I have what I call an Facebook Idiot Conservative Friend. He’s a warm, reasonable guy when you can sit him down for a few beers – but put him on Facebook and suddenly he goes on wild, irrational benders where he rants about what “all liberals” do, even though I don’t do it and I’m right there, man.
A lot of his liberal friends have stopped talking to him on Facebook. Can’t blame ’em. It’s pretty hard when you’re saying “Hey, uh, I’m a liberal and I’ve told you on several occasions I don’t actually believe that” and he’s ignoring you the friend in order to score a political point about What Them Scurrilous Liberals do.
Me? I listen to him rant, and usually don’t engage. He’s a good bellwether for what the Republicans are mad about today, for good or for ill.
Yesterday, though, he made a doozy of a dipsy post, where he linked this article on Joe Biden’s 1987 plagiarism with the comment:
“I remember when Democrats thought plagiarism was A-OK! Two thumbs up!”
And this is, sadly, a standard tactic of my Facebook Idiot Conservative Friend: whenever the Democrats criticize a conservative for doing something bad – in this case, Melania Trump’s ham-handed stealing of Michelle Obama’s speech on integrity – he’ll haul out a time a Demmycrat did that as proof that Democrats have no ethics.
Except whenever he does it, it’s a crappy comparison. Lemme break it down.
Point #1: Yes, Joe Biden Plagiarized A Speech. But Democrats Didn’t Give Him A Thumbs-Up For It.
My Facebook Idiot Conservative Friend – FICF for short – has implied that we actually were for Joe Biden’s plagiarism. But what does the article he himself links to say?
For Joe Biden, his plagiarisation of a speech delivered by Neil Kinnock, then Labour leader, helped put pay to his own campaign to win the Democrats’ presidential nomination more than 20 years ago.
What turns out was that in 1988, Biden actually had several instances of minor plagiarism, which his speechwriter took the blame for, but it was too late – not that Biden was leading in the polls at that point, but the accusations were enough to sour Democratic voters on him. He withdrew, in mild disgrace.
So for for FICF to frame it as “We thought it was A-OK” when, in fact, voters chose not to elect Biden largely on the basis of accusations of plagiarization, is an idiotic thing to say. Clearly, it wasn’t okay. He spent years humiliated by that, deeply regretting not saying “Like Kinnock,” and didn’t run for President again for twenty years.
Erasing that controversy is every bit as bullshit as saying “Conservatives think Trump is A-OK!” A lot of them do, it’s true – but that erases the people walking out on the RNC this very week, the people who are crossing lines, the New Republic writing an entire issue to try to stop Trump. Trump may win, but it’s awfully hard to say that conservatives were thrilled with him – most major figures seem to be moving backwards, trying not to get his taint on them. They may not fight him as hard as you’d like, but it’s not like this is a thundrous roar of united glee, either.
Rewriting internal controversy into harmonious applause is the most puerile kind of propaganda.
Point #2: Not Every Scandal Should Be Met With Lifelong Expulsion.
After I pointed out that Biden’s plagiarization ended his Presidential campaign so badly he didn’t try again until after two decades, my FICF’s even-Facebookier-Idiot-Conservative friends began pointing out that “Well, you people rewarded Joe Biden with a Vice-Presidential position!”
After twenty years of him not plagiarizing people any more.
If he’d started quoting Reagan during his stump speeches in 2007, I’d betcha thousands that Crazy Unca Joe would have have crashed and burned again.
At which point the FICs blurted, “Well, you didn’t hold him accountable!”
I personally was not saying that Donald Trump should divorce Melania immediately, as this blatant plagiarism is proof she’s not fit to be the First Lady. I think she made a stupid, callow error that shows that Trump and his campaign aren’t terribly bright – as witness this New York Times article showing how the Trumps ignored their speechwriters and subverted the anti-plagiarism-checking software that every major campaign runs their speeches through these days – but I don’t think it means that Melania Trump should never show her face in politics again.
I think it means she should be a) roundly mocked in the press for an error that should have been easily foreseen, b) apologize for the incident, and c) not do something that dumb again.
You know; what Biden did.
And this ham-handed cut and copy affects the Trump family’s chances of winning the election, well, that’s also what happened to Biden, and I’m fine with that.
As a writer, plagiarism cuts into my own wallet. I despise it. But unlike the Facebook Idiot Conservatives, I don’t think the proper answer to every scandal is “ETERNAL EXILE.” Sometimes, I think the proper answer is “You learn a valuable lesson about how plagiarization brings you a lot of headlines you didn’t want, and then you don’t ever do that again.”
(Or maybe not. The very next day, the Trump kids took full credit for writing a speech that someone else ghost-wrote for them, but I doubt that’ll matter as much.)
