Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"The Error of Equivalency"

On a recent weekend, I was enjoying a panel discussion on C-SPAN 2 – SOMEBODY TAKE ME TO A MOVIE!
Somebody make a movie I want to see.
The subject had some interest for me. It was about moderation in political discourse. That’s my favorite topic. I’m “Mr. Moderation.” So I watched it, for the same reason everyone watches political shows – to see if the participants are wise and insightful enough to agree with me. It’s “Pat Yourself On The Back” television. People seem to enjoy that.
One of the panelists was a journalist, promoting a book he’d written on the subject of political extremism. To validate his “fairness credentials”, the journalist’s opening claim, backed by his research, was that extremist slurs and statements were in no way a monopoly of one side of the political spectrum. Both sides were equally guilty.
Well, that just made me angry.
The journalist had raised the false flag of “equivalency”:
“They both do it.”
He offered as proof the fact that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been equated by their vilifiers to Hitler.
It is my uncredentialed opinion that only Hitler was Hitler. Hitler was a special case. To equate anyone with Hitler is to diminish Hitler’s unparalleled evil and to exaggerate the purported misdeeds of the suggested rival for the crown.
Now I have to be careful here. My intention is to be fair. But so was the journalist who said, “They both do it.” And he wasn’t.
It just shows you how hard being fair is. Every word you choose means that you didn’t choose a different word. That selection process reflects a bias. Your “terrorist” is my “freedom fighter.” And every nuance in between.
I will do my best in this regard. Though, frustratingly, I am only human.
Let’s start with the “Hitler” equivalency.
George W. was called “Hitler” for attacking a country that didn’t do anything to us.
The other “Hitler” (Obama) wants to provide affordable health care to all our citizens.
Put aside the name-calling. That’s just politics. Let’s agree that both of the above policies can be legitimately criticized. Does that really make them equivalent?
Affordable health care?
Killing Iraqis who didn’t hurt us?
I compare the two examples, because they generated the same epithet. But are they really, in any way shape or form, the same?
Moving on
To the subject of presidential legitimacy.
Back in 2000, one side denied the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s presidency, because it was effectively decided by the Supreme Court’s stopping the recount in Florida. Bush’s legitimacy was questioned, because he may not have actually won the election.
The challenge to Obama’s right to take office: He wasn’t born in this country.
Two claims against presidential legitimacy. But do they really carry the same weight? Be fair here. Do they?
One more and I’ll stop.
In 1954, the Supreme Court was accused of being “activist” for requiring American public schools to desegregate. Last session’s Supreme Court was accused of being “activist” for lifting restrictions on corporate spending during political campaigns.
Two arguably “activist” decisions. One involves social justice; the other, greater influence for corporations.
No question. “They both do it.”
But does that really make it the same?
I accidentally brush against your arm; you punch me viciously in the face. It’s true. We both laid hands on each other. We both “did it.” But in one case, we’re talking a feathery intrusion; in the other, possible reconstructive surgery.
Are both touches really the same?
Distinctions matter. The specifics of situation. The moral intent. The argument for desegregation is in the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.” What’s the argument for the other side? “No, they aren’t”?
Once again, it’s two arguments. But are they really equivalent?
I hate it when my side messes up. Moderates writing about political extremism would be more helpful – and intellectually honest – shining a light, not on the similarities in both side’s behavior, but on their contrasting motivations.
Of course, they may just be trying to sell books.
By the way, if, as was claimed on this panel show, the majority of voters are in the middle, wouldn’t it make sense that a show conceived to appeal to the middle be more popular than shows targeted to the extremes?
So how come there aren’t any?

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