Z-Files Episode 9, 03/13/2012
I'm Stuart Zechman, and I've been hearing the phrase "false
equivalence" being used lately in ways I've never heard before.
You remember what "false equivalence" is, right?
It's when someone points out what appears to be a similarity between
two things that are, in reality, not equivalent at all.
I'm pretty darn familiar with the expression, because, especially
during the 2000s, the national press corps would put their centrist
biases on display by manufacturing false equivalences all the time.
The centrist media would routinely couch its reporting in language
"...the extreme rhetoric from both liberals and conservatives
in the debate over the Iraq invasion became even more heated than
usual this week, as Ann Coulter's new book 'Treason: Liberal
Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism' topped the
New York Times best-seller list..."
and we'd say, whoah-whoah, hold on a minute there...we movement
liberals are saying that, in addition to it being weirdly immoral to
invade a country for basically no reason, and then spend the next
decade occupying hostile foreign lands, it's a stupendously bad idea
in policy terms, because it makes America less safe to bankrupt
ourselves whilst inspiring more and more people around the world to
dedicate themselves to blowing us up than would otherwise. Like,
say, if we weren't pointlessly blowing up people who are just trying
to go about their lives in their homes day after day, year after
The movement conservatives, on the other hand, were saying that, by
definition, liberals are traitors. During wartime. Also, Joe
McCarthy was right, and McCarthyism was a good thing...because
liberals really are traitors who would love to sell out their
country during a time of war, because we don't like America or
Americans. Ann Coulter would say things on television and in print
like “Liberals have a preternatural gift for always striking a
position on the side of treason,” and “Everyone says
liberals love America, too. No, they don’t.” That was June of
2003, by the way. It was just a few months into the Iraq war, and
just a year and a half after 9/11, and that's what movement
conservatives were saying about their fellow Americans, that we were
trying to betray our country just because of who we are.
Now, anybody can see that these two sets of arguments aren't the
same. They're just not equivalent. That would be false
And so it became a pretty widely accepted critique of the centrist
media on the left, for good reason.
But I've noticed something: "false equivalence" now means something
When I've said that prime time MSNBC sounds sometimes like the same
partisan, propaganda channel devoted to the political empowerment of
a single Party we liberal Democrats used to mock, I'm now told that
I'm engaging in "false equivalence."
And when I've said that Eric Holder's declaration based on a secret
legal memo that when it comes to the government assassinating
American citizens, "due process" doesn't necessarily mean "judicial
process," sounds like John Yoo at a "24" DVD drinking party, I'm now
told that I'm engaging in "false equivalence."
It now means "When Democrats do the same thing that Republicans
do, pointing out those facts is engaging in false equivalence,
because, although it may appear to be similar policy regimes,
Democrats are basically good, and have people's interests at
heart, while Republicans are nasty, evil racists and misogynists
who motivated purely by hatred of liberals like us."
According to this view, Democrats in power can't possibly be like
Republicans, even when they do identical things, because, by
definition, liberals are good, and, by definition, conservatives are
But when Paul Krugman accurately writes that Mitt Romney's
"signature achievement was a health reform identical in all
important respects to the national reform signed into law by
President Obama four years later," it just can't be "false
equivalence" to call the Affordable Care Act "Romney-Care," even if
that makes some Democrats mad to hear it described that way.
You know, we liberal Democrats like to say that we're "the
reality-based community." If that term is to continue to have any
meaning at all, and not become the tragic joke of the 2012 election
cycle, we movement liberals should probably spend less time yelling
about false equivalence between Democrats and Republicans, and more
time pointing out the actual equivalence between some
Democratic and Republican policies...no matter which party
happens to be in charge at the time.
I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.