06 August, 2007

Apples And Oranges

It is sad when supporters of a presidential candidate have to stoop to this kind of misdirection. Italics original, bold mine.
America's political consensus is almost absurdly to the right. But because people still need to run to the left of each other, the rhetoric on offer frequently sounds like the rhetoric of the left, even as its actual prescriptions are decidedly within the mainstream of our fairly conservative consensus on economics. And vice versa in other countries, where rhetoric of the right can refer to almost comically leftist policies. where the center is much further left -- and in other countries, the precise opposite happens.

The French election was an excellent example. The rhetoric there was much the same as the rhetoric here, but it was actually referring to a consensus far to the left of ours, and so even the right wing radical Sarkozy was offering nothing but a couple market-friendly tweaks across the edges of France's expansive public sector. He's further to the Left than anyone running in America. Here, John Edwards is speaking boldly for the left, but doing little more than shoring up some holes of inefficiency and insecurity within our market-heavy approach. His support for the 40-hour, rather than 35-hour, workweek puts him considerably to Sarkozy's right.

Am I the only person here that finds these non sequitur and post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments exhaustingly foolish? It is a well-known fact that the American political center is more conservative than any other industrial nation. Yet here, with his gratuitous to-the-right-of-Sarkozy response, Ezra Klein falls into the exact same rhetorical trap as the Matt Miller article in the Financial Times that he responds to. Again, bolds mine.
Consider John Edwards, who the press and Republicans have cast as the heartthrob of the resurgent “left”. The centrepiece of Mr Edwards’ agenda is a call for universal health coverage. It sounds radical to American ears, perhaps. But Margaret Thatcher would have been chased from office in the UK if she had proposed a health plan as radically conservative as Mr Edwards’ – under which private doctors would supply the medicine, and years would still pass with millions of Americans uncovered.
Matt and Ezra approach the trap from different sides, of course: the former stating that "The Left isn't that far left now, is it?" and the latter responding that "The Left isn't far enough!"

Our histories are different. Our philosophies are different. Our attitudes are different. So why is it an instance of surprise that our politics are different as well? Why do we have this consistent need to compare political apples and rhetorical oranges? And who is more foolish in the above comparison? Is it the man that uses this device to supposedly discredit the "progressive" standing of a Democratic presidential candidate? Or the man that uses this device to make his candidate-of-choice look better to the poi holloi?

This isn't French politics. Nor is it British politics. Not Canadian politics or German politics or Turkish politics or Iranian politics or Armenian politics or New World Order politics or Bloomingdale's politics.

Can we please just leave aside the gratuitous references to how other countries' politicians do things, if only when discussing an American politician? For the only real point of comparison is that they are all politicians, just like apples and oranges are both fruit. For the rest of the particulars, there are not nearly enough points of commonality to bother. And in the end, it only makes you look like an idiot.


Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I think the comparison is fair. The argument that a proposal is "too far left" or "too far right" is essentially an argument that a proposal is unpractical, unworkable, would have horrible consequences if implimented, or otherwise an idea adopted by people whose politics are so extreme that they are basically mentally unsound.

Foreign examples appropriately legitimatize proposals that while they are far from precedent on the American scene, are practicable workable, have good consequences and are put in place as mainstream policies by mentally sound people.

Off Colfax said...

Andrew, you got so close to my point there.

Whether the proposals are workable when instituted by reasonable people in Insert-Nation-Here is not the issue. The question is whether or not the comparisons are accurate as a whole. In order for this to be accurate, the political structure and history and electoral makeup should be closely aligned.

Sarkozy is to my left when it comes to his political views, which would put him smack-dab in the middle of the Democratic Party mainstream. Yet in France, he is a fire-brand conservative (I acknowledge the oxymoron.) in the same relative stripe as Mike Huckabee. Therefore, we cannot compare his policies and actions to the Democrats, as his relative position in the political spectrum is at odds with the exercise as a whole.

Now, you're saying "How can you compare Sarkozy to Huckabee?" They're both conservatives within their own political structure. And that is how we must determine what is a fair comparison and what is an unfair comparison.