Category Archives: inconsistency

The Clearing the Decks Fallacy

Talisse and I have a short bit at Philosophy15 on a new fallacy we’ve been seeing in philosophy.  Well, really, it’s not a new phenomenon, we’ve just started noticing it. One reason is that we’ve become particularly interested in how dialectical standards change over extended philosophical work. Here’s the basic setup.

Stage 1: Hold one’s dialectical opponents to a very high standard of scrutiny.   Show that they do not pass that level of scrutiny.

Stage 2: Deduce that the standard of scrutiny is likely too high, and then introduce a new, lower standard.

Stage 3: Show that one’s own view passes the lower standard.

The problem is that in many cases, the other views criticized in Stage 1 would pass the lower standard in Stage 3, just as one’s own view does.  But they don’t get mentioned in stage 3.  So the argument proceeds as though their being eliminated by the high standards eliminates them full stop.

This strategy we call clearing the decks.  It shows up lots in the history of philosophy, and it is particularly noxious when philosophers do metaphilosophy.

The basic rule, we think, that gets broken is a form of the rule that in deliberating between choices, one uses a consistent standard for the ultimate decision.  It’s not that one must use the same standard throughout, as we can find that some standards are too strict or lax and need to change them.  It’s just that when we make the final decision, we apply the same standard to all eligible options.  With clearing the decks, once the standard is lowered, there are more eligible options.   In some ways, it’s a form of argument from double standards.

TU to-the-evah-lovin’ QUOQUE!

We’ve had a number of discussions here at the NS about how ad hominem tu quoque can sometimes actually be a relevant form of argument. (See one of mine HERE, Colin on it HERE, John on it HERE, and my publication on it at IL HERE) In short: the argument form, when properly presented, can show in speaker inconsistency: incompetence, insincerity, or  evidence that a proposed practice is impractical.  I have one that seems a glaring case of insincerity.  Thomas Sowell’s syndicated piece (here at the American Spectator) is that because liberals control (most of) education, there’s no actual fact-checking from critics of conservatives. Instead, all liberals do, from his experience, is give counter-assertions, and that’s what’s supported by the educational institutions producing them.  Well, at least that’s what happened when Sowell read an email from a liberal critic.

It is good to check out the facts — especially if you check out the facts on both sides of an issue…. By contrast, another man simply denounced me because of what was said in that column. He did not ask for my sources but simply made contrary assertions, as if his assertions must be correct and therefore mine must be wrong.

He identified himself as a physician, and the claims that he made about guns were claims that had been made years ago in a medical journal — and thoroughly discredited since then. He might have learned that, if we had engaged in a back and forth discussion, but it was clear from his letter that his goal was not debate but denunciation. That is often the case these days.

OK.  So Sowell got an email from someone with outdated information.  From a medical journal, but outdated information.  Well, that’s not so bad, is it?  Apparently so, because Sowell takes this email to be representative of how liberals think:

If our educational institutions — from the schools to the universities— were as interested in a diversity of ideas as they are obsessed with racial diversity, students would at least gain experience in seeing the assumptions behind different visions and the role of logic and evidence in debating those differences.

Instead, a student can go all the way from elementary school to a Ph.D. without encountering any fundamentally different vision of the world from that of the prevailing political correctness.

Well, first, I smell weak manning here — thanks, Tomas Sowell, for picking a bad arguer for a liberal talking point and generalizing to all liberals.  Perhaps we could do the same for you and use Michele Bachman as the representative voice for conservatism?

At this point, Sowell then turns to the institutions that produce what he takes to be shoddy arguments, that is, universities.  And he’s got one case in point:

The student at Florida Atlantic University who recently declined to stomp on a paper with the word “Jesus” on it, as ordered by the professor, was scheduled for punishment by the university until the story became public and provoked an outcry from outside academia.

Ah, but then there’s the old fact-checking, getting the other side’s version of the story.  You know, like what a well-educated person would do.  The exercise did take place, but the student who refused wasn’t up for punishment for not stepping on ‘Jesus’, but for threatening the professor with violence.  And that’s where we know that Sowell’s not playing fair – when his side gets criticized, he wants his critics to be entirely up to date on all the details of the matter.  And when they aren’t, well, that’s evidence of how stupid, horribly educated, and disinterested in actual debate they are.  But when it’s his side, well, it’s just a matter of saying what his favored audience wants.

