Can Independents Keep FECES Out of the Guber Debate?

I enjoy discussing public affairs issues, but I increasingly avoid the subject with many of my friends. Too often, conversations dead-end when conflict averse friends make assertions of false equivalence, or what has been termed “Fake Equivalence Conflict Ending Strategies (FECES).”

For instance, on the subject of Republicans abusing the U.S. Senate fillibuster rules, conservative and centrist friends will shut down the conversation by saying that “both parties have done that through history.” On the subject of Democrats loading the budget with uncontrolled entitlement programs, liberal and centrist friends will stop the exhange by saying “the Medicare prescription drug benefit shows Republicans are just as guilty.”

Complete and utter FECES.

Yes, both Republicans and Democrats have filibustered. But the record shows that Republicans have recently taken the practice to dramatic depths.

Yes, Republicans also have passed entitlements financed by deficit spending, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit. But that pales in comparison to the body of entitlement work parented by Democrats over the years.

These kinds of differences are very relevant if we are to have an accountable political system. How we debate and how we think through issues matters. Before accepting A=B and B=C therefore A=C, we MUST apply facts and logic to prove or disprove those equal signs! Because when research or logic uncovers a “≠,” the logic of the assertion collapses.

In Minnesota, the Independence Party particularly seems to be built on a foundation of FECES. Their core rationale essentially is that “both major parties are equally dumb/immoral/unethical/corrupt/inept” and therefore the only choice for non- dumb/immoral/unethical/corrupt/inept people is to vote for us.”

That’s a copout. The differences between the parties are real and easily discernible. The major parties are similar in some ways, such as a shared addiction to power retention. But there are big policy and performance differences, and it is our job as voters to dig deep to understand those differences, rather than buying into the myth of sameness.

I confess that I’ve voted for Independent Party candidates for Governor, and may do it again this year. But sooner or later the Indendence Party has to have a foundation that is more substantive than their stale “we’re not them!” cheer.

Maybe this year will be different. A leading candidate for the Independence Party nomination for Governor in 2010 is a fellow named Tom Horner. Despite being a PR guy, Horner is a bright, decent and thoughtful Republican refugee. He is the kind of guy who has the potential to lead the Independents to being something more than a None-of-the-Above Party launching yet another tiresome FECES fight. It will be interesting to see if he does.

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Are Reid and Lott Statements Morally Equivalent?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is being challenged to step down from his leadership post because he said something racial. After all, says Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, Republican Senate Majority Trent Lott was forced to step down when he said something racial.

But are the two remarks really morally equivalent?

Reid privately observed that Obama may be more acceptable to some white voters than past unsuccessful African American candidates because he was lighter skinned and didn’t have a traditional African American dialect. The observation about Obama’s pigment and parlance are factual. The observation about those things making him more politically viable than past African American presidential candidates may or may not be correct. But it was electoral analysis about intolerance, not endorsement of intolerance.

On the other hand, Lott told a crowd:

“When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”

Now remember, Strom Thurmond was the segregationist candidate in 1948. So that statement was clearly an endorsement of a set of grossly unjust segregationist policies that banned millions of Americans from achieving the American dream available to white Americans.

Reid was making an observation about public bigotry, while Lott was cheerleading for it. The two statements are hardly moral equivalent.

– Loveland
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The Truth About False Equivalence

Of all the errors that reporters and voters make in political communications, the most prevalent and dangerous may well be the error of false equivalence.

False equivalence – also recently described in a terrific Washington Post piece as “the symmetry of sin” — works like this: Candidate A has made an error. Candidate B has made an error. With little or no exploration or thought, the errors are judged to be equally egregious, and therefore the candidates are equally damned.

The problem is the errors committed by Candidate’s A and B are almost never equally egregious. The errors are only treated as equal because reporters and voters are too lazy, uninformed, dim and/or self-righteous to form and express an opinion about which error is more significant.

What types of errors am I talking about?

 Candidate A votes with a particular interest group 5% of the time. Candidate B votes with the same interest group 90% of the time. Therefore, a judgment is made that “they both vote with that interest group, and are therefore equally bad.”

 Candidate A makes an argument that is correct at it’s core, but contains a relatively small technical error. Candidate B makes an argument that is at its core is completely, knowingly and demonstrably false. A judgment is made that “they both are liars and equally untrustworthy.”

 Candidate A has been fighting for Issue Z as part of a political institution. Candidate B has been fighting against Issue Z as part of the same political institution. Therefore, a judgment is made “that the candidates are equally blameworthy because they are part of the institution that failed to enact Issue Z.”

By the way, I’m stating these as abstruse hypotheticals in a probably futile attempt to focus on the method of reasoning, and not get bogged down on the factual basis of particular debates.

As a frequent practitioner of false equivalency, I can tell you it feels darn good. It makes us feel wise, noble, and above the fray. It makes us feel more mature and measured than the people with those messy opinions. It makes reporters feel “balanced.” It liberates us from the brain cramps and pulled Googling muscles associated with digging below the surface rhetoric.

But the error of false equivalence may be the most dangerous phenomena facing our democracy, because it frees us from the burden of thought, robbing democracy of its most essential fuel.

– Loveland

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