“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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Instead of his usual stump speech, Bernie Sanders tonight threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, providing a clear contrast between Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump on the many issues he used to discuss in his campaign stump speeches. Sanders spoke glowingly about the presumptive Democratic nominee, lauding her work as first lady and as a strong advocate for women and the poor. “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” he said. “Hillary Clinton will make a great president, and I am proud to stand with her tonight."
In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.
"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.
Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.
The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."