Both-sides-ism creeps into a story that mostly rises above both-sides-ism

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn. Photo (cc) 2017 by Lorie Shaull.

Sometimes it can be hard to avoid both-sides-ism no matter how well-intentioned you are. On Sunday, as part of its “Democracy Challenged” series, The New York Times analyzed the rhetoric (free link) of congressional representatives to see to what extent members of the two major parties are using toxic, polarizing language. Here’s the nut:

The Times found that in the current Congress, representatives who fought certifying the election used polarizing language on Twitter about 55 percent more often than other Republicans, and nearly triple the rate of Democrats. Objectors referred to their opponents as “socialist” in more than 1,800 tweets, more than twice as often as other Republicans. Democrats called the other side “fascist” about 80 times.

The article, by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Steve Eder, is comprehensive and important. But do you see what they’re doing? They’re telling us that even though Republicans use terrible language to demonize their opponents far more often than Democrats, Democrats sometimes do it, too.

There aren’t a half-dozen Democratic members of Congress who are socialists — not even in the mild, Western European sense. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Republicans have embraced election denialism, a number that goes well beyond those who refused to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021. In doing so, they are embracing authoritarianism, which, if it is anything, is surely a form of fascism. Maybe “semi-fascism,” to use President Biden’s apt phrase.

In attempting to show that Democrats do it, too, the Times cites the example of Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, who, on the first anniversary of the failed insurrection, “sent an email to her constituents calling the event an ‘attempted coup’ and asserting that ‘our democracy is in danger.'” She told the Times that she has no regrets, saying, “I intend to defend our democracy, and if that is ‘polarizing,’ so be it.”

Well, yes. Nearly all of the Republican attacks on Democrats are laden with falsehoods or wild exaggerations. The Democratic attacks on Republicans aren’t just far less numerous — they are also, for the most part, an accurate assessment of what we’re up against. The story, good as it is, could have done a better job of showing that.

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