A final question, but now about the FAU case:  why would Christians care about stepping on the word ‘Jesus’? The name’s not holy. The letters aren’t either.  This strikes me as another case of hypocrisy — they’ve got their own graven images.  The name of god in their own language.  Christians who threaten Professor Poole with death over this don’t understand their own religion.

I won’t forget to place roses on your grave

Tu Quoque arguments, it seems to me, have a statute of limitations on when the first of the two inconsistent acts can be relevantly inconsistent with the second. (See my long article in Informal Logic for the full story)  For example, someone may express appropriate surprise at the fact that the altarboy later became an atheist when he was a grownup, but that's not inconsistency in the relevant sense for an accusation of hypocrisy.  The two acts need to be close enough in time for them to be relevant to each other.  And so it's usual when someone runs an argument from inconsistency, she will say something like:

Person S says we should not do X, but then she turns right around and does X.

The important thing is that S turns right around and does it.  If she did X years ago, perhaps S has learned her lesson.  Or she's changed her mind.  Or maybe the facts regarding X have changed.  X may be the best option, nowadays.  The lesson: with charges of hypocrisy, time's relevant.

With that in mind, let's look at Jonah Goldberg's commentary on the (albeit grudging) praise of Ronald Reagan's presidency from liberals.  This is part of a trend he sees. Barry Goldwater, after being demonized by LBJ, was later portrayed as an "avuncular and sage grandfather type." William F. Buckley, too, went from being called a Nazi to later being an actual defender of liberalism.  Reagan, now:

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Gipper is enjoying yet another status upgrade among liberals. Barack Obama took a Reagan biography with him on his vacation. A slew of liberals and mainstream journalists (but I repeat myself) complimented Obama’s State of the Union address as “Reaganesque.” Time magazine recently featured the cover story “Why Obama (Hearts) Reagan.” Meanwhile, the usual suspects are rewriting the same columns about how Reagan was a pragmatist who couldn’t run for president today because he was too nice, too reasonable, too (shudder) liberal for today’s Republican party.

Trouble is, while Reagan was alive, liberals didn't have too high an opinion of him:

[My] favorite comes from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London, which in 1982 held a vote for the most hated people of all time. The winners: Hitler, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Dracula.

Now, first, note that these are cases where we're looking at things said in 1982 and 2011.  Almost thirty years difference.  Second, note that these inconsistencies are ones distributed over a group, Liberals, not individual people.  Regardless, it's almost as though Goldberg isn't paying attention to the subtext of these retrospectives:  that despite the fact that liberals disagreed with these conservatives, liberals could nevertheless see their virtues as people in retrospect.  And one of the reasons why those virtues are worth mentioning now is that current conservatives so clearly fail to have them.  I take it back.  Goldberg gets that part:

[S]o much of the effort to build up conservatives of the past is little more than a feint to tear down the conservatives of the present.

But, for some reason,  he thinks instead this is a point he's scoring on liberals by showing how they're inconsistent.  Again, in cases where time's changed the variables, sometimes what you've inveighed against earlier becomes the best choice.  Ask any liberal: would you take  Reagan or Buckley over Palin or Goldberg for a decent conversation about government and political norms?  You know the answer.  Goldberg thinks this means that liberals think that the only good conservative is a dead conservative. He's missed the point.  The point, instead, is sadly that all the good conservatives are dead.

It’s not hypocrisy if you don’t like it

Word has it that Paul Ryan, the respondent to the SOTU address, is a major fan of hack philosopher and confuser of undergraduates Ayn Rand such that he distributes copies of her works to staffers and credits her work with his desire to go into public service.

With Ryan and Rand Paul and everything, Ayn Rand, the original, has undergone somewhat of a renaissance lately.  This is really sad, as there seriously have to be more worthy versions of libertarianism on which to base one’s opposition to Obama’s extremely socialist agenda.

With renewed interest there will naturally be renewed scrutiny (and reawkened revulsion).  Along these lines someone has discovered (or made up I’m not sure which) that Ayn Rand and her husband received Social Security benefits.  This is supposed to be some kind of hilarious contradiction.  It’s not really.  You pay in to SS and get money out.  That’s the way it works.  You’re entitled to it because it’s yours.  They even keep track of it.  Now some might get more than they pay in, and whether Rand did is open and somewhat uninteresting question, but that’s another matter.

