Last week I wrote about the latest political outrage regarding Democratic strategist, Hillary Rosen’s remarks about Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, because I thought many commentators missed one important fact about the Romneys throughout the controversy. Now I want to comment on the controversy itself or more specifically the repeated use of false comparisons. The Republicans in recent months have gained a lot of infamous notoriety for advocating laws that affect birth control as well as equality in the workplace. Then Rosen makes a careless comment on Ann Romney never working a day in her life and suddenly the Republicans have a bit of evidence they use to claim that Democrats oppose a woman’s rights to choose motherhood over a career. This of course is a false comparison because the comments of one thoughtless strategist do not compare with the many laws proposed and passed that seek to impose restrictions on women’s rights. It is also a glaring example of moral relativism which is strange since conservatives have traditionally opposed this philosophical view.
Relativism posits that anything will look differently from different points of view in space, time, or position and absolutely denies that permanent things, either of reality or of the mind, exist. Regarding morality there is no good or evil to relativists. Cultural conservatives in particular deeply oppose the notion that morality is a matter of perspective which makes this current adoption of false comparisons so notable because in doing so they must concede that there is no good or evil. In another example of pointless outrage that will be quickly forgotten when a new outrage comes along conservative news website The Daily Caller reported April 17 that President Barack Obama ate dog meat when he was living in Indonesia. This was in response to the Democrats reminding voters that Mitt Romney once put the family dog in a carrier and strapped it to the roof a car during a trip to Canada. Both stories are quite irrelevant to current events and issues, but in the effort to bring down Obama in the eyes of dog lovers they are inadvertently claiming that he is no better which can only be true if one is a moral relativist. Perhaps the people who make these false comparisons hope people will be too busy quibbling over details to notice, but if both of these acts are unacceptable to people who prize dogs and other animals then how can they expect to win their vote?
This is among many other reasons why people become disillusioned with politics. If one believes that they are all crooks then they will not vote because to them it does not matter. False comparisons must be fought with critical thinking as well as remembering who resorted to it and how often. Both sides are guilty, but it is particularly egregious that conservatives resort to this tactic because of their opposition to moral relativism. I recall the outrage over University of Colorado professor, Ward Churchill’s essay comparing the people killed on September 11 to “little Eichmanns.” To compare the recent dog eating controversy to this would be in itself a false comparison, but the conservatives took exception at comparing everyday Americans who were tangentially related to the political and business decisions that oppress people from poor foreign nations. Many believed moral relativism was a symptom of academia and multiculturalism and attacked it for having no morality. However, the basic argument of Churchill is we are no better and when Romney’s allies inform voters that Obama ate a dog once they are claiming the same thing and by extension there are no moral standards. If Obama abuses dogs by eating them then so does Romney by forcing them to ride in unsafe conditions and if Republicans oppress women through their laws then so do Democrats by denigrating motherhood. That’s hardly an encouraging set of choices and it is easy to see why the uninformed voter would stop caring.
At least this latest outrage is over something trivial, but in an election year like this there will be more and I imagine so many that even the important controversies will become trivial when one recalls everything. Personally I hold whoever makes a false comparison against the person who makes it more than what the other person did because it is an insult to my intelligence. Moreover, it is not an effective political tactic because if the intent is to disillusion voters to the point that only the party faithful turn out for elections this could be most detrimental to the side that has fewer committed and registered voters. Whatever happens in the next few months it can only get worse, but it remains to be seen much more trivial it can get.