Fudged Fact - to misrepresent an otherwise accurate assessment by messing with its context.Let me describe the issue and its problems.
You have no doubt been in the middle of a conversation/debate with someone when the other person suddenly makes the claim that "they're both doing it." The phrase, at its base, is used to suggest that two opposing parties are both guilty of the same problem. It is also most commonly used to refer to politicians in the Republican and Democratic Parties specifically.
The phrase is also commonly uttered on TV yakfests, such as The View or cable news shows. Some talking heads (pundits) employ it during real news broadcasts, and even some self-described Moderate politicians will use it to condemn both parties. I have complete faith that you've heard the phrase at some point--if not ad nauseam.
But here is why I consider it pernicious:
- It implies equality. The suggestion of the phrase is that since two opposing parties are doing something, then they are of equal guilt. This does not take into account the possibility that one may be far more likely to do it or has already participated in it to a far greater extent.
- It is an act of misdirection. It redirects the conversation away from what is currently being discussed. It is often the associations or experiences that are the center of the problem, but in misdirecting our focus, our attention is turned toward this presumed equality.
- It actually cuts off debate. It eliminates the very center of the argument and pulls us to the lowest common denominator. If two parties receive money from an energy company, but only one seems to re-write regulation to curry favor with the company, the act of bringing up the perceived equality in receiving funds keeps us from debating the actual problem, which is the legislation that produces the favor.
- It is an act of derision. It makes the claim that because persons A and B have this same association, they are both bad. This (again) brings up the lowest common denominator: A is actually perceived as less of a pariah if A and B are both pariahs!
This may also imply that all crimes are equally bad--which could be the real reason why we can't seem to punish the Bush White House or Wall Street--we know better. We know that these crimes aren't equal.
When we paint with the same broad brush, we miss the actual differences--just as when we focus on the differences, we actually ignore the similarities. But in the case of the non-argument "They're both doing it," we are laying equal guilt and directing the conversation elsewhere, when the central concern must be what the one is doing. Let's use the above example:
Throughout the 1990s, one energy company (Enron) gave millions in campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats. The ratio was something like 5-to-1 or 10-to-1 (favoring Republicans). They helped rewrite legislation in Texas under a Republican governor (who himself received many millions in contributions), reciprocating deals for the company, and even getting them exclusive access when he became President of the United States. The same company used the energy crisis in California to force its governor (a Democrat) to sign a reprehensible contract to save his state. Enron held millions of people hostage through a shady, quasi-legal contract. Further, under the Texan, the Enron contract was upheld and not investigated, even though there was clear evidence of extortion. In the late 1990s, legislation was passed by a Republican-controlled congress (and they overrode Clinton's veto) that allowed a company like Arthur Anderson to both audit and advise a company like Enron. These rules allowed Enron to exploit the consumers, make a killing on Wall Street, and make a fortune off of the backs of people that would later to the brunt of the abuse when Enron collapsed. So here's the checklist:
- Enron greatly favors Republican candidates
- Republicans grant access to Enron
- Republicans re-write laws allowing Enron (and Arthur Anderson) to cheat
- A Democrat is extorted and a state is held hostage
- Enron's collapse generates millions for the board and CEOs
- Investors lose everything.