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“An Analogy Offered With A Nudge And A Wink”: Is Bernie Sanders A Nazi? On Our Epidemic Of Bad Analogies

The internet rewards hyperbole. Maybe that’s why bad — incendiary, wildly inaccurate — analogies seem to be spreading throughout the media landscape, and especially on the right.

Analogies are an indispensable tool of reasoning and rhetoric, highlighting similarities between two or more things, people, or events. But deploying analogies can be complicated, since the things, people, or events being compared are invariably dissimilar in a multitude of ways. The trick in deploying an analogy effectively is to highlight a similarity that reveals something important and underappreciated about the main thing, person, or event. The key to making a mess of an analogy is drawing a comparison in which the dissimilarities are so vast that they overshadow and even undermine the comparison altogether.

Consider Kevin Williamson’s much-discussed article from National Review calling Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders a Nazi. Now, Williamson doesn’t actually use the term Nazi. But he does say that Sanders “is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement.” Just in case readers failed to make the link to the National Socialist movement led by Adolf Hitler, Williamson immediately concedes that it’s “uncomfortable” to draw such a comparison about “a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust.” Still, Williamson insists, “there is no other way to describe his view and his politics.”

It turns out, though, that what Williamson really means is not that Sanders dreams of world military conquest and the extermination of Jews and other inferior races in the name of Aryan purity — you know, like an actual National Socialist. What Williamson really means is that Sanders is both a socialist and a nationalist. Which makes him “a national socialist in the mode of Hugo Chávez.”

Oh, that kind of national socialist.

By the time we come to this big reveal toward the end of Williamson’s article, it’s impossible not to feel manipulated, even duped, by the “national socialist” analogy that forms the backbone of the story — because the author utterly failed, and never even really intended, to demonstrate a relevant similarity between Sanders’ campaign and the fascist political movement that swept Germany in the 1930s and went by the name of National Socialism.

The Williamson article is somewhat unusual in that its core analogy is offered with a nudge and a wink. Other conservatives draw their inflammatory comparisons with complete sincerity.

Perhaps no recent event has inspired more spurious analogies than the Supreme Court’s defense of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. The decision has inspired some defenders of traditional marriage to call Obergefell the Dred Scott decision of our time (because, like Dred Scott, Obergefell was supposedly an act of lawless judicial usurpation that subverted the democratic will of the people).

Others have likened Obergefell to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that declared a constitutional right to abortion and ended up conjuring the national pro-life movement into existence. Still others have described a future in which the “Gestapo” will begin knocking on the doors of those who oppose same-sex marriage, or compared life for conservative Christians post-Obergefell to life under “the lie” of communist totalitarianism.

Let’s take these one at a time:

Unlike Dred Scott, Obergefell and same-sex marriage enslave no one. Moreover, whereas upholding the rights of slave owners led to immediate and total loss of liberty for large numbers of human beings, opponents of same-sex marriage have had a difficult time demonstrating to courts that granting the right to marry to the nation’s tiny population of homosexuals, in itself, does any measurable harm at all to those who define a marriage in traditional terms. (As for the harms to the exercise of religious freedom that may well follow from Obergefell, they are not a direct consequence of same-sex marriage itself but are rather a product of an anticipated expansion of the nation’s anti-discrimination laws to cover gay marriage. This complication is obviously something obscured by the Dred Scott analogy, as is the likely prospect of legislating carve-outs from anti-discrimination laws for religious organizations.)

Unlike with the consequences of Roe, no one can plausibly claim that a person is killed as a result of exercising the right proclaimed by Obergefell. That would seem to render the comparison somewhat lacking in cogency. (It also points to why the constitutional triumph of same-sex marriage is exceedingly unlikely to spark powerful, enduring grassroots opposition like the pro-life movement.)

The Gestapo? You’ve got to be kidding. Let me know when the secret police begins pounding on your door, and I will pledge my life, fortune, and sacred honor to prevent you from being sent to a concentration camp for your traditionalist Christian beliefs. But until that time, please get a grip. Outbursts like that only make you look paranoid, self-pitying, and bizarrely out of touch with both present American reality and the bloody history of real political oppression.

