I remember wistfully back in the 1980s listening to neoconservatives, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, argue that any comparisons between the bad things that America did oversees and bad things done by the Soviet Union were the height of irresponsibility. Liberals, like Noam Chomsky, were creating a “false equivalence” between the always-working-for-good America and the devil-incarnate-evil-empire Soviet Union. The whole messed-up thread was most salient during the year I was on the high school debate team and the resolution was about American foreign-policy in Latin America. Any argument that the United States supported terrorists or the overthrow of governments almost always got the Kirkpatrick “false equivalency” argument as a response.
I’ve been watching the current town-hall protests by Republicans and other far-right organizations over the past week in astonishment. But the most frustrating thing is the media narrative, present at MPR and the NYT, that the protests at the town-halls are just more of the same protests that liberals launched during the Bush administration. So here are my reasons why this equivalency is actually false:
- Corporate backing. I don’t recall any corporations backing the anti-war protests during the Bush administration. Former health care executives are running anti-reform campaigns. Two of the major groups involved in organizing the protests are Conservatives for Patients Rights, a group founded by Rick Scott, an ex-hospital executive, and Freedom Works, chaired by the Republican ex-majority leader of the house, Dick Armey.
- Republican party-leaders have adopted the outrageous rhetoric of the far-right. During the Bush administration liberals couldn’t get any of their party leaders to lend any support to their outrage. Howard Dean argued against the war but even he was forced to back down from some statements, such as his December 2003 statement about the capture of Saddam Hussein. The Democrat party ignored the anti-war left as much as possible. Just remember the utter failure of the impeach Bush meme. Democrats routinely reject the left, Republicans bend over backwards to embrace the fascist right.
- The current protests at town-halls are designed to stifle debate instead of encourage it. The great frustration of the left during the run-up to the Iraq war was the rejection of debate by the powers that be. Congress and other groups didn’t want to hear any objection to the war. Today Congress wants debate, that’s why they hold the town-halls to hear from their constituents, but the people right-wingers who show up are shutting down the debate before it even starts.
- There is also a big difference between media coverage of the current protests and the media coverage of anti-Bush protests. Today the town-hall protesters have major media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and more supporting their cause. I don’t remember there being as many prominent media figures supporting the anti-war protesters. I can only name two: Paul Krugman, and Bill Moyers. There were more but they didn’t have a whole network to promote their views like Fox News does today.