It's Exactly Alike, Except For Being The Opposite

Now here's a title guaranteed to grab the attention: "The John Kerry Republicans."
During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry was widely ridiculed when, in discussing Iraq and Afghanistan war funding, he declared, “I actually did vote for [it] before I voted against it.”

Well, now 50 House Republicans can say the same thing about their votes on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) terrorist surveillance program.
The author, Marc Thiessen, goes on to claim that this represents a kind of hypocrisy. However, he misunderstands the force of the problem Kerry had in 2004.

The problem wasn't that Kerry had changed his mind. People change their minds on the basis of new evidence.

The problem is that Kerry was trying to convince a crowd who favored "it" that he was their guy, because he had supported their cause before he voted against it. That argument -- "I was on your side before I voted against you" -- is really worthy of the ridicule it received.

House Republicans now are talking to voters who are increasingly, and rightly given recent revelations, suspicious that the NSA program really does have adequate oversight and limits. They're telling the voters, "We once thought this seemed reasonable, but as we have learned more we, like you, have developed concerns."

It's true that both situations involve mind-changing, but otherwise they are precise opposites.


Texan99 said...

The fellow who writes "House of Eratosthenes" has often struggled with the weird tendency of leftists to argue false equivalences. I was skeptical, since I think everyone tends to do that, but now I don't know. It does seem to be coming more from the left lately. I'm going to have to put up my antenna and see if I can find the same problem in conservative writers.

Grim said...

Let us know what you discover.

Tom said...

I'm interested in what you find as well.

I have a hypothesis that leftists are more relativistic and hence have a more malleable idea of truth, which leads to logical problems that are rarer on the right.

(Of course, since the public education system avoids teaching even basic logic at all costs, there are problems everywhere.)

Texan99 said...

Here's an example, perhaps, or maybe it looks like one to a progressive: conservatives are apt to say that racism is the same thing whether it's practiced by whites against blacks or by blacks against whites. For a progressive, it's overwhelmingly important to distinguish between the two, because in one case there's a history of persecution, and in the other not. So a progressive might think conservatives are being impossibly reductionist to equate the two. It doesn't look that way to me, because the distinctions between the two are less important than the similarities, given my priorities.

Grim said...

Racism is a good example of a place where we use one term to describe related by dissimilar phenomena. I'm always surprised when people from the West Coast refer to anti-Asian sentiment as "racism." That doesn't really compute to me -- whatever metric we're using for 'race,' are the Chinese the same 'race' as Filipinos and Koreans? -- but it's how they think of it.

From the perspective of the Old South, there are only two races: black and white. Racism is about relationships between those two races, given a particular historical context. That's not to say there aren't other kinds of people, but they don't really fit in the particular problem set. If you're just off the boat from India, you're not black and you're also not white. People may accept you or not -- the Indians around here seem to do just fine -- but 'racism' has nothing to do with you. If people don't accept you, that's xenophobia or anti-Muslim sentiment (if you are or are thought to be Muslim). Trying to bundle it into racism wouldn't make sense, because it has nothing to do with the particular history and set of problems that arise from that history.

By the same token, if you're just off the boat from Kenya, you've got black skin, but you're not black in the Southern context. If anyone displays racist sentiment in your direction, it's a kind of mistake on their part, an error that comes from a lack of understanding.

Racism is thus very constrained, which makes sense because 'racism' in the Southern sense is both the worst problem we have from our history, and a problem with very specific parameters. If that's the problem we're working on, all the rest of this stuff is extraneous to it.

But that's not at all how other people in other places use the term, or the idea.

Texan99 said...

I was very surprised as a child to learn that race animus was not restricted to blacks or even Jews, but also extended to Asians. (The plot of South Pacific was very hard to understand until this lightbulb came on; I thought it was more of a social-connections snobbism.) Gradually I realized it applies to basically any ethnic difference, more or less, but was more extreme in some cases, depending on the depths of horror in the historical experience.