As for the analogy to communism, the same admonition applies. Even in the realistically worst-case scenario predicted by opponents of same-sex marriage — the forced compliance of religious schools and other church-affiliated institutions with anti-discrimination laws protecting gay marriage; the loss of tax-exempt status for churches — the United States would resemble contemporary France far more than the Soviet Union. The advent of French-style ideological secularism (laïcité) in the U.S. would mark a significant (and in my view unwelcome) change, including a significant constriction of religious freedom from historic American norms. But that’s a far cry from totalitarianism. (Last time I checked, France was a liberal democracy, albeit one with a somewhat different understanding of the proper relation between church and state.)

I could go on, pointing to other false comparisons deployed by the right. (Keeping up with neoconservative invocations of Munich, 1938 could be a full-time job all on its own.) But it would be a mistake to think that liberals never make unconvincing analogies. As far as many conservative Christians are concerned, the entire effort to portray opposition to same-sex marriage as equivalent to opposing interracial marriage is profoundly misleading. And they have a point. (Allowing people of the same sex to marry is a much more radical change to the institution than opening marriage to men and women of different races — and the sexual morality wrapped up with male-female marriage is far more deeply intertwined with the theological traditions of Western Christianity than racialized theories of matrimony ever were.)

The point is that politicians and commentators on both sides of the aisle do themselves no favors by drawing false analogies. It’s a form of hype — sloganeering used in place of reason. Sometimes, as with the purported parallel between interracial and same-sex marriage, a weak analogy succeeds as propaganda. But more often, the analogy persuades no one who wasn’t already convinced.

In such cases, argument and evidence will always have a greater likelihood of prevailing. Accept no substitutes.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, July 23, 2015

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, July 23, 2015

July 27, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Media, Nazis, Socialism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Just Changing The Optics”: The Republican Abortion Bill Shows They Still Believe Many Women Lie About Rape

In a move being credited to the wisdom of Republican women lawmakers, the House will not be voting on a sweeping 20 week abortion ban that only allowed for rape and incest exceptions if the victims reported their assaults to police. (Because Republicans know just how much women love to lie about rape and incest to get those sweet, sweet abortions!)

But before we pat all those kind, considered Republican women on the back for their reasoned withdrawal of support for a bill that would’ve made women file police reports 20 weeks after being assaulted in order to have the option of not being forced to have their rapist’s baby, let’s not forget that all of this is just political posturing. The bill – or even another, less extreme 20 week abortion ban – was unlikely to ever pass the Senate, and President Obama made clear that he would veto it if it did.

So backing off on yet another terrible anti-abortion bill – they tried this in 2011 with the “forcible rape” provisions in the Hyde Amendment renewal – is not a sign that Republicans will be more moderate with their future restrictions on reproductive rights, or that Republican women will be able to temper the radical anti-choice agenda of their party.

It’s great, sure, that Representatives Renee Ellmers and Jackie Walorski took their names off the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and that Ellmers also reportedly lobbied her female colleagues against the legislation. But I don’t believe this was some change of her anti-choice heart: more likely, she simply realized that the bill’s extreme requirements for rape and incest exceptions to the blanket ban wouldn’t exactly go over well with American women.

During a time when sexual assault and the difficulty of reporting it is a central part of the national conversation, forcing women and girls to go to the police before they can access abortion makes Republicans seem even more out of touch with the issues women face than usual. According to RAINN, 68% of sexual assaults aren’t reported to police, and numbers are even harder to come by for incest – where so often the victims are young girls.

Still, Republicans will now get to introduce and support anti-woman legislation, but they’ll have the advantage of appearing less radical than they are because they supposedly have a few “reasonable” women in the party keeping them in check on women’s issues. And any 20-week abortion ban is a bad thing for women, even without “forcible rape” or “reported rape” provisions.

Trotting out a few female Republicans and changing some words in a bill doesn’t change the reality of how the party feels about – or legislates – abortion; it just changes the optics. Republicans still want to deny people access to sex education, they still want to deny women access to contraception, they still want to prevent us from getting abortions and they still want to eliminate the Roe v Wade decision that protects our rights – and they want to do all of this despite the irreparable harm that it will cause American women.

The Republican women who forced House leadership to withdraw this one bill aren’t “reasonable” – they’re just smart enough to know that they need to shroud just how radically anti-woman their party really is. Good luck with that.

 

By: Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, January 22, 2015

January 27, 2015 Posted by | Republicans, War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Consequential And Far-Reaching”: Why The Supreme Court Should Be The Biggest Issue Of The 2016 Campaign

Supreme Court justice and pop culture icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg left the hospital yesterday after having a heart stent implanted and expects to be back at work Monday. Despite various health issues over the years, Ginsburg insists that she is still of sound body at age 81 (her mind isn’t in question) and has no plans to retire before the end of President Obama’s term to ensure a Democratic replacement. If she keeps to that pledge, and presuming there are no other retirements in the next two years, the makeup of the Supreme Court could be a bigger campaign issue in 2016 than ever before. It certainly ought to be.

