False equivalence troops, attack!

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 16:27 EDT
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With the recent TSA controversy, many right wingers who got full of themselves as warriors for liberty and justice, fighting the battle for white people’s civil rights to demand that only other people get man-handled at airport security. They would prove that they totally love liberty, and all that Tea Party shit was about revolution, not about them wishing that they could live when women couldn’t vote and slavery was legal. The only problem with this is that liberals were there first—all these freedom fighters who wanted to complain and perhaps sue had to go to the ACLU, that organization they usually condemn with all their liberty-loving ways. Liberals were there first, they believe those rights belong to everyone, they are always fighting for them no matter who is President, and they tend to care about civil liberties even when Fox News isn’t pointing their nose in a certain direction. Which means that even with the TSA uproar in their pockets, conservatives really sound stupid when they wail about liberty, since they’re usually the people pushing back against liberals of various stripes who actually fight for it.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re going to give up, oh no! They are simply going to whip out the weapon they always whip out, which is being full of shit. Mission: accuse liberals of doing what you yourself are doing, and hope that the lie gets legs.

Exhibit #1, Ross Douthat, liar extraordinaire.

Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been president when the Transportation Security Administration decided to let Thanksgiving travelers choose between exposing their nether regions to a body scanner or enduring a private security massage. Democrats would have been outraged at yet another Bush-era assault on civil liberties. Liberal pundits would have outdone one another comparing the T.S.A. to this or that police state. (“In an outrage worthy of Enver Hoxha’s Albania …”) And Republicans would have leaped to the Bush administration’s defense, while accusing liberals of going soft on terrorism.

But Barack Obama is our president instead, so the body-scanner debate played out rather differently. True, some conservatives invoked 9/11 to defend the T.S.A., and some liberals denounced the measures as an affront to American liberties. Such ideological consistency, though, was the exception; mostly, the Bush-era script was read in reverse. It was the populist right that raged against body scans, and the Republican Party that moved briskly to exploit the furor. It was a Democratic administration that labored to justify the intrusive procedures, and the liberal commentariat that leaped to their defense.

Except, as the sleazy little liar knows very well, most liberal commentators did not leap to the defense of the Obama administration. On the contrary, this became one more issue where the Obama administration found itself at odds with its liberal/progressive base. Douthat’s examples aren’t typical. More typical is the ACLU’s reaction. Or Glenn Greenwald’s. Or Chris Hayes and Adam Serwer claiming they’re on team “don’t touch my junk”. Even the Ames and Levine piece that was rightly criticized for spending time attacking citizen activists instead of focusing their guns strictly on big money people? Well, in that piece they declare that they’re against the TSA protocols.

Douthat is trying to conflate liberals with Democrats, to create a false equivalence because you can more easily equate conservatives with Republicans. He needs for people to believe that liberals are infantile culture warriors like conservatives are, because then conservatives “get” to be infantile culture warriors. The people who benefit when the standard of discourse is lowered are conservatives, and Douthat knows this, so he’s doing his part. But of course, he’s lying. He’s not wrong that liberal outrage would be turned up if this happened under Bush—human nature and all—but only by a decibel point. For conservatives, that it’s under Obama means it’s turned up to 11, as it were, and if it was under Bush, it would be exactly like it was before, occasional grousing that they don’t racially profile. And even that would be blamed on liberals, as it was before. Meanwhile, liberal outrage would be even more muted by quisling Democrats who don’t want to seem “soft on terror”. How do I know all this? Well, it’s not like the TSA wasn’t up in your business before the Obama administration, and so I have actual real world evidence of how people react. And the evidence shows that liberal outrage has grown in volume right along with the invasiveness of the procedures. It’s conservative outrage that’s dependent on who is President. It’s conservatives who need their outrage fueled by ridiculous partisan lies, such as the one floating around about how Muslim women are exempted.

Exhibit #2 in the projection Olympics: James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, who at least grapples with the fact that bona fide progressives are likely to be against security theater. Well, no, actually, he doesn’t grapple with it. He brings it up to dismiss it. And he really catches my attention doing so by making it about the piece I wrote in the Guardian where I accused both parties of being more interested in campaign contributions than in civil liberties.

