Sunday, April 4, 2010

RedState's whopping adolescent non sequitur

You have no doubt heard about the threats and vandalism surrounding the vote on health care reform in the House March 21.  Talking Points memo prepared a catalog of the mayhem for your perusal should your memory need refreshing. 

RedState's approach to this phenomenon has been one whopping adolescent non sequitur

I know I'm a bit late with this, but I am lucky enough to be employed full time.  I do what I can.

Erick Erickson's general approach has been to avoid his own party's complicity and blame Democrats for the whole thing. This isn't surprising, as I have said before, given the Republican Party's refusal to take responsibility for anything. He and Moe Lane love to point out that Republicans are also targets of threats and vandalism. According to Erickson:
The threats, potential acts of violence, and violence against those who voted for the health care legislation must be condemned. . . . I have heard the audio of some of the threats. I get worse stuff routinely. Rush Limbaugh gets worse stuff on a daily basis. Republican members of Congress have gotten similar and worse stuff. Thank God this wasn’t a free trade vote or a variety of left wing groups would have half the country in flames right now.
Erickson says that Democrats shouldn’t be surprised and that they were playing with fire by passing the health care reform bill.  In another post, Erickson writes, "We’re not the ones stirring the pot of socialism taking over the private sector. The Democrats are. We’ve just been pointing out the facts that . . . the Democrats find so inconvenient including, yes, the so called 'death panels.'" According to Erickson, "[H]ad the Democrats not done what they did none of this would be happening. . . . Oh, and let’s not forget Alan Grayson on the floor of the House saying the GOP wants people to die." (Erickson, of course, conveniently neglects to mention Republicans warning Americans that they would die if health care reform were passed.)  In that post, he repeats the claim that Democratic supporters are also guilty of violence. "[I]f we go back to the August townhalls," writes Erickson, "7 out of 10 violent acts were by Democrat supporters. And now? Police say the bullet that hit Eric Cantor’s office was most likely random, but it is not definitive. What about the threats his office has gotten in the past week? What about the threats Congresswoman Schmidt received or the other Republicans?"

Moe Lane's glee in pointing out violent behavior among Democratic supporters is apparent. In the post "DNC successful: Ablemarle County GOP HQ attacked," Lane quotes a report that "someone threw bricks through the headquarter’s [sic] windows, breaking three of them." He writes, "If I were the Albemarle County GOP, I’d send the bill for the windows to the Democratic National Committee. After all, they adamantly refused to take responsibility for their own rhetoric, so it only seems fair that they at least pay out some monetary compensation for their demagoguery." Lane also reports, "[T]he United States Attorney in Philadelphia filed 'a two-count complaint and warrant . . . charging Norman Leboon with threatening to kill United States Congressman Eric Cantor and his family.'" You can probably guess what Lane's response is to uproar over Sarah Palin's "reload map." He directs us to a Verum Serum post blaming Democrats for the same fundraising tactics, i.e., using maps and language that "are, if anything, more militant than what Palin used in her Facebook posting."

To summarize, RedState's response to the vandalism and threats by Republican supporters and their incitement by Republican leaders is as follows:
  1. Democratic supporters are guilty of vandalism and threats; 
  2. Democratic leaders are guilty of inciting those acts. 
  3. Democrats were asking for it.  
Now, what is wrong with this response?  Well, when one summarizes it as I have, the fog lifts and its problems come into view.  Let's just grant the truth of (1).  It wouldn't surprise me if some Democratic supporters resort to criminal acts.  And if (1) is true, then (2) probably has a kernel of truth in it.  Whether we hold a person A responsible for the actions of another person B, however, we have to ask: what did A do to incite B to act?  The more inflammatory A's behavior or language, the more responsible A is for inciting B.  And though I don't have the time now to do this research for you, there is no question that the behavior and language on the right has been far more inflammatory than behavior and language on the left.  One would have to be uninformed or in the grip of a partisan fantasy to claim otherwise.  The right has all of the "responsibility-free talkers on television and radio" as David Frum puts it.  The left has MSNBC, but their rhetoric simply doesn't compare to that of, say, Michael Savage.  While RedState is quick to blame Democratic leaders for inciting their supporters to criminal behavior, however, they say absolutely nothing about the culpability of Republican leaders for inciting the same behavior. 

