Political independents and false equivalences

There are two things that really piss me off in political threads on the SDMB (well, there are a lot more than two, but there are two that I’m pitting right now), which generally have to do with the attitudes and statements made by some self-proclaimed political independents.

Now, I want to preface this by saying that I have absolutely no problem with people being independents, if that is in fact the position they have honestly come to after due diligence. And, for that matter, I have plenty of scorn for anyone who blindly follows any political party. Any political independent who values intellectual honesty and integrity, and shares such core values as freedom and independence and democracy, is my ally. And there are many such on the SDMB. I’m pitting a attitude that I’ve seen enough to piss me off, but it’s in no way the attitude of all or most independents. So keep that in mind.
The first thing that pisses me off is the attitude of “well, I’m an independent, and independent means objective, and objective is better, and therefore I’ll present my opinion as if it’s better than yours, along with some snooty and mock-surprised remarks about how odd it is that I’m a political independent, if you can imagine such a thing!”. Being an independent in no way makes your opinion better or more objective than anyone else’s. People who are registered democrats or republicans (at least, the thinking and reasonable variety who, all snideness aside, make up the majority of those that one finds on the SDMB) do not in any surrender their ability, or inclination, to think for themselves about any issue. Presumably, someone will only join a political party if they agree with that party about LOTS of things, but that doesn’t mean everything, and it doesn’t mean that they have those positions because of their party membership. It’s usually the other way around.

And even aside from arguing about individual issues, I think some people believe that being an independent is just plain better, as in, “any truly evolved thinking individual would cast aside the shackles of the two party system and be free!”. And that’s just plain silly. If you evaluated the two major (and all the minor) parties, there’s presumably some amount that you agree with each party. So you can figure out how well your views align with each party, and additionally how important the various pros and cons of party membership are to you, and then decide whether to join a party. Different reasonable and intelligent people will have different levels of agreement with different parties, and different reasonable and intelligent people will assess various other factors differently when deciding whether or not to joing parties. So get off your damn high horse.

My second related peeve is the false moral equivalence. It usually goes something like this:

Doper #1: I am really disturbed that party A does X.
Doper #2: I belong to party A, and I disagree with you for these reasons (blah blah blah). [I have no problem with Doper #2. This is why we have the Dope, so we can argue about things like this.]
Doper #3: Ehh, both parties do X all the time. They’re all the same. [THIS is what I have a problem with].

Now, with any two entities as big as the democratic and republican parties, it’s almost certainly going to be the case that there are examples in each of just about everything. And neither one is a paragon of virtue. But it is NOT automatically the case, based on some mysterious Law of Party Equivalence, that any criticism that can be fairly levelled at one party can also automatically be equally levelled at the other party.
Now, I (a democrat) would claim that the Republican party has, of late, done a MASTERFUL job of manipulating the media, and its membership’s general perception of the media, in recent years, in some generally dishonest and deceptive ways. Now, I may well be wrong in this claim. BUT, a meaningful response to my claim would NOT be “oh, the Democrats do it just as much”. They do NOT do it just as much. At least, it’s not axiomatically true that they do it just as much. Heck, I WISH they did it just as much and just as well, cause maybe we’d win some damn elections.

Similarly (and I’ve ranted about this many times before), it is NOT automatically the case that just because Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are two of the most visible Republican pundits, and Al Franken and Michael Moore are two of the most visible Democratic pundits, that Anne and Rush are equivalent, in terms of general honesty and trustworthiness and fairness, to Al and Michael. They might be. Coincidentally. Or the might not be. But the aren’t automatically so.

(Disclaimer: There is one way in which party affiliations might lead to lazier and less intellectually rigorous decision making than being an independent, which is that when it comes to issues that one doesn’t know or care much about, party members have the option of basically voting or supporting the party line. But this isn’t necessarily a BAD thing. For one thing, people just plain don’t have time to fully research and investigate and ponder every issue facing every level of local, state, national and international government. And it’s a reasonable assumption (although not an absolute proof by any means) that if I agree with group A on 75% of the issues that I have thought about, and group B on only 25%, then I’m more likely going to prefer group A’s stance on an issue about which I have not thought. And, of course, it’s possible to use your party’s position as your default position, but then keep the option open to change that position when you actually learn more about the specific issue. And needless to say, it’s also possible to be an intellectually lazy independent, and start out by always assuming that the correct position on any topic is precisely between the “left” and “right” position, or something along those lines, which is just as silly as assuming that the correct position is always the “left” or “right” one.)

Excellent post. Superb. I wish more people would realize the piece I quoted.

(And you can be darn sure I made sure I hit reply instead of edit this time. Matter of fact, I think I’ll copy it before I hit submit. Braces and suspenders.)

