“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.
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With three days until the first debate, the polls are coming fast and furious. The latest round:
- An Associated Press/Gfk poll of registered voters found very few voters committed, with Clinton leading Trump, 37% to 29%, and Gary Johnson at 7%.
- A McClatchy-Marist poll gave Clinton a six-point edge, 45% to 39%, in a four-way ballot test. Johnson pulls 10% support, with Jill Stein at 4%.
- Rasmussen, which has drawn criticism for continually showing Donald Trump doing much better than he does in other polls, is at it again. A new survey gives Trump a five-point lead, 44%-39%.
In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shunning traditional debate preparations, but has been watching video of…Clinton’s best and worst debate moments, looking for her vulnerabilities.” Trump “has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers.”
Donald Trump "is on the precipice of becoming the only major-party presidential candidate this century not to reach out to millions of American voters whose dominant, first or just preferred language is Spanish. Trump has not only failed to buy any Spanish-language television or radio ads, he so far has avoided even offering a translation of his website into Spanish, breaking with two decades of bipartisan tradition."
Bill and Hillary Clinton have purchased the home next door to their primary residence in tony Chappaqua, New York, for $1.16 million. "By purchasing the new home, the Clinton's now own the entire cul-de-sac at the end of the road in the leafy New York suburb. The purchase makes it easier for the United States Secret Service to protect the former president and possible future commander in chief."