The Eclectic Quill

October 14, 2008

The Fallacy of False Equivalence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 5:32 pm

David Frum was on the Rachel Maddow show last night, and attempted to equate the sarcasm of Maddow with the hatred that has been spewed on the McCain Campaign trail. Maddow rightly called him out on this fallacy, calling it a "false equivalence." I found this utterance striking in it’s ability to succinctly and perfectly articulate what many of the pundits have been doing with this and other negative issues on the campaign. Much of it is like responding to someone who has kicked you in the shin with a knee to the groin, and then declaring "we both hit below the belt." Technically the statement may be true, but they are hardly the same degree of offense. There are a host of issues which have been defended in similar ways.

Among them is the Acorn issue, in the news again today. It seems that if you bring up voter purging the response is "what about voter fraud," as though there any similarity between the two. In one case a couple of thousand voter cards were filled out, flagged as being dubious, and turned over to the proper authorities as required by law. In the other, hundreds of thousands are being purged from voter registration. In the first even Republicans admit that fraudulent voting is not an issue, only fraudulent voter registration. Few, if any illegal votes will be cast as a result of ACORN, certainly not enough to alter the course of the election. In the latter, at least one, and possibly two election have hinged on the outcome of the mass disenfranchisement of voters. This year seems no different as there are reports of voter purging in just about every battleground state. There’s little reason to believe that "Jimmy Johns" will turn up to vote, but there is plenty of reason to suspect that James Johnson might be deprived of that right because his namesake is a felon. Yet, while the MSM has contributed considerable focus to the former, they’ve almost conscientiously avoided the latter. This is not a comparison, it is a false equivalence.

In his latest column Glenn Beck seems to say that comparing John McCain to Rush Limbaugh is even worse than Obama being compared to William Ayers. He argues that Limbaugh’s relationship with McCain is better known for being adversarial. While I will agree that Obama’s ads linking certain statements of Limbaugh to McCain were indeed unfair, I would hardly say that that comparison is in the same league as trying to persuade the public that Obama has ties to terrorists. Beck then goes on to suggest that there’s no hint of racism in McCain’s and Palin’s attacks on Obama because Ayers is a "pasty white guy." The Obama attack ad ran for a couple of days. The animosity between McCain and Limbaugh was in large part over an immigration bill authored by McCain which Rush did not like. In fairness to Obama McCain now opposes that legislation and promised to veto it if he were elected. In other words, on the issue in question there actually isn’t an ideological difference between the two. With Ayers, Obama has condemned the acts by Ayers, didn’t know him when he was committing them, and oh yeah, he was also an eight year old kid. Now he condemns the acts. In suggesting that he "pals around with terrorists" as Palin does, or in accusing Obama of "holding a career-launching state Senate campaign event at the home of an unrepentant terrorist" the inclusion of the word "terrorist" suggests some ideological connection, that somehow it is not William Ayers, the UIC professor, Chicago citizen of the year, and renown education reformer with whom there may be some ideological sync, but William Ayers, the domestic terrorist. Including the word "unrepentant" seems to annul the notion of reformed. William Ayers is not presently a terrorist, and Obama has never known him as such. Yet John McCain and Rush Limbaugh do presently have an ideological symmetry in terms of immigration, yet to Glen Beck the terrorist attacks are fair, but the Rush attacks are not.

As I wrote yesterday there is another false comparison made by Joe Scarborough, who wants to say that on the right there are those who scream terrorist and kill him at political rallies, who take things too far to the right. Then he says that on the left there are those who won’t admit that Barack’s middle name is Hussein. He almost seems to suggest that if only we on the left would "admit" that were his middle name then all the hatred would stop. This is not some point on which we take middle ground! There’s no "balance" to death threats being hurled at campaign rallies! There’s no equivalence on Obama’s side. Sometimes it seems to be this festering need of those on the right that if they admit they have done something wrong they have to point a finger along with their admission. Scarborough’s suggestion is yet another false equivalence.

I’ve been reading about how with the economy there is "plenty of blame to go around" and how "both sides" have contributed. Again, I’ll say that to a degree some of those things are true. Yet in some ways, it is a stretch to say so. For instance it was the Democrats who pushed through the legislation which allowed for sub-prime mortgages and for years they existed without abuse. Then Phil Gramm pushed through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, and that’s when all the abuses started. In a sense it is like stating that whoever invented fire was equally at fault for starting the Chicago fire. Furthermore, the primary problem with the economy is not just what has happened in the last few weeks. That’s just the blooming of the black rose; the bush has been growing since 1980. The economic collapse is the result of 28 years minus eight of laze-faire, supply-side, flat tax, big deficit economics that has been reckless and irresponsible. Yet now we are going to see how the democrats are "equally" responsible. Sorry, that just isn’t true. This is yet another false equivalence.

These guys may be disingenuous in their attacks, but they are not stupid. Don’t think for a minute that there is no purpose to their madness. Even in admitting their guy is wrong they encircle it with accusations and disdain for the other guy, and innuendo that he has done the same. The thing to remember here is that they are not trying to get you to for McCain, they are trying to get you disgusted with the process. They are hoping you become so disgruntled that you will decide that no on one deserves your vote and you won’t go. I hope that enough of us will be able to see through the proverbial smoke. We simply can’t afford to have another four years of the same failed policies and the only method we have to change it is to vote. Remember this on election day.



  1. again i applaud you, very powerful kelly~you are on the money, they are trying to disgust the voters. it’s not working here in PA!

    Comment by CK0712 — October 14, 2008 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

  2. Wow, professional, polite, poised, powerful: Rachel Maddow. Absolutely in rhetorical and factual command.

    Note that Frum tries to talk over and interrupt her several times. Rachel never shouts, nor does she allow him to take over: she merely requests that he let her finish, just as she quietly listened to him speak a moment earlier.

    She never cuts off his mike, she never calls him names, she doesn’t storm out of the studio. She says she hopes he enjoyed being on the show and thanks him at the end.

    But now I understand why the right hates Rachel: she’s a fighter jet fully armed with sarcasm, the one weapon “Rrrreal MMEENN” are terrified of in the hands of a woman.

    Rachel’s a crack shot.

    Comment by JMarra — October 15, 2008 @ 8:13 am | Reply

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