Monday, October 17, 2011

A not-entirely-false equivalence of blame between the parties

Primed by James FallowsGreg Sargent, and Steve Benen, I'm on high alert for false equivalence -- reporter's language blaming government dysfunction equally on both parties, when it's Republicans who have taken the filibuster and other means of blocking legislative action to unprecedented extremes while opposing and demonizing a host of policies that they've historically supported.  So the radar started blinking when I came across this in a Financial Times editorial:
For the last three years, the country has been paralysed by a political gridlock that has put its future on the line. Both Republicans and Democrats are to blame – 

 But then, I was stopped by the actual "equivalence":
the Grand Old Party for its callous obstruction of all Democratic initiatives and President Barack Obama for his naïve neglect of the need for muscular leadership.
In other words, the Republicans are to blame for trampling all the norms of responsible government and prudent policy, and Obama is to blame for letting them.  And that, as I think almost all the president's supporters have acknowledged by now, is quite true.

The next paragraph reverses the sequence, however, moving from a fair "equivalence"...
Politicians in both camps have failed to spot and channel the righteous anger of those who have seen government spend billions on bailing out banks, 
 To a false one...
while bickering over how to create jobs or educate children. One opportunity after another has been squandered – most recently in the failure promptly to pass a proper jobs bill. 
This is nonsense. The Obama administration failed to 'channel the righteous anger' over banks by failing to energetically pursue mortgage relief and force it on the banks, failing early to curb the AIG bonus debacle, and failing (so far) to stage a fight over GOP obstruction of Obama's nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Rather than "bickering" over jobs, the parties more or less agreed for a year and half to ignore the imperative to create them -- while a substantial part of their energy was indeed engaged in the Democrats' efforts to curb banks' risk-taking and consumer abuse, countered by Republicans' efforts to block all substantive regulation.  As for the current "failure promptly to pass a proper jobs bill,"  here the FT is guilty of a failure forthrightly to ascribe agency, i.e. to acknowledge that the Republicans are blocking a package of measures they've historically supported, while abstaining from proposing anything that any sane economist would credit with a chance to reduce joblessness in the near term.

Fair enough to blame the Democrats -- and Obama in particular -- for weak resistance to irrational and malicious obstructionism.  Misleading to imply equivalent malfeasance when it comes to actual policy prescriptions.


  1. I think the Democrats have also failed in some of their typical ways. Now, I think it's stupid and/or partisan to completely blame one party, but I sense that the Democrats are trying to do that. By doing that, they're wasting valuable energy when they could be giving themselves a long, hard look and figuring how to improve. The results of the 2010 election were visible for quite a distance, but the Dems just kept marching in the same formation.

    Not that I give the Repubs a pass, but I also have no hope of influencing them. You can only make your own team better, not the other team.

  2. Blaming the R's for using the legislative tools at their disposal seems disingenuous. Not being able to ram through whatever the D's want may be irritating to some crony capitalists and leftists, but the goal is not to rope us all together so the majority can drag us all over the edge.

    Also disingenuous is using the "historical support" argument. These times are different: financially, economically, militarily, internationally. Stuff that the R's may have supported (i.e., gone along with in the spirit of bipartisanship) may no longer make sense. The D's historically supported the KKK and prohibition (circa the 1920's). Does this mean they should continue to do so now?