Sunday, September 26, 2021
Sept. 26, 2021

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Press Talk: Political Illogic class now in session

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Class, my name is Professor Brancaccio and I’d like to open up Political Illogic 101 by reading you a story. It’s called “The Water Spill Dilemma”:

When 14-year-old Kaleb felt the drop hit his forehead, he thought little of it.

He was engrossed in “Grand Theft Auto V” and an increased heart rate and a little salt-tinged sweat would be logical byproducts. But two more quick drops in succession prompted the Camas boy to look upward. There, on the ceiling above him, were beads of water and reality — no, panic — was setting in.

Thirty minutes earlier Kaleb had run the bath water upstairs on this still-pleasant September day but the young boy — none of whom are properly wired at this age — decided to leave the agua running and return to playing his game. What could go wrong if he slipped downstairs for a few more minutes?

Everything.

As the drip turned to a stream, the panic intensified. He rushed upstairs to shut off the faucet but — oh my — he was way … too … late. He waded through 6 inches of water to reach the tub. And as he looked down at his soaked Bombas socks he was pretty sure of one thing: When his mom returned from shopping, life as he knew it would be over.

But — BUT — he had an idea! And he was certain it was genius.

He could mitigate the sure-to-come fallout by reminding his mom what had happened just the day before. His twin brother Daniel had spilled a glass of water on the tile floor in the kitchen. Mom did nothing more than politely ask Daniel to wipe it up.

So when Mom opened the front door and looked at the puddle in the living room, Kaleb delivered his logic.

“Mom. Remember when Daniel spilled water on the floor? Nothing happened to him. So, yes, I spilled water as well. And to be fair I should get the same punishment.” Kaleb produced those annoying air quotes with his fingers as he slowly said the word “punishment.”

Mom didn’t waste much time with this illogical comparison.

“No more video games for two months and start lining up those snow-shoveling jobs for this winter. You’re going to help pay for all of this.”

• • •

Any reaction, class? Remi?

“These two incidents are simply not the same. Not even close.”

Well Remi, they both spilled water. So in that regard I might suggest they are the same. But Remi, of course, you’re right. And today this kind of thing has a label. It’s called a false equivalency.

Does anyone — after hearing this short story I just read — want to take a shot at defining false equivalency? Hannah?

“Well, it’s almost self-explanatory. One tries to equate two subjects using flawed or false reasoning.”

Very good. So even though both boys spilled water, to assume those incidents are equal would be ludicrous. Now, because this is a political science class, let’s move this discussion in that direction. Any ideas? Danni?

“Professor, you wrote a column before the presidential election asking a local politician — who was a Trump supporter — why we shouldn’t be frightened of Donald Trump. His response was that he was also afraid of Joe Biden. So now I see that as a false equivalency. Correct?”

Correct, Danni. A very good example. People with differing views could be afraid of Republicans or Democrats. But it’s important to assess the degree of fright. It would be illogical to compare your fright level with Trump with your fright level with Biden. Trump is like a guy who might confront you with an AK-47. Biden is like a guy who might confront you with a soup spoon. It’s true that both are confronting you. It’s true that both a spoon and gun technically could kill you. But it’s a false equivalency to suggest those are equal confrontations. In other words, a false equivalency.

Thanks. Does anyone have one more? Evelyn? Go ahead.

“Maybe we could look back at the use of the word ‘fight.’ Trump was impeached, in part, because he told an angry mob — which he had called to D.C. to stop Congress from confirming the results of the election he lost — to ‘fight like hell.’

“But his attorneys — once the Senate began deciding if they should convict him — argued that other politicians have used the word ‘fight’ in political speeches as well.

“It seems to me that’s a false equivalency. When other politicians ask supporters to fight for a victory, they don’t storm government buildings to try to overtake the system. And Trump did exactly that. There’s no comparison. That is — again — a false equivalency.”

Exactly, Evelyn. Great discussion, class. Any last words? Jimmy?

“Well, it sounds like we all need to call out politicians who use false equivalencies. They shouldn’t do stupid stuff. But they always do, so we need to hold them accountable. It’s up to us!”

“Oh, and Professor Brancaccio, I think Kaleb’s mom should give him a break. He’s only 14.”

Well said, Jimmy. At least on the stuff you said about politicians. But let Kaleb’s mom handle that water issue. Now ring the bell. Class dismissed.

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