Observation : Political Equivocators

One recurring meme I seem to encounter - from my mother, several friends, various places online - is that “both sides are bad.”

I would elaborate, but the people who advance this idea never really do. All politicians are liars, they might say. Doesn’t matter who you vote for, they’ll be a crook. That’s about as deep as they go - and it’s not always the relatively uninformed, either. My mother’s fairly politically oblivious, but one of my close friends spouts similar opinions, and I know he actually reads the news and pays attention to things.

I have found, anecdotally, that these equivocators seem to go overwhelmingly Republican.

So my postulate is this : The people who say “both sides are bad” know *their *side is bad, and are trying to justify their support for that side by convincing themselves and anyone who’ll listen that the other guys are just as bad.

There are, of course, a few of them who go and vote third-party - but not as many as you’d think.


I’ve seen this as well lately, and on this very board, and yes, they seem to be overwhelmingly Republican, although I will admit that, without searching to verify, this may be confirmation bias on my part.

I think it may be a case of Republicans believing, lack of evidence notwithstanding, that Democrats must employ the same negative tactics to the same extent that Republicans do simply because it makes them feel better about their side when an operative does or says something beyond the pale. If they can trick themselves into believing that both sides are playing by the same rules and using the same tools, then they can continue to support their side head held high.

No one wants to believe they’re supporting bad people, bad policy, or bad proposals, but it’s easier to do if you believe everyone is doing it. After all, why should the other guy have an advantage that I don’t?

I can sorta relate. Being on the conservative wing of the extreme left, I vote for Democrats because they are as close as I can get. I can imagine the plight of the honest conservative gazing in horror at one has become of the Republican Party. To my mind, that explains why there are so many “independents” recently, and why they tend to lean rightish. They cannot stand the liberal centrism of Obama, but cannot bear to call themselves Republicans. The loathe that dare not speak its name.

And, of course, there is a good measure of truth to the notion, politicians are what they are, and what they are is frequently pretty disgusting. Perhaps if our country were only a few hundred thousand people, this problem need not arise, but in a nation where mass marketing is a requirement…

I think it’s also a product of laziness and a desire to feel self-righteous. It’s hard work figuring out how you should stand on different issues. It’s much easier to declare that the whole system is corrupt mess. Plus it lets you set yourself up a world-weary saint, sadly tut-tutting the squalor that surrounds you on all sides.

Such is the nature of democracy, being founded upon people. If you love democracy, you commit to her, you marry her even though you know that she’s a little crazy all of the time and full blown nuts some of the time. Its not smarter, its not more efficient, it is only more just.

People are really, really bad at combining decades worth of information into a coherent package. But there are very good reasons why this should be so. Even if you read the news, who has the time, patience, expertise, or understanding to place the housing industry, China, crime, education, the EU, intrusive technology, the space program, copyright, or the ten million other gigantic issues into proper perspective. What almost everybody does on almost every subject is latch on to a few cases and use those as surrogates for the whole.

So when people think about parties, what overwhelmingly happens is that they remember that he was a crook and she was an idiot and he showed his penis and she hated minorities. They couldn’t answer any questions about the legislation they sponsored, the bills they voted for, the earmarks they put in, the campaign ads they ran. And neither could I, even though I’m supposedly someone who follows politics more closely than the average.

I used to be outraged that people took one popularized element and hung it on a politician forever. Dan Quayle couldn’t spell. Sarah Palin didn’t read. Dukakis rode in a tank with a funny helmet. John Kerry windsurfed. I finally realized that these were shorthand, tags just like the ones that people put on Facebook or message boards. They were reminders that they didn’t like someone for some general reason that they no longer needed to keep straight and detailed in their head. It wasn’t irrational behavior; it was actually rational and time-saving.

That’s a generality. Sometimes the tag is a deliberate attack. Even then, the same principle is at play. “Obama is a Muslin.” He’s not and virtually everybody who spreads it knows it’s a lie. But it’s a tag of his being different, oddly named, unusual background, not like “us.” Foul as it it, the Muslim slur wouldn’t have gained traction if it didn’t represent a truth in the user’s minds. “Obama is a Martian” is equally ridiculous and similarly alien, but you can’t imagine even Freepers making it a meme.

I think the OP is right when saying that “both sides are bad” is a justification for supporting one’s own side even when they do bad things. We live in a perpetual attack culture today. Bad things are the only things ever reported. If you couldn’t justify that, you’d have to join the 40% who’ve dropped out of the process, and most people do pride themselves on voting, on not being one of the dropouts. This is a rational way of doing so, even if the end result appears irrational. A lot of life is like that. If you can’t accept that you have to drop out of life. We see some of those people here and they’re truly frightening.

Think of it as a white lie. It smooths interactions between people. You just have to be careful to keep the lies white.

I suppose it frustrates me because, since about 2000, it’s been very clear to me that the two political parties are not equally bad. That was the last year I voted for a Republican, and I won’t do so again in the foreseeable future.

Sure, there are corrupt, dishonest politicians on both sides. But I only see one major party that seems to actively embrace such corruption and dishonesty.

Exapno Mapcase is right about this being an extension of the common voter’s usual political shorthand for a candidate. However, I think another factor is that this position justifies sitting “above the fray” and cynically interpreting every accusation at a meta-level as just part of the political process.