What is hilarious, I think, is what issues forth by way of justification for participation in public benefits.  Via someone’s attempt to support Rand’s view, here’s what she had to say about public scholarships (which has to be on the minds of all of those young Randians who get them, who attend public colleges, etc.):

A different principle and different considerations are involved in the case of public (i.e., governmental) scholarships. The right to accept them rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it . . . .

Again, in the case of Social Security (and medicare) this makes sense (though it remains a ridiculous justification–there is no way an average elderly person could possibly pay the private cost of medical insurance or health care nowadays)–but in the case of money simply gifted to you (or provided you in the form of deeply subsidized federal loans) it doesn’t.  Being morally opposed to receiving others’ stolen money, yet taking it anyway, thinking your moral opposition to it absolves you of hypocrisy makes you a double hypocrite: you’re a hypocrite for violating your own principles and you’re a hypocrite for thinking your moral opposition to an action you engage in and profit from makes you not a hypocrite.

There’s no modern Socrates, so you must be…

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist of some standing.  But he, unfortunately, isn't much for logic. Or, perhaps, simple consistency.  His recent article, "The New Sophists," over at National Review Online, exemplifies these two traits in spades.

Hanson's thesis is that there's just so much double-talk and empty rhetoric, especially from the left, and more especially regarding global warming.  Al Gore "convinced the governments of the Western world that they were facing a global-warming Armageddon, and then hired out his services to address the hysteria that he had helped create."  And the recent record snowfalls in the Northeast are clear evidence that global warming is a sham.  When climate scientists explained that events like this are not only consistent with global warming, but to be expected, Hanson retorts:

The New York Times just published an op-ed assuring the public that the current record cold and snow is proof of global warming. In theory, they could be, but one wonders: What, then, would record winter heat and drought prove?

It's not just climate science that has the double-talk, though.  Hanson sees it with discussions of the Constitution:

One, the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed on MSNBC that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was “written more than 100 years ago” and has “no binding power on anything.”

To all of this, Hanson makes his analogy with classical Athens and the problem of the sophists:

One constant here is equating wisdom with a certificate of graduation from a prestigious school. If, in the fashion of the sophist Protagoras, someone writes that record cold proves record heat, . . . or that a 223-year-old Constitution is 100 years old and largely irrelevant, then credibility can be claimed only in the title or the credentials — but not the logic — of the writer.

OK. That's a nice point, at least if it were true about the cases he was discussing. (Did Hanson not read the reasons in the NYT article he never cites as to why we'd get crazy snowfalls because of global warming?  If he's going to talk about the article, talk about its argument, too.  Sheesh.  And Klein said it was over 100 years old, and that it's not binding, … but that doesn't matter to Hanson, I guess).  But it's on this point about sophists run amok that Hanson bemoans our fate:

We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can be.

So we don't have a modern Socrates.  So what's Hanson doing, then?  By that statement, he can't think he's Socrates or doing the job of criticizing the new rhetoricians, can he?  So what is he?  I think I know:  He's another sophist.

Why aren’t conservatives for equal protection?

There is a old but reliable theme in political discussion: the gulf between the rights of individuals and the objectives of the state.  Liberal democracies are posited on the premise that the objectives of the state must be in the service of individuals and are constrained by their antecedent rights.  That's why constitutions bind modern democracies.  They are ground rules (among other things) for ensuring individual liberties are protected.

The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment is an extension of the moral rule of equity; namely, that one must judge all morally similar cases similarly.  The motivating conditions for the 14th Amendment was racial discrimination.  And so, the race of an accuser or the accused is a morally insignificant fact. Consequently, accusations and and cases must be adjudged independently of the race of the people in question.  The basic thought is that we have a right for the rule of equity to govern our legal standing, too.  Laws must equally apply, and the protections from interference by the state must follow these rules.

The thought with equal protection, then, is that (regardless of the fact that the Amendment was occasioned by race) we should follow the rule of respecting individual rights.  Any government must meet a very high standard of scrutiny if it is to interfere with one group's rights, but not another's.  Prohibitions against gay marriage don't meet that standard. Neither did anti-miscegenation laws.  (Same 14th Amendment equal protection clause invoked in both rulings.) California's Proposition 8 is a case of a state interfering with individuals on the basis of a morally irrelevant difference. 

