The Daily Show vs. Cognitive Dissonance

John Oliver does a number on Froma Harrop over her hypocrisy of calling the Tea Party Republicans “economic terrorists”, comparable to al-Qaeda, while simultaneously running a project for restoring civility in public discourse.


Last fall I talked about my own attempts to avoid hypocrisy with respect to civility.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Somite

    So her tone is more important than actual economic terrorism?

    This is where the Daily Show and Politifact fail. They strive for a narrative of “they all do it” when clearly it is one party that doesn’t have the best interest of our country in mind. I think exposing the economic terrorism of the GOP is more important.

    Actually, real hypocrisy would be for Froma to have engaged in economic terrorism herself not an unrelated issue on tone.

  • SAWells

    This would only be hypocritical if the Tea Party were themselves engaged in a civil political discourse.

  • lordshipmayhem

    “Unavailable video”.

  • Daniel Fincke

    This would only be hypocritical if the Tea Party were themselves engaged in a civil political discourse.

    No, it’s hypocritical when you do not meet your own moral standards. And it is equally hypocritical to abandon your own principles because your opponents won’t adopt them.

    Unless your principle is the Copper Rule: “Do unto others as they have done unto you”, in which case, yes, it would not be hypocritical to do to others whatever they did.

    Otherwise, you live by the values you promulgate for others and you lead by example even when others don’t do so also, or you’re a hypocrite.

  • Somite

    By your definition a policeman that shoots a murderer is a hypocrite,

    What matters is the accuracy of the statement. Are the GOP and Tea Party economic terrorists? The answer is yes regardless of who or how it is said.

  • Somite

    You know who also has different political views from us and Froma? Actual terrorists.

  • Daniel Fincke

    By your definition a policeman that shoots a murderer is a hypocrite,


    What matters is the accuracy of the statement. Are the GOP and Tea Party economic terrorists? The answer is yes regardless of who or how it is said.

    The answer is actually not yes, it’s no. And saying someone neither engaging in nor threatening violence is being “terrorist” is using emotionalistic, irrational, uncivil language that threatens to destroy civil debate. And when you have set yourself up as the head of a project to advocate for civil debate, this is hypocritical for you to do.

    Maybe you are not in favor of civil debate as a priority. Maybe you think that saying whatever inaccurate thing it takes to vilify your enemies is perfectly fine if your enemies’ ideas are harmful. I disagree with you, but you wouldn’t be a hypocrite. You’d be bad in other ways but not a hypocrite.

    But if you specifically denounce the incivility and inaccurate villifications your enemies themselves take recourse to (as for example I did vociferously a year ago after Giffords was shot), and if you advocate for a general value of civil discussion (as Harrop does) then you’re a hypocrite when you make exceptions from these principles for yourself.

    For hypocrites, things alllllways look different “in their case”.

  • SAWells

    Civil discourse involves not accusing opponents of things they aren’t guilty of. Truthful discourse involves accusing people of things they are guilty of. There is no contradiction here.

    During the debt ceiling crisis last year the Tea Party faction said they would rather the US default on its debt than alter an arbitrary number. They tried to hold the full faith and credit of the USA, and whatever is left of the stability of the world financial system, to ransom so as to obtain their demands. That is economic terrorism and it’s not inaccurate to call it that.

  • Daniel Fincke

    And you know who also has a different view from Republican Congresspeople? Actual terrorists.

  • Somite

    What matters is that it is not inaccurate to say the GOP and Tea Party is engaged in economic terrorism.

    The term doesn’t imply violence as the term “economic” clarifies. Economic terrorism means that they are using scare tactics and misinformation to accomplish their economic goals.

    If the concept of “death panels” is not economic terrorism I don’t know what is.

  • Somite

    See? Based on your argument terrorists would say that they have a different political view and therefore can not be called terrorists. They just have a different goal.

