I apologize at the outset to Chris Plante, a Washington D.C. market conservative radio talk show host, who is far from the only individual to employ the “Favorite Child” rationalization, or even its most egregious user. Just about everybody uses this logic-free argument these days; you can hear it on TV, read it in the blogosphere, and be assaulted with it by your friends. Plante was unlucky enough to have me listening to his show when he went off into a full-throated “Favorite Child” rant in response to a caller who was troubled by the fact that Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party Senate candidate from Delaware whom Plante had extolled, has a history of lying, saying strange things, and mishandling funds-–a quite reasonable concern when a candidate is running on a platform of honor, integrity, and fiscal responsibility.
Plante, however, shouted him down by proclaiming that Timothy Geithner hadn’t paid his taxes, and Charlie Rangel was corrupt, and Barack Obama hadn’t released his scholastic records, and Hillary Clinton made verbal gaffes just yesterday, and where was the press to criticize those things?
None of which, of course, argues for electing someone Senator who has shown herself to be untrustworthy.
Welcome to the “Favorite Child” rationalization. This irritating, hypocritical and illogical argument is less a true rationalization than it is a childish deflection of accountability and a last-ditch, desperation defense when one is out of excuses. It is especially popular in the political arena, and practiced with special shamelessness by pundits like Plante. When a critic points out a genuine example of dishonesty or other unethical conduct on the part of a particular official, that official’s defender will immediately retort with the names of one or more examples of similar conduct by individuals the critic favors, and has failed to criticize in the past. Note that this does not in any way address or disprove the charge; indeed, resorting to this tactic usually means that the critic is 100% correct.
The tactic derives its name from the fact that the argument being put forward is essentially the same as the one often offered by a child admonished by a parent: “But you let my brother get away with the same thing! You like him best!” The theory is that it is unfair to criticize anyone for conduct the critic may have excused or ignored in another. That may be true, but it is irrelevant to the conduct of the individual under discussion. If the conduct of an elected official is unethical, then the official is accountable for it whether others have gotten away with it or not.
Adopting the “Favorite Child” defense has several implications, none of them valid, including:
- What my guy did is OK, because your guy did it.
- The conduct of your guy, which I think is wrong, should set the standard of conduct for my guy, who I think is better than your guy.
- The worse your guy can behave without being criticized, the worse my guy can behave without my objecting.
- The conduct I deplored in your guy is acceptable to me in my guy, because you didn’t have the integrity to criticize it.
- It’s all right for my guy to do what your guy did, but I still think your guy is scum for doing it, and you were a hypocrite not to criticize him.
- The bad conduct of your guys that fuel my righteous determination to replace them with my guys justifies my guys behaving exactly like your guys did.
Plante told his protesting caller that he was merely engaging in “comparative analysis.” No, Chris, you were engaging in intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy and obfuscation…or were struck stupid mid-broadcast.
As I said at the beginning, Chris Plante is far from the only one to resort to the “Favorite Child” rationalization.
But even one is too many.