Taking the false-equivalence fallacy to the extreme


One of my colleagues here at The Rachel Maddow Show reminded me this afternoon of comments President Obama made to Associated Press last week about the false-equivalence fallacy. Obama said, “I think that there is often times the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, then they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and an equivalence is presented – which reinforces I think people’s cynicism about Washington generally.”

Given the political uproar of the day, it seems like a good time to revisit the subject.

Mitt Romney was losing the so-called “war on women. Badly. Until Democratic operative Hilary Rosen appeared on CNN Wednesday night and seemingly derided his wife’s decision to stay at home and raise the couple’s five boys.

What much of the political world seems to be saying today is that the “war on women” now has two competing counterweights.

One the one hand, we have a party that has pushed for restricting contraception; cutting off Planned Parenthood; state-mandated, medically-unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds; forcing physicians to lie to patients about abortion and breast cancer; abortion taxes; abortion waiting periods; trap laws at abortion clinics, forcing women to tell their employers why they want birth control, opposition to prenatal care, and measures that make it harder for women to fight pay discrimination.

On the other hand, we have a media pundit with no connection to her party’s presidential campaign who said something about Mitt Romney’s wife professional background.

Don’t you see? Both sides clearly have a problem here. Republicans were losing the “war on women,” but not anymore.

Let’s pause to appreciate the differences between policy and politics. A public policy offensive involving women’s health, waged at the local, state, and federal level is a serious development, worthy of scrutiny. It affects people in direct and personal ways.

This is not to say rhetoric is irrelevant – I’d be the first to argue that Rush Limbaugh’s multi-day tirades targeting Sandra Fluke mattered – but to obscure the differences a national policy initiative and a 30-second soundbite on CNN, which the pundit has since apologized for, is take the false-equivalence fallacy to depths that simply aren’t healthy for our public discourse.

War onWomen

Taking the false-equivalence fallacy to the extreme