The only problem I have with Max’s diatribe is that I agree with it, so I can’t argue with it.

But I wil add one little observation. There is an idea that to have a balanced media, you have to give both sides equal time, and in the US that means the Dems and the Repubs. Fair enough: it’s difficult o have any othr objective measure of media balance. But people dedce from that, that the truth must lie somwhere between those two sides, and that’s not true at all: the truth may lie somewhere to the left, or somwhere to the right. of both political parties.

For example both parties might say that the US should stay a bit longer in Iraq to “finish the job”, and only disagree about how long it ought to stay there. However, the objective truth might be that the US ought to cut its losses, and get out immediately, or it might be that the US ought to occupy Iraq indefinitely.

This is just an example, to illustrate that the range of political opinions is not confined to the interval between those of the opposing sides, and that the objectively right opinion might be outside that interval.

Preach it, friend!

I find that on some occasions the term “moderate” is used, rather than “independent,” with similar results.

I agree. “The truth lies somewhere in between” is the most pernicious piece of nonsense the media pushes. It only encourages extremism, for its own saake. After all. if I’m 5º to port, and you’re 20º to starboard, most of what “lies somewhere in between” is on your side. You have no incentive to try to find a compromise position. Instead your greatest reward is to keep pushing to the extreme in order to get as much of what you want as possible into the “somewhere in between.”

“It’s possible for one side simply to be wrong.”

                                                -- Richard Dawkins

Yes, preach it, brother!

Reflexive cynicism about politics is just intellectual laziness. Sorting truth from falsehood and taking a stand is hard work. It’s a lot easier to strike a pose of world-weary resignation.

Max, I…I think I love you.

Brilliant OP. This is something that has driven me crazy for a long time, but I haven’t been able to articulate it nearly as well as you just did. (I usually just call people dumbasses and then snap my keyboard in half.)

Absolutely, as a Libertarian the political left/right squabbles and the ignorance of the so called ‘middle’ are quite clear to me. The only things worse than the lemming stampede of the two major parties are those damn Independents.


Fuck you Max!

Sorry. I agree with you. I just couldn’t let this love fest keep going like this. You understand yeah. Ok. Carry on with this hippy-dippy group hug.

When I call myself an independent, I’m not trying to sound snooty. I’m just too thoroughly fed up with the antics of both parties to consider myself a member of either one, although at the moment I am a registered Democrat. Frankly, it’s a pain. In my state, only Republicans can vote for Republican candidates during primary elections and vice versa, which is why I have been known to stick my head into my local polling place on primary election day and say, “Anyone I can vote for?” only to be told, “No.” The reason I’m a registered Democrat for now is a few years ago there was a primary where the was one candidate I was particularly in favor of and I wanted to vote for him.

I admit I lean a lot more Democratic than Republican, especially on the national level. However, on the local level, I’ve lived in two cities in which politics was dominated by Democrats. They didn’t do a good job in either city, especially my current one. I’ve voted for candidates with enthusiasm; I even became friends with a woman while she was mayor of the small town I used to live him and I still count her a friend. I get fed up, however, with the constant barrage of negative campaigning which dominates the airwaves before elections. I try to be an informed voter. I’ve even been known to ask the candidates themselves, Republicans and Democrats alike, why I should vote for them. I’m a naturalized U.S. citizen, which makes me particularly aware of how much of a privilege voting is, and each year I walk out of the voting booth with a big, stupid grin. It’s just that all too often while voting is a privilege which gives me a thrill, the choice of candidates is a lot less thrilling. “Vote for me because I’m not him” isn’t a way to make me enthusiastic about voting for you.

I’m not independent to be snooty, and cynical sophistication isn’t my style. I’m independent because I’m not voting for someone simply because of the party he or she belongs to, but because of who he or she is, or at least appears to be, and how that person will represent my interests. The voting machines I’ve used have levers which you can pull which will let you vote for every Republican or Democratic candidate automatically, without pressing each individual lever in turn. In no way do I mean to imply that Democrats or Republicans do that around here; I know you folks to well, and I wouldn’t dream of doing such a foolish thing! :eek: I’m also not implying Dopers don’t vote for candidates on their merits rather than their party affiliations. I’m just telling you why I call myself “Independent” and “Moderate”.


I don’t call myself a moderate to be snooty. I call myself a moderate because I think both parties take it a step too far on somethings. I don’t call myself an independent to be an ass. I call myself an independent because neither party does a very good job of representing my beliefs politically.

Cynicism? I can’t help it. The tone of politics these days disgusts me. What’s worse is that it’s spread to the media, the judicial system (thanks Tom Delay), and to science (way to go intelligent design). You can call it being intellectually lazy if you want. Sometimes it is. Some of us come by our cynicism honestly and without letting it affect how we process information.

