The Moral Equivalence Contest’s New Contenders

When confronted with some foreign evil, the American liberal has a strange impulse to insist something morally equivalent is wrong with his own country in general and its conservatives in particular.
We’ve long noticed this tendency, and for many years having been ranking the most outrageous examples. So far the winner is still a friend of ours who, during a discussion about the old tradition in India of burning a widow alive on her husband’s funeral pyre, insisted that western culture does things to women that are every bit as bad, although she couldn’t quite think of any on the spur of the moment, followed by another a friend, a music-loving hippie who insisted that Afghanistan’s Taliban was no worse than the George W. Bush administration and contended that the Taliban’s complete ban on music was negated by a local college radio station’s cancellation of his favorite program. President Barack Obama sometimes seems intent on winning our competition, and his claim that Americans shouldn’t “get on a high horse” about the Islamic State chopping heads off because many centuries ago the Crusaders did some nasty things in their defensive war against a similarly brutal Islamic imperialism is certainly worth consideration, but this week also saw a couple of new contenders.
One is Samantha Power, Obama’s representative in the United Nations, whose recent commencement address at Barnard College told the women accepting their $250,000 degrees from that elite institution how very bad they have it. She recalled the sexism that once excluded women from colleges, and although she acknowledged that women now earn about 60 percent of all colleges she assumed that her distaff listeners were still troubled by “persistent self-doubt,” “fear of making mistakes,” and letting those doubts “get in the way of your voices being heard.” Our experience of young women is that their self-esteem has been carefully nurtured by modern education and popular culture, they’re no more afraid of making a mistake than your average Obama administration member, and that nothing gets in the way of their voices being heard, and we were entirely unsympathetic to all the personal anecdotes that followed about juggling motherhood and UN diplomacy, but what struck us as especially absurd was Power’s portentous note that there is a higher proportion of women in the Afghanistan parliament than in the United States’ Congress.
It was part of a spiel about how women’s rights have advanced in that formerly Taliban-ruled country to the point that it now has a national women’s cycling team, with no mention that this admittedly positive development is entirely due to an invasion and occupation by American forces that began during a previous administration, or any acknowledgement that those cyclists will almost surely be back in burqas shortly after the Obama administration’s planned retreat, and we suppose it can be taken as an upbeat exhortation to continue the march of women’s rights, but the tendency toward moral equivalence was unmistakable. Powersalso mentioned that young woman who has been carrying a mattress around Columbia University all year to protest its failure to punish the young man she alleges raped her, even though the evidence suggests that the the university and the city police declined to take any action for lack of evidence that she was raped, and the alleged rapist has numerous e-mails and other communications suggesting that she’s the sort of troubled young woman who haul a mattress around a university campus for an entire year, and generally spoke as if womanhood were at least as much a travail in America as in Afghanistan or anyplace else. We can only hope that $250,000 buys enough education at Barnard College that there audience will know better than believe such nonsense.
The other recent contestant in our moral equivalence idiocy contest is someone named William Saletan, who took the digital pages of to explain why Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is just like all the Republican candidates for president. He doesn’t allege that any of the Republicans hopefuls have been chopping off heads or doing any of the other deadly things that have brought the Islamic State such notoriety, but he does claim that they sound a lot alike. He notes that al-Baghdadi has said that he is waging a war of Muslims against non-Muslims, just as the Republicans have said that al-Baghdadi is waging a war of Muslims against non-Muslims. As if that weren’t damning enough, Saletan also notes that al-Baghdadi has said that his version is Islam is incompatible with western values, and that there are verses in the Koran and Hadith that urge violent jihad against non-Muslims, and sure enough many of those Republicans agree. He further notes that al-Baghdadi has warned Muslims that America has no respects for their rights, and although he can’t think of anything the Republicans have done to confirm this warning other than some gripes about a mosque being built near the former World Trade Center location and former Sen. Rick Santorum’s complaint that we’re not dropping enough bombs on al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State he still thinks that the IS and the GOP are pretty much the same. Indeed, he concludes that the GOP is “working for Baghdadi” by opposing it, and signs off with a haughty “Remind me again who’s naive.”
Perhaps it’s us who are naive, but to our ears the GOP candidates and al-Baghdadi don’t sound any more alike than Hitler and Roosevelt did when the former said his country was at war with us and the latter agreed that we were indeed at war. Of course, the modern liberal would also find some moral equivalence there.

— Bud Norman

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