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False equivalence

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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.

Comments

Sooo

What is your cure for this ...whatever

jon pisano

Commenters have to stop

with all of this centrist, Blue Dog nonsense and admit that lefty solutions are valid. Especially annoying is the NY Times columnist Tom Friedman, with his talk of a "radical center" and such.
Democrats are tagged as the "tax-and-spend" party. Y'know what? Let's own that description, let's stop trying to deny it (No one believes Democratic denials anyway) and forthrightly advocate higher spending as being good for the nation.
All of this talk from the Obama Administration about being able to both cut the budget and to create jobs just results in confused, incoherent talking points. They oughtta stop being all "wobbly" and come down firmly on the side of "spend more to achieve more."