Very true. It also applies to all other areas where there is a debate in the media. To be “balanced” you bring in one spokesperson from each camp and let both of them speak. This can be Creationism vs. Evolution, Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice or next years trend colour Blue or Red?

The fact that one person from each view gets to speak, creates an impression that both views are equally valid and/or held by an equal amount of people. This is of course not neccessarily true.

I think that it is not even done to appear balanced and impartial all the time. Sometimes it is just because it creates a more interesting story when you have an adversarial situation.

But you’re missing the OP’s point.

He wasn’t saying that being an independent or a moderate automatically makes you dishonest or intellectually lazy. He was criticizing those independents who believe that their claim to being an independent (rather than a member of one party or another) gives them some special access to truth and objectivity that the rest of the population lacks.

He was criticizing the all-too-prevalent notion that, if you aren’t supporting one major party or the other, you must therefore be a balanced, fair, and equitable model of objectivity whose political position is untainted by partisanship and is therefore more valid than the positions of others.

These are the sort of arguments that too many independents seem to assume, and some state explicitly, and they just don’t hold water.

Of course, it’s possible to be in a situation where neither major party does a very good job of representing your beliefs politically, but one is still FAR closer than the other. I mean, if you agree with one party on 30% of their platform and the other one on 5%, it would be hard to say that either did a very good job of representing your beliefs, but it wouldn’t necessarily be an idiotic idea to join the first party and generally support its candidates. Nor would it be an idiotic idea NOT to join the first party.
But that’s another debate…

(btw, thanks to everyone for the kind words)

No, I understood his point and to an extent I agree with it. There are certainly independents who are obnoxious little twerps who think that their being an “independent” makes them superior to everyone who is party affiliated. I’m sure that there are some here and I’ve known quite a few. Of course they’d feel superior no matter what party they belong to and lord knows both parties have people like that. That’s a different thread though.

I was just stating my case. :slight_smile:

MaxtheVool, there are some issues on both sides that I agree with. I have no problem voting for one party or the other depending on which one represents my views the best or, in more recent examples, sucks the least. I just find that both parties as a whole are a bit farther on most issues than I am. Thusly I’m a moderate. I understand that I don’t have to buy into everything that a party espouses to be a member of one. Somewhere down the line I may decide to pick a party, but it’s not necessary to do so in order to vote.

And I can still hope for a legitimate third party to come along. :smiley:

Exactly. I know far too many people who use “I’m an independent” to mask the fact that they simply don’t really know anything about the issues at stake. It’s gotten to the point that I’ve started to assume that anyone who tells me they’re an independent is just an ignoramus, since that’s the way it always seems to happen.

Actually Acxiomatically it is true that the Democrats and Republicans use the same tactics when it comes to manipulating the media. Scroll down and watch the short clip about the “Narrowcasting Future”. People on the left listen to Michael Moore who is EVERY bit the tool that Rush Limbaugh is. Both sides have their ridiculous pundits.

My problem as an ‘independent’ is that the Democrats and Republicans are not both sides being represented, they are one side being split into two and being represented. The other side is “independent” or the “None of the above” category, independent gets everything from Anarchists, to Socialists, to Libertarians and Greens, to Fascists, to Nazis, to People who don’t engage in the process at all. There are a whole lot of people out there completely unrepresented and ignored, and constantly told that their opinions have little value by representatives of those two parties.

The best example I can use is the Drug War, it unfairly targets black and hispanics. It increases the rate of Hepatitis infection in this country because our prisons are infested with it, it puts kids in jail who might have had a promising future otherwise, marginalizing them, taking them out of the economic and political process. I don’t see many people on either side representing them. I don’t see anyone standing up to the Prison Industrial Complex or the Military Industrial Complex within the two major parties. Ted Kennedy a democrat will protect Massachussetts military bases with the same zeal that Pete Domenici a Republican will protect them in New Mexico.

The Democrats and Republicans ARE NOT the majority in this country, they are very large minorities that sweep up a lot of people who side with them for lack of a viable alternative. They take the spotlight and make it completely about those two institutions and marginalize what is increasingly a very large fringe. Because that fringe consists of many small minority groups without a cohesive bond it is very easy to marginalize them.

Here’s an experiment, go take a poll in a project in a big city, find out how many people vote. Then find out how many of them can’t vote because of a felony conviction. Then find out how many of them don’t vote because they don’t feel like either side represents them.

