Your Shutdown/False-Equivalence Reader for Thursday

The chronicles go on.

In yesterday's installment, three members of the Atlantic Media family—Ron Fournier, Derek Thompson, and I—agreed that extremist House GOP demands lay behind the current governing disruptions. Where Fournier and I disagreed was about which of two media-mindset habit was the more serious and widespread problem. I said (with Derek Thompson) it was the reflexive "false equivalence" habit of casting disputes in a 50-50, everyone's-t0-blame framework. ("Disagreements between Kennedy, Oswald, lead to violence in Dallas.") Ron Fournier said he was more concerned about the opposite tendency, to see things in 100-0, good-vs.-evil terms.

For today, first, a compilation of evidence on how strong the false-equivalence instinct remains even now—even when some of the harshest criticism of hardline GOP demands comes from other Republicans. Media Matters has a long list of headlines from the past two or three days begging the two sides to split their differences. 

Second, Tom Friedman of the New York Times, with whom I've differed often enough over the years, offers a remarkably tough, plain, and in my view wholly justified statement of what is at stake, forthrightly using terms like "blackmail" and "demands" rather than "disagreement":

President Obama is leading. He is protecting the very rules that are the foundation of any healthy democracy. He is leading by not giving in to this blackmail, because if he did he would undermine the principle of majority rule that is the bedrock of our democracy. That system guarantees the minority the right to be heard and to run for office and become the majority, but it also ensures that once voters have spoken, and their representatives have voted—and, if legally challenged, the Supreme Court has also ruled in their favor—the majority decision holds sway. A minority of a minority, which has lost every democratic means to secure its agenda, has no right to now threaten to tank our economy if its demands are not met. If we do not preserve this system, nothing will ever be settled again in American politics.  

Very much worth reading. And because there is no such thing as quoting the following paragraph too often, I remind you of the parallel warning a Republican politician issued 153 years ago:

"Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events."

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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.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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