Recently I wrote a diary called, “False Equivalence is the Worst Kind of ‘Alternative Fact.’” The second-worst kind is related, but takes a little longer to explain.
Avid readers of and listeners to driftglass and the Professional Left Podcast probably know that in his not-so-humble opinion, the most insidious, destructive, indefatigable political lie of the last quarter-century may be expressed in a simple seven-word trope that seems programmed into the See-’N’-Say of every political pundit and opinion-haver on the planet:
“Yeah, but Democrats are just as bad.”
Of course, they’re not. Which is not to say they’re not “bad” in certain respects, or that they’re immune to bad political behavior or that Republicans have a monopoly thereon. The key words are, “just as” (and, to a lesser extent, “Yeah, but”; more on that presently). No one is innocent of, or has a monopoly on, bad political behavior in general. But pretending that the nature, character, scale, scope, frequency, proportion and magnitude of such behavior is precisely and in all respects the same on Both Sides™ is just wrong, because it simply isn't.
If nothing else, this is borne out by the fact that for every time we’ve heard someone say, “Yeah, but Democrats are just as bad,” we haven’t heard the expression, “Yeah, but Republicans are just as bad” in anywhere close to the same proportion, if ever. The “Yeah” part of the former expression is typically an acknowledgment of some Republican political atrocity, while the rest of it attempts to excuse, forgive, justify, understate or minimize the magnitude or grotesquery of whatever “Yeah” refers to. If there have been Democratic atrocities that led purported Centrist™ pundits like Matthew Dowd or David Brooks or Ron Fournier, or even for that matter any liberal or Democratic-friendly pundits, to say, “Yeah, but Republicans are just as bad,” I’ve missed them.
The assumption — and the statement — that Both Sides™ are in all respects equally guilty of equivalent atrocities, is practically a requirement now in any political discussion one might have with anyone, be it with ideological rivals or allies. But that’s just the foundation for what I think is the second-worst kind of “alternative fact,” which coincidentally I’ve also written about before.
Yesterday on Facebook, in reaction to a report on Mediaite (sorry, I won’t link to that cesspool of bad craziness anymore) that blonde right-wing firebrand Tomi Lahren had been “banned permanently” from The Blaze because she had gone on The View and announced to the world that she was pro-choice, a friend of a friend wrote the following:
The bottom line is that there really is no room in the modern GOP for actively pro-choice sentiment. And there is similar hostility to pro-life sentiment amongst Democrats.
For reasons passing understanding, I violated my longstanding rule of never discussing politics on Facebook and called BS on this, saying it was a false equivalence. Without getting into a discussion here (or recapping the discussion there) of how and why the “hostility to pro-life sentiment amongst Democrats” (to the extent there is such a thing) is in no way “similar” to the “modern GOP”’s “hostility” to “actively pro-choice sentiment,” let alone the inherent dishonesty and hypocrisy of using a phony, self-congratulatory phrase like “pro-life” to disguise support for forced gestation, let me get to the point. This person (who, I should point out, claimed to be pro-choice and sympathetic to Democrats on this issue but is probably a libertarian) insisted repeatedly throughout the discussion that…
If a prominent Democratic voice suddenly announced publicly a pro-life position, she would be facing the same kind of backlash as Lahren.
If a Democrat did the equivalent of what Lauren did there would be a similar backlash from Democrats.
Democrats are just as likely to be intolerant of dissenting voices in abortion.
Democrats might very well operate in a similar fashion if someone strayed from orthodoxy on abortion.
What I am not fine with is criticizing Republicans for their unwillingness to tolerate dissent when Democrats would likely do the same.
Both parties are actually fairly equivalent ABOUT THE DEMAND FOR IDEOLOGICAL PURITY.
An outspoken pro-life Democrat would face a similar backlash.
BOTH Republicans AND Democrats have positions on abortion which would subject dissenters within their respective parties to ostracism and intolerance.
(bold emphasis added; ALL CAPS emphasis in original)
...without anything to back any of that up apart from his/her (and apparently my, and apparently everyone else’s) inability to name any “pro-life Democrats.” (Lay aside the fact that this person uses the proper nouns “Democrat” and “Republican” to refer vaguely, broadly and interchangeably to politicians, elected officials, candidates, party officials, and party-aligned pundits, media figures, outlets, think tanks, celebrities, voters and partisans generally.) Note how the language gets more equivocal as the conversation continues. And note the highlighted language; that’s the point I’m trying to get at here, and the point my counterpart was trying to make:
The issue is tolerance of dissent, not whether abortion itself is acceptable.
Lay aside also the fact that most people, as this person did, conflate “tolerance” with acquiescence and “intolerance” with criticism. Meaning, what they refer to as “unwillingness to tolerate dissent” usually means nothing more than declining to accept, agree with, acquiesce to, align oneself with, and/or refrain from disputing, criticizing or denigrating, something that one knows, or firmly believes, is wrong.
The second-worst kind of “alternative fact” after false equivalence is the idea that to simply “tolerate dissent” in the manner my friend’s friend suggests, is a virtue in itself. That “agreeing with the other side” for the sake of agreeing with the other side — and, perhaps more to the point, for the sake of being able to praise and congratulate oneself for doing so or for one’s “willingness to tolerate dissent” — is always a good, desirable and praiseworthy thing.
“Tolerat[ing] dissent” for the sake of tolerating dissent; “agreeing with the other side” for the sake of agreeing with the other side; refraining from dispute or criticism of ideas, positions, statements and opinions with which you strongly disagree or know for a fact are wrong, just so you can pat yourself on the back for being “tolerant” or “moderate” or “centrist” or “non-partisan” or fair to, equally accepting of, equally contemptuous of, or equally cynical about, Both Sides™, is neither virtuous nor praiseworthy. It serves no useful purpose whatsoever.
Simply put, not all “dissent” should be “tolerat[ed]”. Not all “dissent” is equivalent; neither, for that matter, is all “tolerance of dissent,” nor are the reasons why “dissent” should or should not be “tolerat[ed].” Let’s look again at that last statement:
The issue is tolerance of dissent, not whether abortion itself [or forced gestation] is acceptable.
I would say that “the issue” is both, because whether the former is desirable, virtuous or even appropriate is inextricably tied to and dependent upon the latter. My counterpart’s attempt to bifurcate them and pretend that one has absolutely nothing to do with the other is extraordinarily revealing. Again, the premise is that “tolerance of dissent” is both virtuous and desirable in and of itself, in all conceivable instances, utterly irrespective of context. And that “whether [x] is acceptable” should always yield to “tolerance of dissent.”
No, no, no.
I put it this way: The answers to the questions, “Why should Republicans tolerate those who support choice?” and “Why should Democrats tolerate those who support forced gestation?” are not the same. That is, unless the answer to each is, “because tolerating dissent is always a good thing,” which it isn’t, “because everyone should be willing to tolerate dissent,” which is true but immaterial, or “because your own opinion or belief should always yield to tolerance of dissent,” which is just wrong.