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You'd have done the same thing?

If you twisted my arm when you asked me, I'd agree with Glenn Reynolds' point about double standards for the right and left. He argues that the left can get away with a form of political statement that the right would be crucified for; if they do get called on it, labelling it "satire" seems to be sufficient to exonerate them.

And yet, his argument troubles me greatly. (Which doesn't mean I've never engaged in a similar one, of course.) Why? Because these sorts of hypotheticals can be twisted as far as one wants to take them. Republicans shouldn't criticize Gore over his Florida recount antics, because Bush would have done the same if he had lost. The left shouldn't insult the right, because the right "would" be criticized if it insulted the right. The GOP shouldn't investigate the president, because Democrats would be criticized if they did the same. Etc. Etc. Or the most extreme case I ever saw: you shouldn't condemn the South for their defense of slavery, because if Northerners had owned slaves, they would have acted the same way. Huh?

These sorts of arguments aren't falsifiable; anybody can claim anything about what "would" happen, without fear of contradiction. Nobody can prove how Bush would have handled Florida had the situations been reversed. Not only are these arguments unprovable, but they don't really advance the debate. We should stick to arguments about whether behavior is right or wrong, not on whether one side could get away with it. Gore was wrong about Florida because he tried to get the law changed, not because Bush would have been savaged by the media (though he would have been) had the situations been reversed. Generally, we should be less interested in discussing hypothetical hypocrisy than in discussing who's right.


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