No Real Difference Between the Two?

Something that used to irk me back in the Bad Old Days of the Soviet Union:  There were people back then who argued — or often just assumed — the United States was every bit as bad as the Soviet Union.   That there was no real difference between the two.

Not quite so long ago, you heard the same sort of thing said of Al Gore and George W.  Bush:  That there was no real difference between the two.

I think people were wrong when they said that about the United States and the Soviet Union, and I think they were wrong when they said that about Gore and Bush.  To be sure, the differences between the pairs was not as great as many people represented those differences to be.   But that does not mean the differences that did exist were not at times significant.

Of course, there are many instances of folks claiming two things are exactly the same, when those things are not exactly the same. Recently, I made acquaintance with a certain person who again and again makes that kind of claim.  If you talk about Republicans and Democrats, he instantly claims they are no different at all.   If you talk about economists, he lumps together the ones who make accurate predictions with the ones who make inaccurate predictions and claims they are all the same.  If you talk about cops and crooks, he’s bound to remind you of how similar they are.  I imagine even if you were to talk about dogs and dog catchers, he would tell you they are the same beneath a mere veneer of differences.  Listening to him over the past few months, I have discovered that he repeats himself over and over again on this issue of differences.

I’ve been wondering this evening why anyone would have a hard time recognizing the significant differences between similar things.  Is it because the pairs also have significant similarities?  Does that somehow blind us?

I’m at a loss to understand how such an error could be so common.

7 thoughts on “No Real Difference Between the Two?

  1. False equivalency is now another word for “broadcast news”. You get an actual expert on one side, and a raving loony on the other side, and call it “balanced journalism”.

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  2. Politicians are all alike where power is concerned, they all want it. Corruption of many is also common whatever the label. The ideologies are different and the means to achieve them may be different though the road is the same:power.
    A criminal has to think like a cop to avoid being caught and the cop has to think like a criminal to catch one. Cops and career criminals have a mutual respect each considering the other as a “professional”; now a career criminal is not to be confused with a common bum nor a professional policemen with a crooked cop.
    When your guy says they are all alike he uses a large brush not suitable for nuances.

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  3. Oh yes, about URSS vs USA. There were major differences, of course, but one big similarity: both regimes were led by “rich elite and privileged people” who dabbled freely in public coffers for their benefit and occasionaly for their constituents.
    However the socialist state catered to every one’s minimal needs not so the capitalist ones. Of course what the USAers, conservatives and libertarians disdainfully call the “nanny state” is somewhere between these two extremes.
    Again, your guy lacks nuances.
    In such matters all is various shades of grey.

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  4. “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two of them!” It grates on me too.

    Such a position makes it possible for one to decide not to participate in a choice “because they’re all the same.” Such a position also allows one to take “third way” position that might be a minority or underfunded position but is either very different or a combination of the two other that were supposedly the same anyway.

    Another reason we hear such statements is that the speaker doesn’t see the use or need for the entire topic. Some people can go through life without any real concern for oppressive regimes, sectarian debates, or the political arena. The statement is a message to you and me that the speaker has other interests and concerns.

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  5. In all the examples you give, there may be suttle differences, but the results are the same– we, the little guy, gets screwed– whether it’s the US, the USSR, Al Gore, George Bush, Democrats, or Republicans. They may do it in slightly different ways, but in the end we have to bend over, if you get my drift. And that is why people say, “they’re all the same”, because they are– they’re all worthless.

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  6. I said the same thing, Ken; I thought Bush and Gore were pretty much alike. But ask yourself; do you think that Gore would have invaded Iraq on a bible-driven personal vendetta? I don’t think so. You think Gore would have spent 8 years denying that global warming is a problem? Not likely. You think Gore would have hidden under the bed for 3 days after 9/11? Probably not. For that matter, would Gore have ignored the memo from Clinton admin people saying “Bin Laden determined to strike inside the US”?

    So yeah, they’re probably both jerks, but the difference is that Gore does actually understand fact-based decision making. With Bush, it’s all ideology-based.

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