Republican Hypocrisy and Ginsburg

John Bowling
4 min readSep 19, 2020

Michelle Goldberg writes the following for the NYT:

If Republicans force a justice on us, it’s because they believe that standards are for suckers, and people who hold power need not be constrained by any pledge or institutional tradition.

This is probably going to be the most common argument we hear over the coming days or weeks or months.

The idea is that we should hold Republicans to their earlier position, even if that position was wrong. And if Republicans don’t hold to their earlier position, even though that earlier position was wrong, then they are demonstrating that they don’t care about the rules of the system. The implication is that we are then free to play outside the bounds too.

There is a tiny problem with this argument:

The Democrats held that Republicans should vote on Merrick Garland. Ergo, Democrats should hold that Republicans should vote on whoever Trump nominates. The fact that Democrats no longer hold to their earlier position demonstrates that they don’t care about the rules of the system. Thus, Republicans should now be free to play outside the bounds too.

The Democrats are caught in their own convenient argument. Bad faith arguments and demagoguery have always been a feature of political systems, including our own. But at some point, when those arguments become too ubiquitous — when we’ve mired ourselves in so many convenient, bad faith arguments that now any argument we make is liable to get us caught in our own logic — the bad faith arguments will start to break the system for everyone involved.

The Isgur Standard

Back when Joe Biden was accused of sexual assault, Republicans were holding the feet of Democrats to the fire on the “Believe all women” standard. Only a handful of Democrats actually held to that standard and of that handful some said that they would vote for Biden anyway. Most Democrats abandoned that standard and a few even made the even more cynical attempt to argue that “Believe all women” was actually a Republican trick, foisted upon the Democrats by David French.

Sarah Isgur argued that Republicans shouldn’t hold Democrats to a standard that they believed is wrong. Here’s what she said on Advisory Opinions (April 13, 2020):

I think that just because mistakes were made in the past in dealing with allegations does not mean that we need to force journalists to make the same mistakes this time to prove some sort of equity in allegations. And I think that it’s a good conversation for journalism to have to say what mistakes were made during the Kavanaugh situation that don’t need to be repeated this time… And somehow, the only way for journalists to prove that they’re not biased is to have the exact same coverage of an assault allegation against a Democrat. I don’t feel that way. I feel like journalism should be able to make mistakes and correct those mistakes.

…if you’re upset about how the Blasey Ford allegations were handled in the press, the worst thing you can do is then say “And from now on, we’re going to hold every story to that standard, and particularly this Reade story. We want the exact same treatment for Biden.” because the next time that there’s an allegation against someone you like, they’re gonna say, “Well, you just told us we had to hold this Reade story to the exact same standard as the Blasey Ford story.” So that is now the standard, which is that we treat all allegations basically as entirely substantiated, regardless of whether they are substantiated, and that reporters now serve this role of prosecutor to the reader, who is now the juror. — (starting @ 3:26 and 20:07)

Now simply substitute Democrats for Republicans here and the issue of voting on a SC nominee during an election year. Democrats believed it was a mistake to not vote for Obama’s nominee during an election year. The “McConnell Rule” which was “The Biden Rule” shouldn’t have been employed. Thus, Democrats now shouldn’t be attempting to force Republicans to hold to an illegitimate standard. As I said in my prior post, the actual problem here — if there is one — is not primarily what’s happening now in regard to Ginsburg’s passing, but what happened in 2016 with Garland.

Isgur’s standard has the virtue of not forcing us to live by our past mistakes. The difficulty with Isgur’s standard is that it requires that we start making arguments in good faith and this will surely mean losses for both sides. We’re going to have to swallow some humble pie. Democrats right now are attempting to say the ball is in the court of Republicans. Actually, that’s not true if we go by the Isgur standard. They are first in line to take a bite of the pie. Right now, Democrats are the first ones who stand to lose, and lose big. If they refuse to bite then they can expect Republicans to do the same… and vice versa.

Any system of government is built upon a shared concept of justice, the common good, and faith in our fellow countrymen. All three of these are in a crisis point for Americans right now. The Ginsburg situation is not, inherently, a fraught situation. It should be a relatively minor event. The fact that it isn’t is only exposing the dilapidated structure we’ve been sitting upon and picking at for quite a while. If it wasn’t this event, it would have been another and after this one there will be more. The more of these “crises” we go through with bad faith arguments, demagoguery, and poor solutions, the closer we move towards a total dissolution of the social compact.



John Bowling

Throwing half-baked ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.