Point #3: “We Accepted That This Politician Did That Once” Is Not The Same As “We Enthusiastically Endorse This Behavior.”
At which point the Facebook Idiot Conservatives swarming around my FICF like remoras started saying, “Well, you voted for him! You knew he plagiarized! So you must love plagiarization!”
To which I asked my conservative friend:
“Does a vote from you for a politician mean that you then not only approve of, but heartily endorse, every action they have ever undertaken?”
“If so, please provide a list of the politicians you’ve voted for, I’ll crowdsource a list of unseemly things they’ve all done – for all politicians have – and see whether you can pass your own test.
“Hint: you know you can’t.”
I note that my friend, at that point, acknowledged that “Ah, they all do it.” Because ultimately, he’s a sane guy; he just likes ranting on Facebook, and I suspect it’s a lot easier for him to spew vitriol online about what the liberals do than it is to handle the nuance I’ve seen him deal with in real life.
Because the truth is, you don’t get a major politician without a few scandals in their closet. You don’t get a politician who doesn’t have a few issues you disagree with.
If the only person you’ll vote for is someone who a) holds 100% of your positions and b) has never had a scandal, you will never ever vote.
As such, it’s blatant bullshit to claim that “a vote for $Politician is an enthusiastic support for everything they’ve ever done.” I’m not thrilled with Hillary’s weak record on Wall Street, but it’s her or Trump. I wasn’t thrilled at the way Obama elevated drone strikes to a murderous art form, but in 2012 it was that or lose Obamacare.
Every vote is a compromise.
Every vote involves holding your nose a little.
That is, in fact, politics.
And trying to recast every vote for a politician as a hearty endorsement of every action of their entire career is a game no one’s winning. I could go through and pull up all the crappy things that McCain and Dubya and HW and even sainted Reagan did, stuff that my FICF would go, “Yeah, well, fuck, that wasn’t good, even if I voted for them” –
And I could hold it up and go, “See? You like this! You voted for this! You love this!” but that would be a bullshit game designed to erase the complexities of politics and turn us all into Evil or Good people, depending on what aspect we’d want to highlight.
(Though thank God I never lived in Massachusetts. I like to think I’d have had a hell of a time pulling the lever for ol’ Ted Kennedy, who drove a woman off a bridge, left her to drown, then didn’t tell anyone for nine hours. That would have been a hell of a pill to swallow.)
The truth is, in politics, you never get what you want. Not entirely. And you never get a politician who you don’t cringe a bit at – or if you do, they’re nonelectable. (And if you BernieBros don’t think Bernie didn’t have some scandals boiling, think again – Hillary didn’t dare touch them for alienating you, and the Republicans didn’t mention them because oh my God they were so hoping to break these open once Bernie was the official candidate.)
Yeah. We vote for people who’ve done shitty things. It doesn’t mean we like the shitty things. It means we like the shittier things the other guy is going to do even less.
And casting past sins as an excuse for today’s sins is even shittier. Yeah, Joe Biden did a crappy thing. I don’t like that. I never did. If he still did that today, I’d agree that he deserves the crappy headlines that Melania is getting – maybe even more so, because he’s a career politician and Melania is not used to the political stage.
But to phrase it as though “Democrats thought it was okay?” Wrong for so many reasons. That logic’s divisive, and I don’t like it when my liberal friends do it to my conservative friends either.
Look. You have to bear the burdens for the main platforms of your party. Think Obama’s economic policies are wrecking the country? Yeah, well, I’m complict in that, because I voted for the man. Not happy about the way trans folk are getting the screw these days? If you’re voting Republican, you’ve got that ick on your hands.
Vote for Trump because you want to see what happens? You are complicit in what happens.
But the idea that somehow you can vote for a politician and never get your hands grimy, well, that’s an illusion.
The idea that every misstep should be met with endless banishment from any level of government, well, that’s also an illusion. People make mistakes and, hopefully, learn.
The idea that you can erase moments of great controversy at the time to twist it into a roar of approval, all so you can score points on The Other Side on Facebook?
Crappy as hell, no matter who’s doing it. And I dislike the way Facebook makes people so eager to score points against sides that their own friends are on, erasing the very pointed concerns they have about “Yeah, I’m voting this way in this election but I have these concerns and I wish there were better solutions to vote for” into “THAT’S WHAT YOOOOOUUUU DO! ALL OF YOU!”
I think it’s crappy because it swallows up that thin slice of common ground we might somehow stand on, and casts us all as US vs THEM.
Whereas some of us agree with some of them.
Maybe we could do something about that, if people weren’t trying so hard to be very clever on Facebook.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.