Apples to Straw Men

The N&O plays the false equivalence game, and not well
Little Orphan Annie
Daddy Warbucks

It’s easy to overuse the charge of “false equivalence,” especially if you’re a liberal, which is one reason why I tread lightly with the term. But the N&O’s Rob Christensen yanked a doozy out of thin air in an otherwise fine column Saturday.

The column is about how North Carolina’s politics have turned paranoid, in the Hofstadter sense. Which is certainly true (and certainly not limited to North Carolina).

But he tries to highlight instances of paranoia on both sides, and for balance’s sake, Christensen compares apples to … well, a classic straw man:

(Art) Pope and his array of conservative organizations were active in the 2010 elections, as was the Koch-financed advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity.

But the tale of Daddy Warbucks buying the state is a liberal fantasy. The year 2010 was a Republican landslide, fueled by a political backlash against President Barack Obama’s health care initiative and the rise of the tea party movement. Republican enthusiasm coupled with Democratic complacency proved to be a deadly combination.

If Republicans had won the legislature by a few seats, perhaps you could credit the Pope money. But the GOP took the Senate by a 31 to 19 margin and the House by a 67 to 52 margin in what was part of a national Republican landslide in 2010.

Is Pope a powerful guy? Sure. He has spent millions trying to influence politics and public policy in North Carolina. But if Pope and the Koch brothers had never been born, the Republicans would still be in control of the legislature.

It’s not like there are no conservatives in the state of North Carolina.

Oy vey ist mich. That’s not exactly the point, is it? I know of no rational people to the ideological left of Mr. Pope who believe that he and the Koch brothers literally “bought” the state, or that North Carolina would be Vermont with barbecue were it not for those sinister Righty McWingnuts seizing the 2010 and ’12 elections; we’re well aware that North Carolina has numerous conservatives, thank you. Midterm elections are a bitch for the party in power. That's reality.

But that doesn’t diminish the potent effect of Pope and Koch money on the last two election cycles. There’s no honest way you can lift that money out of the equation and argue, “Well, the Obama backlash and rise of the tea party would’ve happened anyway, even without bankrolling by rich ultraconservatives.” Maybe — it’s an arguable point, assuming as it does that the tea party was an organic phenomenon, which I doubt — but it would have been a hell of a lot smaller and less powerful. It’s a moot point anyway.

But there’s another critical difference to note between conservative and liberal paranoia in North Carolina: The left-wing paranoia, to the degree that it exists, stems from the more excitable posters on BlueNC and Democratic Underground. The right-wing paranoia is coming from everywhere, including our governor and leading members of the General Assembly.

There’s a difference. I suspect Christensen knows this. He and other reporters ought to start recognizing it.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest