed is antithetical to whataboutism, an additional bonus.

    Thus I for one do not believe that there were “good people on both sides’ in Charlotte. The Nazis were all bad as measured by their conduct that day and their victims’ were not. Period. No room for discussion. End of story.

  24. To engage a “what about” defense requires that you first admit that your guy/gal is no better than the other gal/guy.

  25. “No more ‘lesser evilism’ – I will stay home instead of voting for Humphrey” – so we got Nixon, and the Southern strategy and the ball has been rolling down hill ever since.

  26. Biden is not a good messenger but he’s a VERY good President. He’s accomplished a LOT. He speaks to blue collar America in every speech, wanting to restore jobs that don’t require a college education and which produce wages enough to support a household.
    He is bringing inflation down dramatically without a recession and without huge job losses. In fact, unemployment is at historic lows. To accomplish that while lowering inflation and without a recession is nothing short of miraculous. It’s a historic first.

    He passed massive infrastructure legislation which is putting millions of building trades workers to work. Trump promised infrastructure legislation too but never even introduced it, let alone passed it.

    Biden reduced the deficit by a trillion and half dollars in his first two years in office while Trump caused the deficit to explode by the most in history when the GOP controlled the White House and both houses of Congress.

    What about all of THAT? The GOP continues to shirt money from the poor and middle class to the rich. Biden has delivered a sound economy for people in ALL income categories and for our nation.

  27. Make that “shift” money from the poor and middle class to the rich. Wish I could edit stuff after I miss it with the first proof.

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