False Equivalence Watch: A Keeper From the L.A. Times

One proposal got 40 votes; another got 51; both of them "failed."

Will get to security-state news of all sorts later today. For now, quite a remarkable illustration of the spread of the "false equivalence" outlook. For background on that concept, start here. The gist is:

  • for most of American history, the U.S. Senate has operated on a simple majority-vote basis, except for treaties, impeachment, and other limited cases;
  • since the GOP lost control of the Senate six years ago, Mitch McConnell's Senate minority has used filibuster threats at an unprecedented rate, requiring not a simple majority of 51 votes but a supermajority of 60 to get even routine business done or routine appointments approved;
  • the minority has sought to portray this approach not as a historical aberration but as perfectly routine. Thus every press account saying a measure "lost" rather than that it was "blocked" or "filibustered," takes us closer to this de facto Constitutional change. For more on why that matters, see this (and, for a positive example, this).
Comes now the Los Angeles Times -- a paper I've read and loved since boyhood, my original employer when I had a newspaper route and then when I phoned in high-school sports scores [my point: I'm not a LAT-knocker]  -- with a story on attempts to put a cap on interest rates for student loans. Here was the headline:

And here is the bulk of the story, setting out the details:

So we have two plans, from the two opposing parties, each following a path to defeat. Sounds like one more case of everyone's-to-blame "gridlock." Then, in paragraph eight, we get this:


Right; both plans "failed." One because only a minority of senators voted for it; the other, because a majority voted for it but not enough to surmount a filibuster threat. It's impossible to say which side is being more obstructionist; the issue is "unresolved" and is one more sign of modern dysfunction. [Thanks to reader MR.]

This may violate some corollary to the Godwin Rule, but once again I give you George Orwell:
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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