Tu quoque or Double Standard?

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

One of the common responses that seems to come up whenever Liberals behave badly is, not so much outrage but rather, the excuse that “both side do it.”  This is visible once again as it is now clear that  liberal attacks on Sara Palin and conservatives following the shooting in Tucson were little more than an attempt to score political points off the tragedy.  In addition to being untrue (note the lack attacks on liberals when a crazed environmentalist took hostages at the discovery channel building last September)  there are two other problems with this claim.

One is that it is the logical fallacy of tu quoque, or “you also,” which is one of the many forms of ad hominem attack.   That “both sides do it” is not an excuse for either side.  It is illegitimate to excuse bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior.   If it is wrong, it is wrong.  In addition to being illegitimate, it is dangerous because it becomes the rational for additional bad behavior.   “After all, if the other side does it, so why shouldn’t we?”  Thus this fallacy is not only irrational by definition, but can lead to a vicious cycle.

This is part of what is behind the not so new No Labels group, as they see bad behavior on both sides and thus seek another way.  Technically this would not be the fallacy of tu quoque, as the No Labels group is not trying to excuse their own behavior, but it is still a form of ad hominem attack, and is still just as irrational.  But in addition to this, and their other problems  (see Preserving Democracy pg 188-191)  the No Labels group has an addition factual problem here.  In many cases, the charge that “both sides do it” is simply not correct. There is a difference between how the parties act and the standards to which they are held.

As wrote earlier, some of my liberal friends are using “Both sides do it” to rationalize way the cramming down of major legislation in the lame duck session, but the history of Lame duck sessions simply do not support the claim. The only other time something like this happened was in 1980 when like this year, the Democrats lost total control over the government.

When Bush was president, democrats frequently objected to being called unpatriotic, for opposing Bush.  Now it is true that if you search the internet, you can find someone who has said just about anything about any public figure.  But that some blogger somewhere called Democrats unpatriotic , is not quite the same thing as Bush or other Republican elected officials doing it, and, as Fred Barnes pointed out:

nobody called Kennedy or any other Democrat unpatriotic. Bush didn’t. Senate Republicans didn’t… In this and every other case in which Democrats claim to have been smeared as unpatriotic, the facts don’t bear them out. Bush has never used the words “Democrat” and “unpatriotic” in the same sentence or in nearby sentences. In fact, he’s never uttered the word “unpatriotic” in public in any context.

But on the Democrat side you do not have to go to obscure bloggers to find such rhetoric. Nancy Pelosi, called the Republicans “unpatriotic” at a news conference in 2008.  She did the same thing in before, and is not the only Democrat to do so.

This extends to other areas as well.  The transition from President Clinton to President Bush was very difficult, not just because of a lack of cooperation from the outgoing administration, but because of petty partisanship of those in the Clinton administration.  Thought downplayed by the Bush administration, a later GAO report confirmed among other things that the W key was remove from many White House Keyboards and anti-bush graffiti was left in the white house.  The total Cost of the damages was over $13,000.  So can the same be said of the recent transition from Bush to Obama?  No.  In fact just the opposite, this transition was called “among the smoothest of U.S. presidential transitions.”

The same can be said of elections.  When Republicans loose by a close margin, they generally accept their loss.  Democrats, on the other hand  often contest demanding recounts, often questionable until they can get one that gives them a victory.   In 1960, Nixon loss a very close election which many historians now believe was stolen from him in Texas and Chicago.  While many at the time urged him to contest, he actively sought to suppress any effort at questioning the election because he did not believe it would be good for the country.   Gore’s actions following the elections  in 2000 suggest Nixon was correct.

Also in 2000 Republican John Ashcroft lost a narrow senate race. Despite claims of fraud, Ashcroft accepted defeat.   On the other hand in Washington State 2004 Republican Dino Rossi was declared the winner by a narrow margin.  The Democrat, Christina Gregoire demand recounts the election went to the courts.   The first recount still had Rossi leading, so a third manual recount was done among much controversy over ballots, particularly some newly discovered ones.  This recount gave Gregoire the Democrat the lead, and she became Governor.  Much the same this happen in Senatorial election in 2008 in Minnesota, where on election night the republican won, and after a lot of questionable recounts, including precincts that were somehow reporting more votes cast then voters who had voted the Democrat again won.

Even when both side do it, the standards by which they are judged is vastly different.  What all politicians do have in common is that they all say dumb things from time to time and have bad interviews.   When Republicans such as Dan Quayle, George Bush,  or a Sarah Palin do it, it is taken as determinative and proof that they are an idiots. The quotes are played over and over.  When Democrats do it, such as Obama saying he had been in 57 states, it is written off as a non-consequential mistake.

In another area, consider the reaction to conduct of Mark Foley.  When it was discovered that he had sent sexually explicit emails and instant messages to former congressional page, he was immediately asked to resign, and the ensuing scandal became a major issue in the 2006 congressional elections.   In an odd quirk of timing, in the midst of the Foley scandal Congress Gerry Studds passed away.   In a New York Time obituary, he was lauded as “a role model.”   Yet, in contrast to  Foley, Studds did not just send sexually  explicit messages to former pages, he had a sexual relationship with a then current page.   Did he like Foley resign?  No, he went on to be reelected and was eventually lauded as a role model.

In area after area, the simple facts are that they don’t just all do it.  Even in areas where they do, the evidence is that there is a clear double standard.  When Republicans do misbehave they are condemned, and rightly so.  But when Democrats do the same or in some cases even worse, their actions are excused by point to Republican behavior, real or imagined.

Jan 18th, 2011

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