This is why the attitude is especially popular with the media; it allows them to assume a veneer of objectivity, which in turn trickles down to most voters as the “right” attitude to have. Open partisanship is frowned upon as unsophisticated; even if a politician is openly partisan, their statements are inevitably analyzed as to how it helps/hurts them with respect to the process itself (i.e. the election) rather than their inherent good/bad qualities. So even if a voter is rabidly partisan, he/she is smart enough to know how useful assuming such a pose can be in political debate.

I am an ex-Democrat who intends to vote for Gary Johnson for President this year. I do say that the two major parties are equally bad. They are not absolutely identical, of course, but as I see it the differences between the two parties are small, while the gap that divides the entire political establishment from reason, justice, and ethics is large. Here’s a partial list of reasons.

[li]Both parties support an endless war on drugs that ruins millions of lives.[/li][li]Both parties are okay with a prison system that imprisons millions for long sentences, both tolerate prison rape, and both see nothing wrong with America having the largest percentage of its population imprisoned of any nation on Earth.[/li][li]Both parties are okay with most of the civil liberties violations that were supposedly established for the “war on terror”.[/li][li]Both parties support having a military-industrial complex vastly larger than that of any other nation, even at a time when we face no significant military threats.[/li][li]Both parties wish to maintain a huge number of military bases all around the world, including many in places that are irrelevant to national security.[/li][li]Both parties favor friendly diplomatic relations with human rights abusers such as China and Saudi Arabia.[/li][li]Both parties are willing to hand over huge amounts of corporate pork to major American corporations, in the amount of hundreds of billions of dollars per year.[/li][li]Both parties routinely release dishonest assessments of their own policies and dishonest economic projections.[/li][li]And last but not least, but parties routinely create laws that can’t possibly benefit anybody but which serve only to stoke culture wars and inflame partisan sentiments. (Ex: Republicans proposing a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, Democrats mandating that all health insurance plans cover birth control.)[/li][/ul]

I think you may be confusing ‘supporting’ with ‘no backbone to do away with’ on the Democratic side. Yes, the results may be similar, but the impetus is not.

Also, with your statement: [the] parties routinely create laws that can’t possibly benefit anybody but which serve only to stoke culture wars and inflame partisan sentiments. (Ex: Republicans proposing a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, Democrats mandating that all health insurance plans cover birth control, you’re creating a false equivalence as one is an act that seeks to harm and discriminate and the other is an act that seeks to provide reproductive options and health benefits.

On which point?

The two sides may or may not be equivalent, but they are not the same. Both tend to have different pathologies.

There’s actually a meme that builds on your opening meme: BSABSVR, or “Both sides are bad, so vote Republican.” It’s been around for a few years now, and I see examples of it, and people being called on it, on other message boards frequently.

So there you go. Right or wrong, others have postulated this enough that it’s actually a meme, so you’re not alone in your thinking.

Or it could be that Republicans are the only ones realistic about their side. Democrats, despite a long history of machine politics, special interest group pandering, and attempts to divide Americans by race, class, and sex, don’t seem to notice anything wrong.

The other problem could be that liberals tend to admire SOME Democratic politicians who are honest and motivated mostly by ideology, while ignoring the more blatant stuff that goes on with the backbenchers, who aren’t party leaders but do provide needed votes on legislation and leadership votes. Republicans might be more noticed because their crooks are just as likely to be at the forefront as their honest ones, whereas Democrats elevate honest politicians and let the Charlie Rangels and Jack Murthas do their dirty work away from the national headlines.

Maybe this will be seen as unbiased. CREW’s 20 most corrupt:


10 of the top 14 most corrupt are Republicans. Adding in the dishonorable mentions, it’s 12 of 19.

However, 2009, had a lot more Democrats. And the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell.

Simply amazing.

I agree with the OP that there is a certain amount of self-justification at work. Folks may acknowledge that their guy is a right bastard, but he is “their” right-bastard! It’s an easy step to project that the other side is just as bad. (IMHO it’s a common trope with the criminal sect - they really do think everyone is doing bad stuff, they just got caught is all. Without mentioning names there are a few memorable posters here on IMDB who suffer from this inability to see others behavior as different from their own. But I digress…)

However, whenever I hear anyone use that meme, “they’re all liars and crooks!”, I slowly back away. It’s a cop-out plain and simple and to me exhibits lazy thinking.

Gee, I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that Republicans are attacked in every single thread on this board with extreme vitriol. No, that doesn’t make one defensively equivocate, so that can’t be it.:rolleyes:

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you’re always going to see what you want to see. When you’re willing to excuse “the good guys” because they agree with you and condemn “the bad guys” because they disagree with you, you’re bound to not believe all equivalencies are false.
How this board repeatedly fails to see this is beyond me. It’s like you all just want to start circlejerk after circlejerk about how bad Republicans are and trying to explain why they’re so bad. And when an actual, honest-to-God Republican chimes in, you say to yourselves “No, that can’t be, because we’re good and you’re bad.”

Ding ding ding ding ding! You win the thread!

Aaaaaand the point is proven.

Honest-to-God Republicans only further prove the point about how rotted the party is. Honest Republicans hate what the party’s become.