Ordinarily, the Supreme Court is brought up almost as an afterthought in presidential campaigns. The potential for a swing in the court is used to motivate activists to volunteer and work hard, and the candidates usually have to answer a debate question or two about it, which they do in utterly predictable ways (“I’m just going to look for the best person for the job”). We don’t usually spend a great deal of time talking about what a change in the court is likely to mean. But the next president is highly likely to have the chance to engineer a swing in the court. The consequences for Americans’ lives will probably be more consequential and far-reaching than any other issue the candidates will be arguing about.

As much as we’ve debated Supreme Court cases in recent years, we haven’t given much attention to the idea of a shift in the court’s ideology because for so long the court has been essentially the same: divided 5-4, with conservatives having the advantage yet liberals winning the occasional significant victory when a swing justice moves to their side. And though a couple of recent confirmations have sparked controversy (Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor were both the target of failed attempts to derail their nominations), all of the retirements in the last three presidencies were of justices from the same general ideology as the sitting president. The last time a new justice was radically different from the outgoing one was when Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall — 23 years ago.

Whether a Democrat or a Republican wins in 2016, he or she may well have the chance to shift the court’s ideological balance. Ginsburg is the oldest justice at 81; Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are both 78, and Stephen Breyer is 76. If the right person is elected and the right justice retires, it could be an earthquake.

Consider this scenario: Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2017, and sometime later one of the conservative justices retires. Now there would be a liberal majority on the court, a complete transformation in its balance. A court that now consistently favors those with power, whether corporations or the government, would become much more likely to rule in favor of workers, criminal defendants and those with civil rights claims. Or alternately: The Republican nominee wins, and one of the liberal justices retires. With conservatives in control not by 5-4 but 6-3, there would be a cascade of even more conservative decisions. The overturning of Roe v. Wade would be just the beginning.

Look at what the Supreme Court has done recently. It gutted the Voting Rights Act, said that corporations could have religious beliefs, simultaneously upheld and hobbled the Affordable Care Act, struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act and moved toward legalizing same-sex marriage, all but outlawed affirmative action, gave corporations and wealthy individuals the ability to dominate elections and created an individual right to own guns — and that’s just in the last few years.

Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, there is probably no single issue you ought to be more concerned about in the 2016 campaign than what the court will look like after the next president gets the opportunity to make an appointment or two. The implications are enormous. It’s not too early to start considering them.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 28, 2014

November 29, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“There’s No Line Between Law And Politics”: A Reminder; Our Justices Are Politicians In Robes

Linda Greenhouse, the longtime Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times, declared surrender Thursday. For decades, she argued that the Court was a higher form of government, engaged in Law, not just politics. Now she has decided that the justices are politicians in robes.

The straw that broke her faith?  The Court’s decision to review King v. Burwell, a case confirming that Obamacare subsidies can go to people in insurance exchanges that the federal government sets up in states that haven’t created the exchanges themselves. Without those subsidies, the worst-case scenario has Obamacare entering a fiscal death spiral. The best case is that it would be another body blow to a law that is managing to work despite design flaws and relentless opposition.

Greenhouse is absolutely right that the Court’s hasty grab at a hot-button case it doesn’t need to decide is unseemly and partisan-feeling. And as Greenhouse is a very smart and sincere person who loves the Court and the law, her crie de coeur is striking.

But the Supreme Court has been political since the day it was born. It’s just that the way it is political today is a symptom of the nastiness and futility of our politics.

Cast an eye over the history of the Supreme Court, and you will see no golden age of apolitical judging. Today’s conservative judicial activists—especially the older generation, such as Justices Scalia and Thomas—came onto the Court in reaction against an earlier generation of liberal activists. The liberals had established abortion rights, extended constitutional equality to women, increased the rights of criminal defendants, and briefly declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

The conservatives saw all of this as blatantly political activism. They sought control of the Court to restore the Constitution and protect law from politics—at least as they understood it. Now those conservative restorationists are the partisan activists who have broken Linda Greenhouse’s faith.

