One of the phrases you hear used a lot by the media, and by folks wanting to try to justify bad actions is: “Both sides do it”.
The insinuation is that some act, usually some type of violent or otherwise offensive rhetoric is spewed, and somehow it is justified by claiming the other side does it. And unfortunately, folks have gotten so weary of the speech, of the BS, that they believer this canard just to end the conversation.
It’s. Not. True.
Today, one of my conservative friends posted a link to a supposed list of “liberal incivilities”. These were what they found to be the most offensive things they could paint on a liberal these days. And the point of this list is to say that liberals “do it too.”
Let’s look at some of these items from the list:
Hoffa’s Remarks Vs. Breibart’s
The first is about a speech given by labor leader, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa. As per the quote in the article:
“President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. Everybody here’s got to vote. Let’s take these sons of bitches out.”
This particular instance was referred to as Obama’s Army, as if to say that there was some insurrectionist faction ready to take up arms. But that’s not exactly the quote. That’s taken out of context. Here’s a more complete version. I’ve bolded the sentences above so you can see what was left out:
President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. And President Obama, we want one thing: jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s what we’re going to tell him. He’s gonna be [stutter] and when he sees what we’re doing here, he will be inspired. But he needs help. And you know what? Everybody here’s got to vote. If we go back, and we keep the eye on the prize. Let’s take these son of a bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.
Hmm. There’s a whole lot missing there. In the original quote, they don’t mention jobs. This doesn’t come across, at least to me, like someone advocating armed takeover or thuggery. It pretty clearly says vote. And it seems pretty clear he means take them out of office. But when you edit about 75% of the original quote out, it seems a bit harsher.
So, why do they want to make this comparison? Let’s look at Andrew Breitbart from just this weekend at a Tea Party gathering in Boston:
We outnumber them and we have the guns.” (Audience laughs) “I’m not kidding.”
“There are times where I’m not thinking as clearly as I should, and in those unclear moments, I always think to myself, ‘Fire the first shot.’ Bring it on. Because I know who’s on our side. They can only win a rhetorical and propaganda war. They cannot win. We outnumber them in this country, and we have the guns… I’m not kidding. They talk a mean game, but they will not cross that line because they know what they’re dealing with.”
“And I have people who come up to me in the military, major named people in the military, who grab me and they go, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing, we’ve got your back.’”
Breitbart basically says that the military is in the pockets of the conservatives and Tea Party, insinuating that the military would join in putting down liberals if the time came.
Now, regardless of what you think about Hoffa’s rhetoric (I think war analogies are not helpful), Hoffa’s was clearly an analogy. Breitbart makes it perfectly clear – he’s talking about actual guns. There is no comparison between the two.
The argument will then be made that Breitbart isn’t a leader. They’re right, he’s worse. He’s a serial prevaricator who has been caught multiple times doctoring video tapes and using false premises to attack his favorite targets. But worse – he gets media air time. Remember the whole Shirley Sherrod story, where a doctored tape of a speech she made ended up costing her a job? And how when the whole tape was seen it was actually the opposite of what was portrayed? Guess who? Breitbart. Think he doesn’t get people to act? Think again.
In no way are these two incidents equal. None. There is no equivalency here.
Tea Party Lynchers
The second example they give is that of Indiana Rep Andre Carson, who said some things that struck a nerve:
“This is the effort that we’re seeing of Jim Crow,” said Carson, the caucus’ whip or chief vote counter.
“Some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second-class citizens,” he said. “Some of them in Congress right now with this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me — hanging on a tree.”
That’s some pretty pointed rhetoric, to be sure. And probably not helpful. But, is he off-base?
To be sure, there are many individuals in the Tea Party that are not racist. But let’s look at some signage…
Hmm. This first one doesn’t seem racist, does it? Yes, it does. These signs appear quite frequently at Tea Party rallies. But again, this does not mean it is indicative of all Tea Party supporters, but definitely is a swipe at the President’s race. How else do you account for such a blatant, stereotypical and culturally insensitive act such as calling the President “massa”?
The answer, of course, is that you can’t account for it. It’s a racist sign, at a Tea Party event.
But this sign really doesn’t point to things such as lynching, right?
Not much question about this. “Hang ‘em high” isn’t usually used as a reference to party decorations or wall art. No, it’s usually referencing just one thing.
People swinging from a tree.
Now of course, in this case, they’re referring to Democrats. Mostly white male Democrats. So, while definitely using violent – lynching, in fact – rhetoric, it’s not really a racist sign. No proof of Carson’s claim.