Now, Mark Trapp, at the American Spectator, says that the recent decision to overturn to Proposition 8 is a case of federal  judges "imposing their personal policy preferences, the will of the people notwithstanding."   This is a pretty serious charge, one implies that the decision (and perhaps all judical review) is undemocratic. But if the people willed to take all the rich people's money and cars, that'd be rightly stopped.  If the people voted to prevent all left-handed people from driving, then that'd be rightly stopped, too.  That might be "imposing" a policy preference, but it'd be one guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. 

Trapp seems to think that judicial overturning of a legislative decision is an Federal imposition on a state's sovereignty, and ultimately, individual sovereignty:

Rather than determine for themselves such fundamental issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, many seem resigned or even content to having such momentous public policy decisions made by judges — for whom they do not vote and against whom they have no recourse. 

My question is how can one be in this case a person committed to States' Rights and the organizing value of the Constitution's protection of individual rights on this issue?  If it turns out that California's Proposition 8 runs afoul of the 14th Amendment, then California does not have the right (regardless of the vote count, 52% to 98%) to discriminate. 

You know, one of the few things I find appealing about conservativism is the individualism at its core.  That seems right to me.  But how does States' Right fit in that equation?  Why does a Federal decision over a State's decision matter to someone who cares about individual rights?  If the state is in the wrong and has run afoul of equal protection, isn't it a good thing to have a Federal Government to protect those rights?  I mean, what kind of individualist rationalizes oppression by saying "it's morally irrelevant unequal treatment, but it's the way we do it here." ?  How is the fact that it is here a morally relevant category?

The payoff for informal logic is that I think that some tu quoque arguments can reveal cases of bias and double standards.  Trapp's argument is that protecting the individual liberties of homosexuals with the 14th Amendment contravenes the individual liberties of those in the majority who want to discriminate against homosexuals.  And that's undemocratic and unjust.  You see, Trapp loves liberty so much…

Bear with me

My colleagues have challenged me to look deeper into the abyss.  I did.  This is what I found (courtesy of Sadly, No!):

In February of 2010, ABC News published an article regarding the 2009 enacted right to carry law in National Parks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article struck a tone straight out of a Brady campaign spot. A mosaic of Chicken Little ’sky is falling’ was painted in broad strokes and platitudes. All in response to a common sense measured signed into law by president Obama allowing citizens to carry a concealed firearm in the nation’s National Parks.

It’s a song and dance that we on the right have grown to be accustomed with concerning second amendment rights and the press. Virulent anti-gun groups and mainstream press outlets essentially spout the same talking points. We expect this, we accept this.

But with the recent grizzly bear attack near Yellowstone National Park that killed one and left two injured, one may wonder if the typical progressive, anti-gun canard still holds water?

I for one appreciate his patience.  But in any case, one has to wonder how the extremely rare (but nontheless terrifying) prospect of bear attacks on national forest property undermines the "typical" progressive case against gun rights.  One wonders this, in the first place, because the attack in question occured in a place (Gallatin National Forest) where you can carry unconcealed firearms.  From the National Forest FAQ:

Can I carry a firearm on the national forest? back to top

Possession of firearms. The possession and unconcealed carry of a firearm on the national forest is not restricted by federal law or Forest Service regulations with the exception of “prohibited possessors,” such as convicted felons (see 18 USC 922g ( and ARS 13-3101 ( State laws regarding the concealed carry of firearms and the carrying of weapons within or on a motor vehicle apply to all National Forest System lands.

Discharge of firearms. National Forest regulations prohibit the discharge of a firearm within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or any other occupied area; across a road or any body of water adjacent to a road; into or within a cave; or in any negligent manner that could endanger life or property (see 36 CFR 261.10d) ( The Tonto National Forest also has areas that are closed to recreational shooting year-round due to proximity to local communities (see Forest Closure Orders). During periods of high fire danger, additional restrictions on the use of firearms may be imposed. None of the temporary or year-round restrictions prohibit the use of a firearm in the lawful taking of game.

So a very rare bear attack on an unnarmed person (who could legally have been armed) somehow undermines the "typical" progressive anti-gun canard (not sure what that is).  Anyway.  It gets more entertaining:

Moments like this are teachable. Liberals love to go down the subjunctive mood route and justify positions within theoretical conditions. But those theoretical positions always fit the progressive mold and worldview. And as any student of history and logic knows there are always two sides to the hypothetical reasoning coin.

Therefore, I can add that if even one of the victims of Yellowstone/Soda Creek Campground grizzly attack had a concealed permit, and had been armed, the outcome early Wednesday morning may have been quite different.