And what about those liberal activists who made the young Scalia and Thomas so indignant? They were the children of another revolution. Their predecessors—and some of them—also came onto the Court to restore the Constitution and save the law from politics. Only the activists they overthrew were conservatives: anti-New Deal justices who upheld “economy liberty” and “limited government” by striking down minimum-wage laws and the first wave of Franklin Roosevelt’s legislation.

And so it goes, back through judicial struggles over Reconstruction, slavery, and the now-esoteric bloodletting of the early nineteenth century, which pivoted on questions like the constitutionality of the national bank. Someone has always been trying to save the law from politics and restore the Constitution. But when you look at it clearly, saving the law from politics turns out to be a thoroughly political job.

First you have to convince people to accept your version of the boundary between law and politics. Then you have to get judges onto the bench who agree with you. The history of law is the history of politics, and vice-versa.

So why do so many smart people believe in the difference between law and politics? Why do they sincerely try to restore, or preserve, the line between the two, and get heartbroken when the line fails?

It’s not just naivete. The special role of the American courts, particularly the Supreme Court, is to administer principles that have won so decisively in politics that they get taken off the table.

The triumph of the New Deal brought in a generation of judges who implemented new principles—above all, the legitimacy of the regulatory and welfare state—across the legal system as the shared framework of a national consensus. The era of the Civil Rights Movement and the Great Society led a generation of elite liberals, including many of the current Justices, to embrace broader principles of personal liberty and equality, which they saw as perfecting the American social compact. They were busily implementing these in cases like Roe v. Wade when a right-wing insurgency took them by surprise.

The fight that started then has only become more pitched. There’s no line between law and politics now because our politics is too divided to generate one. We cannot begin to agree which issues should be taken off the table and handed to courts.

The conservatives on the Supreme Court are aligned, intellectually, politically, and institutionally, with lawyers and activists who want to dismantle much of the regulatory and welfare state and stop or reverse the extension of civil rights and liberties.

The liberals are aligned with those who have opposite aims: preserving and extending civil rights and upholding the regulatory state as a legitimate aspect of government. The country is divided, sharply and unrelentingly, over the same questions. What one side tries to take off the table, to turn from “politics” into “law,” the other side is always trying to grab back. With every grab, the idea that law and politics are separate becomes harder for anyone to believe.

Politics gives law its premises, its basic commitments. Law has its own kind of integrity, based in applying principles consistently, integrating competing goals, giving the same words the same meaning in different places and explaining why not when it doesn’t. If you have worked closely with judges who practice this craft, you know it isn’t just politics, any more than architecture is just drawing.

Law, in this sense, is essential work, but its fabric gets torn when the premises change—like ripping a weaving project suddenly into a new kind of garment. It changed in the Civil Rights era, and in the New Deal. And then it stabilized. Now it is not stabilizing, and the constant contest at all levels, from basic premises to craft, means that, increasingly, everything feels partisan. All that is solid melts into fetid air.

We’ve been denied what Americans seem perennially to wish for—a Supreme Court that is better than we are—surer, clearer, wiser and more unified. It turns out that was really a wish to be a better version of ourselves. On the one hand, it’s good to be rid of the illusion and stand on the real ground of democratic politics. On the other hand, what broken and disappointing ground it is.

 

By: Jedediah Purdy, Robinson O. Everett Professor of Law at the Duke University School of Law; The Daily Beast, November 13, 2014

November 18, 2014 Posted by | Judicial System, Politics, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Are The Judicial Activists Now?”: People Like Ted Cruz Will Never Stop Screaming Judicial Activism

As is regularly the case in American politics, you have to hand it to Ted Cruz: His reaction to the Supreme Court’s order on same-sex marriage was the best one I came across Monday for sheer outrage-iness. “Judicial activism at its worst!” he thundered (okay, the exclamation point is mine). This, remember, in response to an inaction. The Court did exactly nothing. And now that’s judicial activism.

In fact, the Court took a pass, one presumes, because there weren’t two circuit-court decisions before it that presented conflicting legal interpretations of statute. In the absence of such a conflict, the Court did exactly what most experts I’ve read and spoken to over the last few months predicted it would do. But to Cruz, it’s “astonishing.” Ditto that the Court acted (or in-acted) “without providing any explanation whatsoever.” Which it never does in such instances, but never mind.

People like Cruz will never stop screaming judicial activism. No, wait: They will stop screaming judicial activism, at least on the question of same-sex marriage; and they will stop doing so sooner rater than later. This will constitute a major victory for the forces of light, one very much worth marking and thinking back over.