And then there’s this.
“Hope for the Rope”.
“Change and Estrange”
And a noose.
Unless you’re intentionally being thick, you know that “Hope and Change” is the President’s campaign slogan. So you’ve got advocacy and imagery for putting a noose around the President’s neck. A black man’s neck.
Was Carson off-base? You decide. But there is ample evidence that there are plenty of racist factions within the Tea Party.
Stormfront, the white supremacist website has its own forum specifically geared toward supporting members of the Tea Party. They supported Rand Paul in his bid for Congress. These are the same folks who utter the following gems:
“Negroes need white taxes to survive”
“Maxine [Waters] is a typical low-IQ affirmative action negro.”
There’s plenty more. You can see for yourself. I won’t link to them – they don’t need help. But just a warning: You’ll probably feel like you need to shower with a scouring pad to get the racism off you when you’re done.
Truth be told, groups like Stormfront don’t think the Tea Party is extreme enough. But they figure they can win their war from within, if they can just get a few sympathetic people into office.
Should Carson have said what he did? Not in my book. I think it was a bad piece of rhetoric and ill-advised. But I can’t say he’s wrong.
Let’s go straight to the replay kids…:
It’s a fight literally for our right to exist. Don’t misunderstand what this is. Don’t misunderstand- not a joke, not a joke, not an applause line. You are the only folks keeping the barbarians from the gates. You are the only non-governmental power. The only one who has the power and capacity to stop this onslaught. Ladies and gentleman, that’s why they want you so badly. The middle class is under attack because labor is under the most direct assault in generations. You know, to state simply what I stated two years ago at some of your national conventions, the other side has declared war on labors house and it’s about time we stand up!
The complaint? That VP Joe Biden called conservatives/Republicans/Tea Party supporters “barbarians”.
Of course, the problem with all that is that he didn’t call them that. Once again, it’s a matter of selective listening. He referred to “keeping the barbarians from the gates”. If you look that up, it’s a reference to the book/film “Barbarians At The Gate”, about the leveraged buyout and corporate raiding of RJR Nabisco in the 80′s. In this usage, the “barbarians” are not savages, but raiders looking to maximize the profit of the companies at the expense of its employees and as of late, the unions.
So, let’s follow the path so far. The first outrage was about a metaphorical “army” which only looks like a threat if you eliminate the vast majority of the text. The second I can cut them a little slack on – it’s a generalization. But it is a generalization based on observable truths.
But this third one? Really? Kind of stretching a bit here to be offended. The phrase “barbarians at the gate” has been used for decades to describe a situation where someone (person/group) is trying to disrupt your way of life, your business, your livelihood. And that is an apt description of how the right has been going after unions for the last year.
To somehow turn this into begin offended because you think it is describing you as a savage? Seems like a grasp for straws.
Now, let’s contrast this with current Republican front-runner TX Gov. Rick Perry’s statement that Ben Bernanke’s actions have been treasonous, and that they would “treat him pretty ugly down in Texas”. Let’s be sure what treason means. Per Article III, Section 3 of the US Consitution:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
That’s some heavy stuff. And the penalty? No less than 5 years in jail, but as much as death. By the way, sedition is also against the law. You remember Rick Perry saying that Texas might have to secede from the Union? He might want to check the US Code on that:
If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
See that bolded part? Seceding from the Union would qualify right in there. So, Perry thinks Bernanke is treasonous for monetary policy, but is ok with seceding from the Union. Just as long as we’ve got that straight…
Save The Rhetoric
Their next point starts to really get far afield. They take House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to task for saying the following:
“The Republicans right now are using the idea of deficit reduction as an excuse, they’re hijacking an idea that has some resonance—we all want to reduce the deficit—in order to not reduce the deficit but to destroy the public space, destroy government. … You wonder, do their children breathe air? Do they drink water?”
Wow. As far as rhetoric goes, we’re getting pretty tame here. The only thing she asks – if the children breathe air or drink water – is a reference to the right’s desire to remove all regulations and let business run wild. In her mind, this will pollute air and water, and she’s asking if they care. She points out that Republicans are trying to defund the EPA, the Department of Education and remove as many regulations regarding clean air, clean water and safe food as they can.
Fairly cut and dried. Except that these folks want to claim she was attacking Republican children. Yup, they want you to believe that her statement about whether they breathe air was an attack on the kids, not the policies. Did I mention they were getting thin on complaints?
