“It’s a struggle with no heroes,” declared The Associated Press in reporting its poll on Americans’ attitudes toward the partial government shutdown. The country is holding Republicans primarily responsible, the AP-GfK survey shows, “but the situation is fluid nine days into the shutdown and there’s plenty of disdain to go around.”
In other words, it is a pox on both houses.
Partisans despise pox-on-both-houses stories. On the right and left, from the White House to the House speaker’s office, politicians spend their time, energy, and credibility on narrow-minded quests to defend their infallibility. One way they do it is to accuse journalists of “false equivalence.”
A false equivalence is to describe a situation as having logical and apparent equivalence when in fact there is none. For example, I believe it would be false equivalence to say Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame for the government shutdown and the possibility of a debt default. Republicans engineered the shutdown to protest a three-year-old health care law, knowing their defund-or-delay demands were unattainable. False equivalence is a form of intellectual laziness.
There is no false equivalence in the AP story or the public attitudes it reflects — 62 percent blame Republicans for the showdown. About half said Obama or Democrats in Congress bear much responsibility. Nothing equal about it.
At the same time, voters don’t absolve the Democratic majority in the Senate or President Obama himself. Only 37 percent approve of the way the president is handling his job, an anemic number. Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has a favorability rating of just 18 percent, the same as House Speaker John Boehner. The president was unable or unwilling to gain GOP support for Obamacare in 2010, he failed over the last three years to sell the public on the law’s many merits, and his peevish rhetoric this month has at times been less than presidential. In other words, Obama isn’t perfect.
“Somebody needs to jerk those guys together and get a solution, instead of just saying ‘no,’” independent voter Martha Blair told AP. “It’s just so frustrating.”
When I tweeted this story with a pox-on-all-houses teaser, the response was predictable. Liberal partisans clutched their cliché. False equivalence! A typical response (from a regular and thoughtful liberal reader):
“@jackthecat11: @AP Way to find a poll that looks bad for Obama to balance GOP’s catastrophic drop. You’re pretty dug in on this false equiv.”
That is wrong. The story and poll assess blame unequally, which is the exact opposite of false equivalence. What the poll reflects is the ability of voters to look beyond naked ideology and demand better of their leaders — to hold them accountable fairly, if not equally, regardless of party or slice of blame. As I wrote the day before the shutdown began, both parties are in danger of losing the future if they aren’t accountable today.
Somewhere along the line, partisans started conflating false equivalence with any thought that challenges their rigid, absolutist points of view. In politics and in everyday life, rarely are both sides equally wrong. Rarer still is one side 100 percent right. In this era of zero-sum gain politics, the logical fallacy more pronounced than false equivalence is false purity. It is intellectually dishonest.
What We're Following See More »
"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."
Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."