But the more important question is this.  Let's suppose that (1) and (2) are both true.  What possible relevance does that have to this issue?  In the end, the correct answer is, I believe, "None."  The issues are these: Republican supporters have been threatening Democratic lawmakers and committing vandalism, and Republicans are responsible for inciting some of their behavior.  Erickson addresses the first issue by saying the behavior must be condemned.  But he does so in passing; he clearly seems interested in other matters.  By accusing Democratic leaders and supporters of doing the same things, they aren't really addressing the issue at all; they are shifting their (and our) attention to something else that only seems to be related simply because it is on the same topic, i.e., threats and vandalism. 

Why has RedState chosen to respond to the threats and vandalism in the way that they have?  Let's survey some possibilities.
  1. Erickson and Lane are saying that the behavior of Republican leaders and supporters is permissible since Democratic leaders and supporters are guilty of the same behavior.  Everyone is familiar with this method, employed by children, of justifying objectionable behavior.  And anyone familiar with logic knows that this maneuver is a fallacy.  One cannot justify the behavior on the right merely by claiming that some people on the left engage in the same behavior.  Erickson asserts repeatedly that we ought not condone the threats and vandalism, however, and I would like to be charitable and take him at his word.  But if I do, then it would seem to follow that Erickson himself does not recognize the irrelevance of his own comments on this issue.  Therefore, either Erickson is resorting to the child's method of self-defense, or he is unaware of a basic point in rudimentary critical thinking texts. 
  2. Erickson and Lane are saying that all such behavior is wrong, and consistency demands that anyone who condemns such behavior among Republican leaders and supporters condemn the same behavior among Democratic leaders and supporters.  Perhaps they are criticizing the media for failing to cover and condemn criminal acts by Democrats.  Anyone who has read RedState enough knows that their bloggers buy into the myth of the liberal media.  On the other hand, it is probably true that most of the behavior in question has been perpetrated by Republican leaders and supporters, so naturally it will receive the lion's share of the coverage.  But even if we interpret them as having this motivation, it is clear that they are attempting to divert attention away from the issues at hand and toward alleged objectionable behavior among Democrats.  
  3. Erickson and Lane are worried that the threats and vandalism reflect badly on conservatives, so they are concerned with pointing out that liberals also engage in the same behavior in order to reestablish parity.  Sorry, RedState, but this isn't going to work.  There's a reason that stereotypical Republicans are portrayed as an intolerant, prejudiced, fearful, anti-intellectual, gun-toting regular folk having compassion only for corporations: because there is some truth in that stereotype, and Republicans have been nurturing that stereotype for decades by appealing to just that sort of person for support.  And for that reason, attempting to graft a similar stereotype onto liberals comes off as a bit desperate and absurd.  Of course, stereotypes can only be generally true, if they are true at all.  There are plenty of Republicans who do not fit the stereotype: I know a few.  But even if we suppose that this maneuver does work, how is it relevant to the matter at hand?  It is not. Again, they are diverting your attention away from the issues at hand and toward alleged objectionable behavior among Democrats. 
Finally, let us consider (3): Democrats were asking for it.  This is not the first time I have dealt with this kind of argument from the right.  Even The Onion has dealt with it.  If the threats and vandalism ought to be condemned as Erickson claims, then why claim that Democrats were asking for it?  If the behavior in question is wrong, then it doesn't matter what the Democrats were asking for.  The behavior ought to be condemned, and that's that.  All kinds of reprehensible behavior can be excused in this manner: had he not been so annoying, he wouldn't have been assaulted; had she not dressed so provocatively, she wouldn't have been raped, and so on.  It makes it sound as if the victim is to blame: he shouldn't have been so annoying; she shouldn't have been so attractive, and so on.  But is it true that the Democrats ought not to have passed health care reform?  They were lawfully elected and lawfully passed the legislation.  Democrats did nothing wrong.

So we see that RedState's response to the threats and vandalism is a non sequitur: it is completely irrelevant to the issues at hand. But RedState isn't interested in sound thinking.  The fallacies they commit are convincing, especially to a readership that has been groomed to accept them.  For them, if Democrats enact legislation to which they are opposed, and Democratic supporters engage in criminal behavior, perhaps incited by a handful of Democratic leaders and pundits, then there is nothing wrong with spitting on congressmen, referring to congressmen with the n-word, threatening congressmen, and damaging private property.  They were asking for it, after all.  And this comes from the family values, law and order party.  Republicans truly have lost their souls.

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