One of the worst things about political discourse is how, when one party’s politician says or does something demonstrably awful, there is an almost immediate attempt to deflect away any blame or consequence for it by saying “hey, if YOUR side did this you wouldn’t be this upset.”
There is, at the core of that, something of a truth. People in partisan situations DO grade their own side less harshly than the other side. There’s a natural human tendency to do that, even if it is itself irrational and unfortunate.
But that’s another topic altogether, because it’s totally beside the point. The fact that, in the past or in some hypothetical situation people might talk about the situation at hand differently, does not mean that the situation at hand is any different. Anyone who is a parent knows this:
[Child breaks lamp playing ball in the house]
Dad: Junior, did you just break the lamp?!
Junior: Yes, but Sally broke that plate that one time . . .
Dad: I DON’T CARE! You literally just broke that lamp ten seconds ago! You were playing ball in the house and I have TOLD you not to do that!
Junior: Sally might play ball in the house one day. You wouldn’t be mad if SALLY broke the lamp.
With that last comment Junior just bought himself three more days of being grounded, right? On general principle alone?
Despite the simple, childish and insulting illogic of this approach, we see it all the time, particularly in politics. A candidate for office will say something absolutely offensive, counterfactual and patently insane, and when a person takes issue with it one of his supporters will immediately note that, in the past, his opponent has said something bad too (rarely so insane, of course). The supporter will then offer a hypothetical in which he imagines the opponent saying a crazy thing too, followed by a “You wouldn’t have any problem with it if YOUR GUY said that!” Like Junior and the lamp, the person with whom you are talking about politics is offering up childish logic that is really just a dodge from the issue at hand.
It’s happening in baseball at the moment too! Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, speaking yesterday about the dirty Chase Utley slide that broke Ruben Tejada’s leg, said this:
“(If) their captain, David Wright comes into (Corey) Seager and slides like that, the exact same slide, and let’s say he didn’t get hurt, there would be rumblings, but it goes away,” Mattingly said Sunday, before Utley was suspended two games by MLB, with the possibility of playing on appeal. “Guys talk and chat, but if nobody got hurt, it wouldn’t even be talked about hardly today. It would have just been a hard slide, and there would have been controversy back and forth if it was hard; but since someone got hurt, now it’s a story.”
“If it would have been their guy, they would be saying, ‘David Wright, hey, he’s a gamer; he went after him. That’s the way you’ve got to play.’ But it’s our guy; it’s different. So I know how the kind of the New York media gets a little bit going, and it gets dramatic, but for me you can’t have it both ways. If David would have done it, it wouldn’t have been any problem here in New York.”
If there is anything I have observed about sports fans in the past several years it’s that, when a controversy arises, figuring out what team or player the fan in question roots for will dictate where the fan falls with respect to the controversy almost all of the time. It’s uncanny. And the matters which fans of a team or player will excuse are almost limitless. Players have committed serious felonies off the field and, while not many people will support them, you can be sure that among the few who do will happen to be fans of the player’s team.
But Don Mattingly isn’t some blinded partisan of a political candidate on Twitter playing the “If YOUR GUY said it . . .” game. He’s the manager of the Los Angeles Freakin’ Dodgers. And he’s addressing this issue as if he’s a first-time/long-time guy on the local sports talk radio show. He’s inventing a scenario that may or may not happen — David Wright taking out someone with a slide — for the express purpose of diminishing the fact that his guy, Utley, did just that. What’s more, is that he’s essentially hypotheticaling away the actual reason this was such a big deal — Ruben Tejada‘s leg getting broken — in much the same way. Primer for Don Mattingly:
- Chase Utley‘s slide was dirty.
- David Wright didn’t slide dirty into someone.
- Ruben Tejada’s leg is broken.
Perhaps there are interesting conversations to have about hypothetical situations that spin off of this scenario and perhaps, if new rules are to be promulgated about slides it’s worth thinking about such things (rules have to cover many situations, not just one). But Don Mattingly isn’t sitting at that interview table because he’s an expert on ethics and prescriptive justice. He’s there because he’s the manager of the Dodgers. And the manager of the Dodgers he’s denying the bleedin’ obvious and basically telling people who take issue with Utley’s slide that they’re irrational and wrong.
We can’t ground Don Mattingly for insulting our intelligence like Dad can ground Junior for it, but we can think of his response in much the same way: childish. Wrong. Beside the point. And made in service of deflection rather than dealing with the issue at hand.