Monday, October 6, 2008

Robert Knight - All Mistakes are Not Created Equal

In an effort to rationalize Sarah Palin's embarrassing lack of knowledge of, well, anything, those still willing to publicly support McCain/Palin are playing a subtle game of equivocation with the terms "mistake" and "gaffe". Robert Knight demonstrates:

"When a liberal misspeaks, it’s a slip of the tongue. We all make mistakes. If you are a conservative, however, you commit an unforgivable sin that must be revisited a thousand times until you are out of Purgatory – or office, whichever comes first."

The assumption that all mistakes are equal, and should be treated identically, is never stated. Yet it is the backbone of the argument, and it is, on its face preposterous. This shouldn't need explaining, but saying "Kansas" when you meant "Kentucky" isn't nearly the mistake saying "the Kremlin" would be. Some mistakes are just worse than others. The things politicians say always must be interpreted in context as well, especially those things that sound troublesome. Was it an off-the-cuff comment the candidate himself regrets, or does he defend it? Was it a simple slip of the tongue that was actually the opposite of what the candidate believes, or did it reveal a shoddy association with the facts? Does it indicate a lack of understanding of important issues, or just a momentary lapse?

These are all crucial issues to evaluating what politicians say, and yet when these comparisons are made, they are almost always absent. Over and over when someone says something like Knight above, what will invariably follow is a comparison of quotes from the two candidates, and the different reactions to them, resulting in an (to the speaker) inarguable case that there is an unfair bias.

The problem is that the mistakes compared are rarely identical, and often are not comparable in any sane way. This election is a primary example of it, as the Palin supporters scramble to try to find some way to excuse the idiocy that she vomits forth daily. They tend to answer their own questions, if they paid attention at all to the implications of what they say. Again, Knight does not disappoint:

"Good Morning America, like NBC’s Today Show and CBS’ The Early Show, played clips of Tina Fey doing her mocking impersonation of Palin on Saturday Night Live. When did comic impersonations become news?"

I'll tell you when Mr. Knight. It became news when it used actual quotes from the candidate. It became news when the GOP decided to insult the intelligence of the American electorate and nominated a completely unqualified, ignorant person who holds borderline insane beliefs about the history of the earth, to the 2nd highest office in the land. You made the joke, you have no business complaining that comedians noticed, and that we all see the similarities.

Let's review. Sarah Palin couldn't name a Supreme Court decision that she disagreed with other than Roe v. Wade, she couldn't name a periodical she reads, couldn't give an answer to the relevance of the proximity of Russia and Alaska to her foreign policy experience, thought the founding fathers wrote the pledge of allegiance, and thought health care was a major issue in the recent financial meltdown.

So what Joe Biden mistakes does Knight want to compare to this?

"Last week, Biden said in a speech that, “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television” to calm the nation. The stock market crashed in 1929, before TV and before Roosevelt was president.

No problem. The liberal media have Joe’s back and won’t make a big deal of it. Palin made no notable errors last week, yet she was still the one to be savaged. It’s a pity Saturday Night Live can’t remove their ideological blinders. What a great skit Biden might have inspired! Imagine Bill Murray coming back to portray Biden: “It’s just like when George Washington climbed up on a tank to rally the troops at Gettysburg…” "


Where to begin? How about with what kind of mistake Biden made. No, FDR did not get on TV to talk to the nation when the market crashed in 1929. FDR was not president until 1933, and television did not appear until 1939. What Roosevelt did do was become president in the middle of the depression, and he had his famous "fireside chats" on the radio. So boiled down to the essentials, Biden misplaced Roosevelt's talks with the nation during the depression by a few years, and got the medium wrong.

So what? This is Knight's idea of a major error? In what way? Does it reveal any underlying ignorance of major events? No. Does it reveal a lack of conceptual understanding of any issues? It does not. The man made mistakes on matters of trivia. The spirit of what he said was true: FDR did soothe the nation during troubled financial times.

Yet Knight and many of the McCain people want us and the media to treat this as the same sort of mistake as thinking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were public institutions, or yammering about Russian air strikes into Alaska? Talk about a lack of perspective and scale. It shows in Knight's hypothetical SNL skit above, where he compares Biden's mistake of a few years, and one level of technology, in the proper historical event, with a mistake of almost a century that used the wrong historical event and technology dramatically different from the reality! (For any Palin supporters reading this, Gettysburg was a battle in the Civil War, and Washington fought in the American Revolutionary War, nearly 100 years earlier).

Knight's second example is just as bad:

"Another suitable moment for carving into a media bat came after John McCain showed his metal bracelet worn in memory of Cpl. Matthew Stanley, who was killed in Iraq. Obama noted that he, too, wore a bracelet for a fallen soldier. Then he forgot the name of Sgt. Ryan David Jopek and had to look down and read it.

It’s not awful, and could happen to anyone, but can anyone honestly imagine that the media would have ignored this had McCain been the forgetful one?"


Notice the use, as seems an epidemic among conservatives these days, of a hypothetical speculation in place of a fact at the end. Knight presents no evidence that the media would have treated this differently had McCain done it. He simply speculates about it and pretends it is evidence. It's not. To prove it, I'll illustrate what such evidence would look like, and why his original point is wrong. Take this quote from Sarah Palin's Couric interview, where she is talking about the relevance of Russia and Canada:

"Well, it certainly does because our-- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of."

Palin said that Russia and Canada were IN Alaska. Not near it, in it. It's a clear mistake, and yet the horrible anti-Palin media said nothing. Now why would that be? Simple. It was not a substantive mistake. Her tongue slipped, it happens to everyone from time to time, and it is simply not worth focusing on. THAT would be Gotcha Politics. Yet that is not what we see.

The same argument can be made about Obama reading the soldier's name. So what? Do we expect every politician to remember every name that crosses their path? Do we even know he looked because he forgot? Maybe it was an act of respect, trying not to mangle a difficult name. However, even if he forgot the name, do the Republicans really want to compare this to McCain forgetting, on three separate occasions, that Czechoslovakia no longer exists? They aren't the same thing at all, and they shouldn't be treated the same.

Knight likes football analogies, but he misses the easy one. He wants us to treat the Democratic incomplete passes with Republican interceptions.

1 comment:

ollie said...

Here is a big mistake that isn't a "slip of the tongue": McCain didn't know that the Iranian President does NOT control the military; the Supreme Leader does.

He was given a chance to correct himself.