Why would they bother? Because they are trying to do exactly what she said. But by making her an anti-child demon, they switch the subject for their loyal base.
Meanwhile, lets all look back fondly on the actions of Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) on the House floor the night of the debate on the Affordable Care Act. He was the one who yelled “it’s a baby killer” during debate. Republicans knew who it was, but wouldn’t give him up. The next day, when the rumors started circling that it was him, he fessed up.
So, they get upset when someone uses a question about their children to point out their policies, but shouting “baby killer” is what they’ll try to cover up. Mental note made.
Go To Hell… ?
Yup, this is the next “incivility” they want to quote. Maxine Waters, D-CA, telling the Tea Party they could go to hell. That’s it. No threats, no war references, no references to children or babies. Just telling them to go to hell.
Now, if I were Rep. Waters, I wouldn’t have used the rhetoric. Why? While it riles up her constituents, it does nothing for the overall conversation but muddy the water. But the outrage? Gimme a break. Here’s a hit from way back when…
From June 2004 Washington Post:
On Tuesday, Cheney, serving in his role as president of the Senate, appeared in the chamber for a photo session. A chance meeting with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, became an argument about Cheney’s ties to Halliburton Co., an international energy services corporation, and President Bush’s judicial nominees. The exchange ended when Cheney offered some crass advice.
“Fuck yourself,” said the man who is a heartbeat from the presidency.
Leahy’s spokesman, David Carle, yesterday confirmed the brief but fierce exchange. “The vice president seemed to be taking personally the criticism that Senator Leahy and others have leveled against Halliburton’s sole-source contracts in Iraq,” Carle said.
As it happens, the exchange occurred on the same day the Senate passed legislation described as the “Defense of Decency Act” by 99 to 1.
Cheney, in 2010 said “That’s sort of the best thing I ever did”.
So, Waters saying “go to hell” is bad, Cheney, as the Washington Times put it “…responded with a barnyard epithet, urging Mr. Leahy to perform an anatomical sexual impossibility” – is no big deal, and even funny.
Frankly, as an adult I couldn’t give a flying fig about either of these incidents. But it just goes to show how deep these folks want to go to claim some type of insult.
They go on with five more of these, raising spectres like Al Gore, Keith Olbermann and Janeane Garafalo. Just an aside, they must really hate Janeane – even Breitbart ranted about her.
They repeat the Hoffa thing – which was already innocuous – by stating that the President didn’t denounce it. So it kinda doesn’t count because it’s a rehash. Besides – how many Republicans strongly denounced the whole birther thing. I’ll wait.
There was only one of the bunch that was truly heinous and needed to be denounced - and it was even by the likes of Olbermann. That was the video game created by StarvingEyes named “Tea Party Zombies Must Die”. It featured likenesses of Tea Party favorites as zombies and encourages players to wipe them out violently.
On this one, they have every right to be offended. But with the left? Or just some entrepreneurs with a solid lack of taste? Somehow, the video game is suddenly a left-wing media creation?
They’re Not The Same, No Matter How Hard They Try
What do all of these things have in common? They’re a feeble attempt to somehow say “both sides do it”, or “they’re just as bad”. But that fails on a number of levels.
First – in direct comparison – these items are not the same. Not even close. The level of vitriol the right produces, if harnessed for energy, would power half of the nation. See what I did there? Exactly what they do: massive hyperbole, so that if you back it down by half, it’s still outrageous, but folks will actually let it sink in. No, they put out plenty of this ugly stuff, and then try to claim the other side does it too. But the right is far more adept at throwing the bombs.
But the real issue here is that it doesn’t matter if the other side does it. My nearly-nine-year-old has already learned that just because someone does something bad, you don’t have the right to do something bad as well. The old “two wrongs don’t make a right” holds true. Unfortunately, Republicans seem to hold more to “do as I say, not as I do”.
And the media, with their incessant efforts to keep things “balanced”, do their level best to make sure that they present these things as equals when they clearly are not.
The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.
- Edward R. Murrow, 1964
This quote is even more true today than it was nearly 50 years ago. When 24/7/365 media runs stories without background, just to be first, instead of right, they err to the side of “balance” when really, those things they think they are balancing shouldn’t be given the weight they are assigned. And false equivalencies are the result, with the fringes entering the mainstream, and the mainstream being squeezed from both sides.
We, as a nation of media consumers and as the people with the right and responsibility of choosing the people who serve us in office, need to be more critical of these equivalencies. And just as importantly, we need to demand that the rhetoric be changed.