And the anti-second amendment crowd will never admit that.

A teachable moment indeed, but I don't know what I am supposed to have learned.  Few could dispute that the second amendment (like the first, second, third, etc.) admits of some obvious restrictions as to nature and place (among other things).  Everyone knows what those are.  So it's not opposition to the 2nd amendment that's at issue.  It's opposition to the carrying of concealed firearms in certain situations.  But we've already established that this isn't one of them, so the hypothetical doesn't work in the first place.

Besides, how does having a concealed weapon help you in the bear attack scenario? 


Too much of our critical political discourse depends on one single virtue: consistency.  This is why Pat Buchanan, a man who writes articles (I am not exaggerating) in praise of Hitler–is a kind of pundit saint.  Since consistency matters, and consistency depends on memory–or rather, detecting someone's inconsistency depends on remembering what she's said in the past, let's have some fun with our favorite son on an economist, Robert Samuelson.  Samuelson, is like the captain bringdown of the Post editorial page.  He's got a droopy mustache, a dour expression, and he poo-poos just about everyone who tries to do something about something–environmentalists are dumb and self-indulgent for buying Priuses!. 

For a while–for those who remember–Samuelson been poo-pooing Obama's "self-indulgence" on health insurance reform.  A more competent rhetorical analyst, by the way, might have fun with the way he always goes ad hominem on Obama–treating his own impoverished and uncharitable image of Obama rather than Obama's stated positions (he even admitted once that this was his own problem).  But it's worthwhile to poke fun at Samuelson's priorities.  Way back before we spent 700 plus billion dollars in Iraq, chasing what turned out to be an easily uncovered deception, here is what Samuelon wrote:

A possible war with Iraq raises many unknowns, but "can we afford it?" is not one of them. People inevitably ask that question, forgetting that the United States has become so wealthy it can wage war almost with pocket change. A war with Iraq would probably cost less than 1 percent of national income (gross domestic product). Americans have grown accustomed to fighting with little economic upset and sacrifice.

Pocket change.  In reflecting on this piece (called "A War We Can Afford") Samuelson wrote:

Yes, that column made big mistakes. The war has cost far more than I (or almost anyone) anticipated. Still, I defend the column's central thesis, which remains relevant today: Budget costs should not shape our Iraq policy. Frankly, I don't know what we should do now. But in considering the various proposals — President Bush's "surge," fewer troops or redeployment of those already there — the costs should be a footnote. We ought to focus mostly on what's best for America's security.

When it comes things that are actually real, on the other hand, Samuelson is skeptical:

When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody's Investors Service — the bond rating agency — published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama's health-care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already-bleak budget outlook.

900 billion?  That figure is almost exactly what we've spent in seven years of war.  Weird.  But this time cost is all that matters. 

You have a right to be wrong

True story.  A few years back one of my students had confused some minor matter about a text of Plato.  When I pointed that out, another student commented: "He has a right to be wrong."  That odd justification comes out in a George Will op-ed where he, unlike his usual, argues for new rights not enumerated in the constitution.  Now of course he probably thinks he can get there with a series of individually valid inferences.  Fine, but you have to understand that any other time one maintains a right not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, Will will shout "judicial activism" or some other synonym.  Don't get me wrong, I believe in the concept of inferential rights, I just think it's funny that Will doesn't, until he does.

This is not to say, however, that Will does not have a point.  He may, but I think, as is perhaps no surprise, that his argument for it sucks.  He maintains as a kind of premise one that liberals want to coerce others to believe like they do–this is their MO, which is a word the very pretentious Will would likely spell out: Modus operandi.  It's a little ironic, since the specific topic in question concerns the desire of some (not the liberals) to limit the rights of others to engage in private, self-regarding behavior.  Some people, not happy with the structure of our democracy (where fundamental rights get interpreted out of the Constitution sometimes), gather signatures to put such matters on the ballot.  This raises an important question: are signatures on referendums like voting and therefore private? 

I think it's fair to say that such a question admits of no easy answer.  But just because it doesn't admit of an easy answer, does not mean any answer, such as the following one offered by Will, will suffice:

The Supreme Court has held that disclosure requirements serve three government interests: They provide information about the flow of political money, they deter corruption and avoid the appearance thereof by revealing large contributions, and they facilitate enforcement of contribution limits. These pertain only to financial information in candidate elections. These cannot justify compelled disclosures regarding referendums because referendums raise no issues of officials' future performance in office — being corruptly responsive to financial contributors. The only relevant information about referendums is in the text of the propositions.