Ever since, well, Brown v. Board of Education, and probably before, conservatives have complained about judges making law against the will of the majority of voters. The critique extends into nearly every little crevice and lacuna of our civic life. Roe v. Wade was legislating from the bench; affirmative action; of course taking God out of the classroom; but basically anything any court did that conservatives didn’t approve of.

And let’s admit it—on at least the abstract level, the complaint has often had merit. I mean, there can be little doubt that public opinion in Dixie in 1954 opposed the integration of the schools. So the Court of 1954 was indeed making law from the bench. And thank God for it, since the problem is that public opinion was wrong. Not just wrong like “I think I’m not putting enough salt in my grits” wrong, but immorally wrong. What’s a court to do in such a case? Many forests have been sacrificed so that various scholars could take up this question, but the answer is really quite short and simple: The right thing.

And so liberalism has lived now with decades of such criticisms from conservatives, with the understanding that it’s far better to have won the right in question from a court than not to have won it at all—and the understanding that out there in America, yes, the backlash against these judges and the policies that grew from their decisions was probably brewing.

But same-sex marriage is different for two reasons. First, the amazing and oft-commented upon speed at which public opinion has flipped. And second, the fact that if the legal consensus can be said to be coming down on one side or the other, it’s clearly coming down on the side of same-sexers having the same constitutional matrimonial rights that the rest of us have. When federal judges in Oklahoma and Utah say it, it ain’t judicial activism, folks. It’s, you know, the more-or-less-impossible-to-deny law.

So the process by which same-sex marriage has advanced in this country hasn’t been overwhelmingly judicial at all. Until the Court’s announcement Monday, in fact, the tally was that gay marriage became legal by court decision in 13 states, and by the will of the people in 11 (legislative action in eight, popular referendum in three). And in most of the states where the change happened through the courts, the issue is decreasing in controversy, and public opinion is coming along.

You may remember that Iowa was the first unexpected heartland state where the state Supreme Court made gay marriage legal, back in 2009. It’s true that three judges who so ruled were removed from the bench in judicial retention elections in 2010. But by 2012, when the “values” crowd went after a fourth, they walked away scalpless: Judge David Wiggins retained his seat by a landslide 10-point margin. The temperature had cooled. Today, polling shows that public opinion in the state is still divided on same-sex marriage but is firmly against any kind of state constitutional amendment that would ban the practice.

So now, after what the Court did Monday, same-sex marriage is going to extend into 11 new states. It seems fair to say that majorities are against gay marriage in most of these states (the aforementioned Utah and Oklahoma, plus Kansas, Indiana, West Virginia, and the Carolinas). We’re going to see the usual skirmishes and hear the predictable sound bites. In political terms, if you’re a liberal who wants to read the tea leaves, keep an eye trained on the North Carolina Senate race.

Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is steadily but narrowly leading GOP challenger Thom Tillis. Hagan backs same-sex marriage. But the state voted overwhelmingly against it two years ago in a referendum. And now, as a part of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, North Carolina is about to have the sinful practice foisted on it. Public opinion in the state still runs strongly against same-sex marriage. I think we can reasonably expect Tillis to double down on the issue, and it would be horrible to see Hagan lose because of it.

It’ll take time in these states, but the same thing will happen in them as is happening in Iowa. People will adjust. Gay couples will marry. Straight couples will see that their own marriages were somehow not sullied after all.

This is the core dilemma for conservatives on same-sex marriage: The more widespread its practice, the more accepted it becomes. This is the exact opposite of abortion and affirmative action, two red-hot issues on which the right has used the “judicial activism” charge to great effect in recent history. If you think abortion is murder, then the more widespread its practice, the more aghast you are. If you oppose racial preferences, then ditto. But that isn’t how same-sex marriage works. It takes nothing away from heterosexual couples, or for that matter anyone.

Eventually, the Supreme Court will rule 5-4 (with Kennedy) or maybe even 6-3 (with Roberts—not completely impossible) in favor of gay marriage, because the law is clear, and because the Court isn’t going to tell many thousands of married couples in 30 states that they’re suddenly not married. Judicial activism? No. Just the right thing. The judicial activists will be those, led by their godhead Scalia, who will try to invent new ways to march backwards while pretending that they themselves aren’t trying to dictate morality from the bench. And the charge of judicial activism, which hurt liberalism because it resonated with a resentment that millions of average Americans felt, will lose its sting soon enough.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 7, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Judicial Activism, Marriage Equality, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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