I can see why my piece is a problem for conservatives who received whatever talking points memo they get that told them to accuse liberals of partisanship in order to distract from how partisan conservatives really are being. Here am I, a bona fide liberal, stating an unpleasant fact, which is that liberal/progressives tend to be a third tier of American politics. Not that liberals don’t vote for Democrats, but after they do, they spend their time fighting them and bitterly complaining, whereas conservatives are only angry at Republicans if they’re not winning. Once they win, the teabaggers of the world are satiated, happily reassured that assholes still rule America. Liberals are rolling up this TSA thing into a set of things we’re pissed at the Obama administration for: continuing Bush era policies of illegal detention, selling out the country to corporate interests even on health care reform, etc. Meanwhile, conservatives are so linked in to the Republican party that even the most extreme of them—the people who start militias and take violent action against abortion clinics—settle down if a Republican is in office, even if he doesn’t enact the policies they like.

But it’s extremely important for conservatives to push a false equivalence. So, despite the overwhelming evidence against his point, Taranto pushes on. In fact, he uses my article, which is some strong evidence against his contention, as evidence for his point. Which is just flexing authoritarian muscles. He’s basically telling liberal readers, “My audience is so sheeplike, they will believe whatever I tell them. To demonstrate, I’ll refer to an article that is making the opposite of the point that I say it makes, and my moron readers will eat it up.”

What he says I said:

Marcotte acknowledges that “many Democratic-leaning journalists and pundits seem content to attack dishonest and shady rightwing TSA critics–without examining in detail why such security procedures are invasive and need to stop”–which actually describes her own op-ed quite well.

What I actually said:

Not that the people defending the TSA are free from the taint of corporate cash and interests. If anything, the Democrats defending the new protocols are just as beholden to lobbyists’ dollars. As USA Today reports, the companies that supply the body-scanning machines have more than doubled their spending trying to convince the government to buy more of the machines.

Emphasis mine. And then the quote that he claims is me “groping” for an argument, where I rather clearly state that a handful of Democratic partisans should be ashamed of themselves, and then this:

Who does that leave in this game who isn’t corrupt and/or in favour of a more authoritarian, paranoid society? Well, I’d say the increasingly small group of Americans I’d call “progressive civil libertarians”, like myself, but who usually get denounced as leftists. We get to play the part of Mercutio in this little tragedy, denouncing both houses for escalating the police state, trying to be somewhat honest in the chaos.

Oh yeah, the part where I say liberals should be judged separately from Democrats. Taranto either didn’t read my article (unlikely) or he just lied about what’s in it. But no worries, he primes the wingnut well so they know that they don’t need to actually read what I wrote, but trust Taranto’s characterization of me as a stupid girl flailing around, unable to understand what’s going on:

The author is Amanda Marcotte, a left-wing American blogress

She’s a) left-wing b) a blogger and c) female. Therefore, you really shouldn’t read what she wrote, because you will get cooties. Fact.

best known for being forced to resign from John Edwards’s presidential campaign over anti-Catholic posts on her own blog.

Just in case there was any danger that you right wing readers will actually read what she wrote, let me be clear: she has associated with politicians Rush Limbaugh has trained you to hate, and she’s critical of religion. (By the way, I’m so sick and tired of having “critical of Catholic dogma” equated with “anti-Catholic”. If you consider women human beings, then the Catholic Church is the most anti-Catholic institution in the world, as it would condemn millions of Catholic women to unrelieved child-bearing until they drop dead from exhaustion. The Catholic Church is so anti-Catholic women that it helps make sure they’re mutilated and killed by illegal abortions every day.) Whatever you do, WSJ readers, don’t actually click the link! Then you might find that the relentless false equivalence propaganda you’ve been sucking down is just lies and bullshit.

Since I know it’s just a matter of seconds before some wingnut accuses me of the high crime of being angry while having a vagina, let me state clearly—as forcefully as I denounce Taranto for misrepresenting me in the WSJ, I’m actually delighted. I’m putting this one in my portfolio. Having that den of liars lie about you is quite the honor.

By the way, this is why I’ve been wary from the get-go about creating alliances with the right on this issue. When people you align yourself with don’t actually care about the issue, which is civil liberties, but are more interested in scoring points and serving some secret agenda, shit like this happens. If these dipshits gave two fucks about stopping the TSA searches, they’d reach out to liberals that are against the searches, instead of denying we exist.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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