Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In Defense of Rejecting False Equivalence

I have been criticized for my confession in my analysis of the Richardson City Council election results. I confessed:

"that there were events in the election campaign that I failed to comment on that I normally might have. The RCA's tactics were so over the top that these other issues shrank in comparison. ... Misstatements by the non-RCA candidates turned out to be minor infractions compared to the repeated and serious misstatements made by the RCA. I focused on the felonies and let the misdemeanors go."

Because I said I found RCA's tactics to be over the top, I have been accused of voting with my emotions, of voting my personality likes and dislikes instead of the issues. I have been accused of admitting that I gave a pass to gross misstatements of the non-RCA candidates. I have been accused of failing to explicitly identify any misstatements made by the RCA.

Once again, Duty Calls. There are many problems with this criticism. After the jump, my defense.

First, I didn't turn against the RCA because of personality dislikes. The RCA's candidates were personable, likable, always courteous, even friendly. I found their accusations to be "over the top" on substantive grounds, not because I disliked any of them personally.

Second, the criticism is a distortion of what I actually said. I said I gave a pass to what I judged to be *minor* misstatements of non-RCA candidates. I did not say I gave a pass to *gross* misstatements. The critics may have a different judgment on the seriousness of the misstatements, and they are entitled to their opinion, but so am I.

Third, although I admitted to being partial, the critics are confusing cause and effect. I didn't focus on RCA's misstatements because I favored their opponents. It was the RCA's own gross misstatements that led me to favor their opponents in the first place. For example: "Our city leaders have abandoned our core values: transparency, ethics and fiscal responsibility." I consider this to be factually false as well as derogatory and undeserving of my support.

Fourth, in numerous blog posts leading up the election, I frequently pointed out where I thought the RCA was factually incorrect. So did other online commentators. The most comprehensive rebuttal to the RCA's misstatements came from Richardson's City Manager Bill Keffler. The RCA may reject the corrections offered by these many sources, but the RCA is guilty of yet another misstatement when it claims no one has yet identified any misstatements made by the RCA.

Fifth, there's an implication that in such an impasse, I should take a neutral stance, on the grounds that "both sides do it." But equating the misstatements of the RCA and the misstatements of the other candidates creates a false equivalence. There is a very good reason why I refuse to go along. It's explained well in this short article by Jamison Foser. An excerpt:

"Drawing false equivalence between unequal sins incentivizes bad behavior. When minor and major infractions draw the same penalty, it should be obvious that some people will realize that they may as well get whatever benefits accompany the commission of major infractions, since they won't be penalized any more than their rival who commits a minor infraction."

So, I stand behind my decision to focus on major infractions and not the minor infractions made by any of the candidates in the Richardson election. In my opinion, the major infractions were mostly the work of the RCA and its slate of candidates. I thank the critics for giving me another reason to reiterate that.

Whew! There. It feels good to finally and completely put those criticisms to rest. It's settled. Right? No? Well, the election is over. We'll have to agree to disagree and move on. Richardson has other things to talk about now.

In the interest of full disclosure, and at risk of opening myself up to yet more criticism, I now have to make yet another teensy little confession: I am not entirely emotion-free. You see, mirth is an emotion. Some candidates were more mirth-inducing than others. Those candidates made writing this blog easier. I did try to decide on my endorsements and write them up during the odd moments when I wasn't chuckling to myself over something a candidate said or did. Still, mirth probably tugged at me in at least a teensy tiny way. The next council would have been more fun to watch and listen to with a slightly different cast of characters. I don't think that influenced me in any way, but if it did without my awareness, my bad.

No comments: