2011/08/14

False equivalence

This is the most maddening of the Washington DC press corps' failings, this constant resort to false equivalence, the idea that "both sides do it." The conclusion of this constantly-repeated tale is, of course, that the "Goldilocks" conclusion gets continually reinforced, the idea that if "this bowl is too hot (or leftist) and if this bowl is too cold (too right-wing) then the one in the middle, the "sensible" centrist, must be just right."

Matt Bai of the WaPo examines the Republican debate of August 11th and writes a few very sensible paragraphs about how extremely reactionary the candidates all are on taxes. But then he veers off the rails with this abominable paragraph:


If this were merely a Republican phenomenon, the party would be alone in suffering the wrath of the average American voter. But it isn’t. You could have put a lot of Washington Democrats up on that stage, and asked them if they would have accepted $10 in new taxes or new stimulus in exchange for $1 in cuts to Social Security, and you probably would have gotten much the same response: hell, no.

Nonsense. The Democratic Party is nowhere even near as fanatically stubborn on any issues as the Republicans are on just about anything. The reason the Republican Party is not "alone in suffering the wrath" of the voters is (And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell understands this very well) is because voters can only spend so much time and attention to understanding political issues. If outlets like, say, Fox News take up some of that limited time with a lot of lies, then only a small minority of voters truly understands what goes on. Voters understand that our political system is deeply dysfunctional, but not necessarily why that is. If the average voter were truly well-informed and had the time and motivation needed to truly understand the issues, then Bai's analysis would be correct.

As a direct consequence of Bai's mis-reading, he then moves on to reach more incorrect conclusions:

And this is the central disconnect between Washington and the broad center of the country, the source of all that fury you see in the polls. Fewer and fewer Americans engage as activists in either party, which means that primaries are financed and waged primarily by the ideological extremes on either side.

There is no "broad center." Voters may not have any idea as to where they are on the political spectrum, but they have definite opinions as to what the right answers are. If they're given a set of questions and one then scores their answers on a right-left scale, Americans are a pretty leftist lot. True, both sides during primary votes are dominated by motivated, high-information voters, but Bai can't demonstrate, with actual, concrete examples, that Democrats are as equally ideological or intransigent as Republicans are. In order to maintain his narrative (that is based on a false equivalence), Bai has to be completely incoherent about the President. In one sentence, voters are "losing faith because [Obama] got rolled, and they’re still looking for someone — as they were in 2008 — who has the strength and shrewdness to reform the system." In a later sentence: "At least Mr. Obama seems determined to seek a grand compromise on cuts and revenues that would change the nation’s fiscal trajectory."

Erm, sorry, but "getting rolled" doesn't sound to me as though it's equal to having the "strength and shrewdness to reform the system" and wow, would anyone trust such a person to seek a "grand compromise"?!?!?! Going for a "grand compromise" and "getting rolled" sound to me like a surefire formula for a grand failure! How in the heck does all of that work in one package? Once one starts off one's analysis badly, one just goes downhill from there.

4 comments:

Online Roulette said...

A false equivalence fallacy occurs when someone falsely equates an act by one party as being equally egregious to that of another without taking into account the underlying differences which may make the comparison patently invalid.

herbal medicines said...

because they are a priori committed to an ontological explanation, and since that explanation has grown exceedingly divorced from the evidence [as interpreted under our best empirical knowledge of nature] they find themselves ever more and more drinking from the cup of anti-realism.

how to get rid of algae said...

I haven't seen any of that. I'm a liberal and I'm delighted at the news.

fake eyelashes said...

This is the most maddening of the Washington DC press corps' failings, this constant resort to false equivalence, the idea that "both sides do it.