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False equivalence

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So there I am at my kitchen table, drinking my morning coffee and reading the latest column in the New York Times by Tom Friedman, who I disagree with more often than not.

I read pretty much every column by Friedman, Bret Stephens, David Brooks, and other writers with whom I disagree, on the outside chance that they might write something so enlightening that I proclaim, Eureka! I see the light.

It hasn’t happened yet—though I suppose that doesn’t mean it never will.

Anyway, this column is about Friedman’s recent lunch at the White House with President Biden. Their conversation was “off the record,” but the menu was not. 

So he reveals what he ate: “a tuna salad sandwich with tomato on whole wheat bread, with a bowl of mixed fruit and a chocolate milkshake for dessert that was so good it should have been against the law.”

But he conceals what Biden said. In short, the relevant stuff remains privileged information.

Sort of like a mayoral response to a FOIA request.

The column’s point is that Friedman is distressed by divisions in our country. Which, OK, so far so good.

But as soon as he starts enumerating examples of these divisions and explaining how a centrist like himself has no home in either party, I know what’s coming . . .

The dreaded false equivalency. As in this nugget . . .

“With every passing day, every mass shooting, every racist dog whistle, every defund-the-police initiative, every nation-sundering Supreme Court ruling, every speaker run off a campus, every bogus claim of election fraud, I wonder if he [Biden] can bring us back together.”

Centrists, please—think about what you’re saying.

You’re saying a mass shooting—in which a white man armed with a rifle gunned down random Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo—is the same as some douchebag right-winger getting cat calls at a college lecture hall.

You’re saying that “defund-the-police initiatives” are as dangerous as attempts to steal a presidential election, as Trump tried in 2020 and Republican legislators throughout the country are clearly trying to do in 2024?

You don’t really believe that—do you?

As for a “defund-the-police initiative,” it’s not an actual thing. It’s a figment of MAGA’s imagination, a tool MAGA uses to frighten centrists, like Friedman, into sullying the base of the Democratic Party so they can tell swing voters: a pox on both their houses.

Defund the police was a cry that erupted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Then came the protests and the unrest of the summer of 2020, followed by the inevitable backlash. And pretty much every Democrat sprinted away from the defund concept.

In fact, Democrats seem to outdo Republicans in their attempt to rail about defunding the police.  Just look at the recent evidence here in Chicago.

For a relatively brief moment, Arne Duncan, former secretary of education, hinted he might run for mayor on a platform of shifting funds from policing so more money could go to intervention or mental health response teams. Mayor Lightfoot immediately pounced, blasting Duncan as a police defunder.

“People all over the city, neighborhood after neighborhood—they don’t want to defund our police department. They want our police department to be respectful and constitutional in the work that they do; but they want the police to protect them,” Lightfoot said in regards to Duncan.

Duncan decided not to run. And I’ve not heard one word about defunding the police from any citywide candidate ever since.

You know, it’s sad that the main Democratic takeaway from George Floyd’s murder seems to be stay away from “defund the police.”

Let me pause to point out the obvious. There is no moral equivalence between Democrats and Republicans at this point in time.

Even if you think that “defund the police” is an outrage, the number of elected officials in the Democratic Party who actually call for it are a tiny fraction of the party as a whole.

Whereas over 50 percent of Republicans say they believe President Biden stole an election that he actually won. And Republican legislators all over the country are feeding that paranoia by trying to pass election laws that would enable them to essentially turn the 2024 presidential election over to MAGA if they don’t like the outcome.

As the New York Times—Friedman’s newspaper—has reported.

In Illinois, not one Republican gubernatorial candidate has dared to refute Trump’s election lie. Not even Richard Irvin, the so-called moderate in the primary.

They’re all beholden to Trump in one way or another. Either they agree with him or they’re too frightened of a voter backlash to admit they don’t. 

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, a city supposedly run by “radical leftists,” if you believe MAGA propaganda . . .

A City Council committee met last week to consider Mayor Lightfoot’s proposal to lower the curfew for minors. 

Many alderpersons—even conservative ones—predicted a lowered curfew would not cut back on violence. They noted the city was barely enforcing curfew laws already on the books. They predicted new laws would be selectively enforced, with Black teenagers getting the brunt of arrests. And so on . . .

And yet it overwhelmingly passed. It hasn’t come before the full council yet. But I predict it will eventually be passed. Why? Because it’s like railing against defunding the police. No elected official wants to look soft on crime, even in so-called lefty Chicago.

So comparing fictitious police defunders to very real democracy deniers is a form of gaslighting. It’s not real and yet we’re led to believe it. All part of an effort to win over swing voters by saying extremists on both sides are bad. 

Even though one is clearly far worse than the other.

Funny thing is—this strategy won’t work. No matter how many times centrist Dems denounce “defund the police,” MAGA will accuse them of pushing for it.

And the gaslighting of America continues.

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