In 1973, Washington's secretary of state ruled that signing an initiative or referendum petition is "a form of voting" and that violating voters' privacy could have adverse "political ramifications" for those signing. In 2009, some advocates of disclosure plan to put signers' names on the Internet in order to force "uncomfortable" conversations.

In the interest of fairness, something I'm always interested in by the way, the above two paragraphs make some attempt at arguing for the position that referendum signatures ought to be private.  I think their attempt fails: The first is irrelevant to the particular issue and the second cites the irrelevant precedent of the secretary of state.  A referendum petition by any standard is not a vote: you sign your name and put your address on it for the purposes of public inspection of its authenticity.  You do not sign your vote. 

In any case, the following arguments for the above proposition really blow:

Larry Stickney, a social conservative and president of the Washington Values Alliance, says that disclosure of the identities of petitioners will enable "ideological background checks" that will have a chilling effect on political participation. He frequently encounters people who flinch from involvement with the referendum when they learn that disclosure of their involvement is possible. He has received abusive e-mails and late-night telephone calls and has seen a stranger on his front lawn taking pictures of his house.

The Wall Street Journal's John Fund reports that some Californians who gave financial support to last year's successful campaign for Proposition 8 — it declared marriage to be only between a man and a woman — subsequently suffered significant harm. For example, the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, who contributed $1,500, was forced to resign. So was the manager of a fashionable Los Angeles restaurant who contributed just $100.

The first paragraph offers evidence that vociferous advocates may suffer the paranoia that comes along with taking an unpopular position on a matter of public interest.  It does not establish that a private citizen whose only action was signing a petition may suffer these things.  The second paragraph shows that people who have given financial support, something about which disclosure has been determined to be legitimate (and admitted to by Will himself only a three paragraphs before) have suffered harm.  I don't think one can be fired for one's political affiliations–there are laws against that I believe.

Charles Bouley, a gay columnist, has honorably protested such bullying. He says that people "have the right to be wrong," and reminds gay activists: "Even Barack Obama said marriage was between a man and a woman at a time when we needed his voice on our side on equality. He let us down, too, remember, and many of you still gave him a job."

Indeed, people do have a right to be wrong, and others have a duty to point that out.

Serious Breaches of Trust

David Broder argues today that while he supports accountability for illegal acts and serious breaches of trust, he does not support investigating illegal acts and serious breaches of trust.  I have trouble putting these two claims together:

First, we should investigate and hold accountable the guilty:

My friend and fellow columnist Eugene Robinson has written a characteristically passionate and well-reasoned piece commending Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to name a special counsel to examine possible law-breaking by interrogators of terrorist subjects during the last administration.

But I think he is wrong.

First, let me stipulate that I agree on the importance of accountability for illegal acts and for serious breaches of trust by government officials — even at the highest levels. I had no problem with the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, and I called for Bill Clinton to resign when he lied to his Cabinet colleagues and to the country during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I'm all for that as well.  Now the second claim:

Cheney is not wrong when he asserts that it is a dangerous precedent when a change in power in Washington leads a successor government not just to change the policies of its predecessors but to invoke the criminal justice system against them. 

Illegal acts.  The policies of the previous administration may have involved–may have involved–illegal acts.  Their being policies of an administration does not remove them from the realm of legal and illegal.  At least I hope it does not.  Broder continues.

I think it is that kind of prospect that led President Obama to state that he was opposed to invoking the criminal justice system, even as he gave Holder the authority to decide the question for himself. Obama's argument has been that he has made the decision to change policy and bring the practices clearly within constitutional bounds — and that should be sufficient

Accountability for illegal acts.  Now for some self-congratulation:

When President Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974, I wrote one of the few columns endorsing his decision, which was made on the basis that it was more important for America to focus on the task of changing the way it would be governed and addressing the current problems. It took a full generation for the decision to be recognized by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and others as the act of courage that it had been. 

It's hard for me to understand the logic of this argument.  If Broder took the position that Clinton should have been impeached for lying in a civil deposition (lying to the country and his cabinet colleagues was not the crime in question, I think) about the character of an adult consensual relationship with a former employee, then how does it not follow that much more serious crimes (such as torture, murder, conspiracy, etc.) deserve at least to be investigated by the criminal justice system?