The reason many of us “independents” hate the two parties, is because we look at both of them as shitty parties who’s basis is barely different. In the rest of the world what we call the “Neo-Conservative” agenda is called the “Neo-Liberal” agenda. Conservative and Liberal at one point in history referred to how one felt the government should spend it’s money, now they have lumped a whole lot of other baggage in there with it. No matter which side is in power we are still spreading liberal democracy worldwide. What values are conservatives upholding? What are they conserving exactly? I see lots of rights going away. To me CONSERVATION of those rights is what’s important. I don’t see them CONSERVING American values at all.

What about the new Eminent domain law? That’s a LIBERAL economic policy, if more money can be made from it, that’s the highest consideration, fuck the people who’ve been living in that house for three generations. What about gentrification in big cities? You get artists moving into the ghetto cuz it’s cheap. Then the artists make it white enough for the yuppies to feel safe there, then the yuppies move in, and what’s the first thing the yuppies do when they move in? They start calling the cops on the noisy parties of the artists and the people who lived in that ghetto having noisy parties for years. These are the LIBERALS.

The reason I don’t like either party, is because both parties represent the rich, and mainly the rich. The poor are almost unrepresented. Oftentimes people are poor because they are uneducated, and they remain uneducated because they are poor. Of course this is a convenient way for people in the establishment not to care about them, because “If they can’t bother to educate themselves then it’s not my problem.” So the upper middle class and rich are the ones mostly represented by the political establishment, with a large middle class that is given the dangling carrot of perhaps joining the upper middle class, so they get involved and support the upper middle classes agenda.

It’s the same as it ever was, it’s Tories and Whigs, Nobility, Aristocracy, Bourgeois, and Proletariat. Nothing new. It’s all feudalism, but in the American republic we are allowed to pretend it’s not, because of the constant campaigning of the two party system, which are actually two factions in one party.

That’s why I think the two-party system is bullshit. You can deride my ability to intellectualize all you want if it helps you justify your position.


I agree with this statement, and much of the overall thrust of your post. Note that nowhere did I say that I had any problems with people actually BEING independent (or libertarian, or what have you). There are certainly many perfectly legitimate political opinions that don’t align particularly well with either the current incarnation of the Democratic party, or the current incarnation of the Republican party.

Here’s where you completely lose me. It’s perfectly reasonable to disagree with both parties. It’s also perfectly reasonable to be bothered by the corruption, beuraucracy and pandering that they both exhibit (although I’d suggest that ANY party that gets that big for that long with that much money flowing around is going to end up corrupt, and there ARE good and honest and decent people still involved in politics). But to suggest that the two major parties are indistinguishable, or close to it, PARTICULARY at this precise moment in history, strikes me as just ridiculous.

Whether you are for or against he Iraq war, there seems to be an absolute agreement that we are at war in Iraq right now, with 2000+ dead and hundreds of $billions spent, because Bush wanted it. If we’d elected a democrat in 2000, we would not be at war there right now. For better or for worse, that’s a HUGE difference.

I’m not deriding your ability to intellectualize as long as you’re not condescendingly mocking me for being a registered democrat, and assuming that that makes me some blind sheep tool of the wealthy corporate blah blah blah.

Oh, and Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh are NOT the same. As must be the default assumption. You want to claim they are equally dishonest/manipulative/bombastic/fat/funny/whatever, the burden is on you to so prove.

At this precise moment in history, the democrats are finding some very convenient ways to fuck over the alternative faction in their party as led by George W. Bush. However, where were they when the Patriot Act was being signed? Oh yeah, they were signing it. Now that there is a power vacuum and the vultures are waiting for people to drop so that they can pick up the pieces, yeah, there’s some difference.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress both signed the bill to send people to Iraq. The Democrats might have lost a dissenting opinion on this, but they didn’t dissent, remember? Sure they can weasel out based on clever wording in the proposal, and saying they were duped, but that’s BS. They were going where the wind blew in the political climate, there was no leadership. You’re right, there are some subtle differences, but not big enough for me to consider them as different parties. The Republicans tend to lead more and the Democrats tend to go more where the wind blows, but philisophically, they are all fairly well on the same page. I don’t see anyone standing up for the poor in this country in either party. It’s all about special corporate interests, they are all being paid off by the same lobbyists, what they are fighting over, what seperates them is who gets the bigger check at the moment.

You can be a registered democrat if you want, hopefully you’ll come around to realizing that the two party system is what’s wrong with this country. I hope one day you’ll look into your republican neighbors eyes and both realize that your cosmetic political differences were absolutely trivial, and then get together to build a strong community where people are safer and freer. Until that day I’ll continue to dream.

There are plenty of threads about both Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh. You can go on deluding yourself without me complicating this thread further by hijacking it into a debate about which fat asshole is the bigger douchebag.


Oh yeah, we could’ve elected a lot of different republicans and not gotten an Iraq war also.