Back in 2008, the media treated Sarah Palin and Joe Biden as equivalent — that is, both deserving respect due their status and offices. This year the same media will go to considerable lengths to treat Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as equivalent — both are presidential candidates, after all.
As became clear, aside from job descriptions there was nothing at all equivalent about Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Anyone who bothered to get beyond the National Review's prurient interests in Palin and those "starbursts" she sent out to America could have easily exposed her to be what she was — an ignorant political grifter. But to do this would have messed up the preferred media narrative.
Fast-forward to 2016 and Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump. They will command equal treatment due to their respective formal status — both represent their respective parties. Other than this, they are equivalent in not one way, offering another walk through the morass of false equivalency.
First, about Trump: On Charlie Rose's show last week, two journalists chatted with him about Trump's successes. They agreed that Trump is a politician who makes impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace. What they stopped short of saying was that such a politician meets, word for word, the dictionary's definition of the word "demagogue."
Donald Trump knows, as do all successful demagogues, that to rally the public he needs an identifiable enemy, the forces of whom have caused "the problems" that the demagogue promises to address. The "big lie" or the "big smear" or the "innuendo left hanging" are always of critical tactical importance. For Trump, so far, this tactic has almost always worked. Consider his years and years of questioning President Obama's birth and birth certificate, or more recently his statement following Obama's reaction to the Dallas shooting: "People cannot believe that Obama is acting the way he acts and he can't even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There's something going on. It's inconceivable. There's something going on."
"Something going on?" How's that for an innuendo left hanging?
Trump also knows that repetition is necessary. For example, by saying "crooked Hillary" enough times, what began as an unsupported rant might well become conventional wisdom. Trump, after all, is an accomplished huckster and he knows what advertising is all about.
Now, no one seriously disputes that Secretary Clinton has more qualifications and experience than Trump, or more to the point, she is the only candidate with any relevant experience and qualifications relevant to the office.
That Mrs. Clinton's experience and competence, when pointed out, is so often followed by, "but I don't trust her" (the implication being, I trust Trump — no explanation, just a gut feeling). Again, this is a textbook demagogue diversion. To no surprise, the media, duped as usual, most always presents it just this way — via another false equivalency. Thus the gag continues unchecked.
OK, here comes your follow-up question: Why don't you trust Hillary? This question invites responses such as, well, there was that land deal; or, what about Vince Foster? Or what about Benghazi? Or my favorite anti-thought response: "I dunno, there's just something about her."
Of course, there's nothing at all to any of these charges. But to a person who courts demagoguery as an answer to perceived grievances, reality doesn't matter.
Nor, seemingly, have the Republican Party's favorite, attack ads. Laura Reston, writing in the New Republic, studied 325 Republican commercials; 141 were attack ads on Trump. They failed "not only to dent Trump's popularity, they often made him stronger, shoring up his base and sending him surging in the polls." She suggests that the Clinton camp take notice.
Hillary Clinton is a lot of things, but she isn't a particularly good campaigner, and after 40 years under the public spotlight she can seem a tad shopworn. Like Obama, she has not done not much to protect the younger generations from the ravages of globalization — which was Bernie Sanders' big appeal. She's an institutionalist. She is by nature a thoughtful person, which often translates into borderline boring. And one thing for certain, she is sharp — as the Republican hatchet-job Benghazi committee discovered to their dismay. My guess is that she will make a surprisingly competent if not particularly inspiring president.
In any case, we know for sure that in this race we have one candidate, who mirrors the dictionary definition of a demagogue, and the other, who doesn't. So, all the partisan hoopla aside, it really does boil down to just this question: Does America want as its president a man who has openly and unabashedly identified himself as a demagogue? Let's hope not. ♦