  • plutosdad

    I didn’t realize it is terrorism to stand up for what you believe in even when it’s unpopular.
    There are two problems here:
    1. our debt it out of control and getting worse, and reaching levels where something “very bad” will happen in the future if we don’t deal with it.
    2. if you keep saying “we’ll deal with it next term” it will NEVER get dealt with
    (problem 3: there is some evidence that “temporary” cuts do nothing to affect the economy, since people know they are temporary and do not change long term planning)

    So IF #1 is actually a problem, then sooner or later someone has to stand up and say “stop increasing spending”, and the only way to do that is to actually stop spending. compromising and saying “ok we’ll go along NOW, but NEXT TIME we’re really going to stop the increases!” is silly and means nothing will get done.

    Now, you can say they are bastards for wanting to cut WIC and SNAP instead of the military, but to say a message of “stop increasing spending” is “terrorism” is ridiculous. Basically you’re arguing that people who disagree with you must go along with you or else they are “terrorists”

    Instead maybe we should be wondering why more people aren’t acting like adults, including us

  • Somite

    They are unrelated problems. The Tea Party obstructed the process of paying debts already incurred and does not consider raising revenue as an option.

    Just because you believe it doesn’t make it true or correct. Both the methods and logic of the Tea Party were wrong. Or right, if you consider their true agenda is to increase the influence of corporations in government.

  • F Brian

    Can someone help me? Why am I given a place to reply at this blog but not at many of the others at How do I gain the ability to reply to something at Pharengular (for example)?

  • Verbose Stoic

    You have to register for comments at Pharyngula. Normally you can find the “login or register” thing at the bottom of the comments.

  • Verbose Stoic


    The problem is that you think they’re wrong, and they think you’re wrong. In the debt crisis, both sides were willing to at least threaten to let that deadline expire if they didn’t get their way. So it seems to me that the people you are calling terrorists you are only calling terrorists because they were willing to take the same actions as the side you consider right but that you happen to think them wrong. Taken in that context, it’s not really “true” to call them that; it’s a matter of opinion at best. And in civil discussions, inflammatory opinions masquerading as facts are not appropriate. You can’t call for reductions in inflammatory rhetoric while engaging in it without being a hypocrite.

  • Somite

    Nope. I don’t think democrats have taken actions that have resulted in a rating downgrade. This is not a matter of opinion but fact. As SAWells said:

    “During the debt ceiling crisis last year the Tea Party faction said they would rather the US default on its debt than alter an arbitrary number. They tried to hold the full faith and credit of the USA, and whatever is left of the stability of the world financial system, to ransom so as to obtain their demands. That is economic terrorism and it’s not inaccurate to call it that.”

  • jdguil

    During the 1990s a lot of people stood up and said balance the budget. So Bill Clinton worked with Republicans in congress to balance the budget.

    Then George Bush came into office and totally destroyed the budget with tax cuts and spending increases. And what did the Republicans say about this budget busting? Not a damn thing.

    Then that black man got elected, and suddenly the Republicans were all upset about the budget deficit. They aren’t standing up for what they believe in. The teaparty is nothing but a bunch of racist Republicans using the balanced budget as a weapon to paralyze the country until they can get a Republican back in the White House.

    Look at the legislation proposed by teapary republicans. Most of it is about social issues like restricting voting rights, banning birth control, restricting rights of immigrants, dismantling evironmental controls, not about balancing budgets. Look at the proposed budgets of the Republican presidential candidates and none of them even comes close to a balanced budget. But you don’t hear the teaparty complaining because they don’t actually care about the budget. Its about the black man with the Muslim sounding name in the white house that they hate so much.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Its about the black man with the Muslim sounding name in the white house that they hate so much.

    Whatever relevance racism might have in whatever other contexts, this issue seems more specifically a matter of opposing a Democratic president—black, white, or yellow. In cases where there is not any direct or indirect reference to Obama’s color or his foreignness, accusations of racism are way too unfounded, intemperate, and irresponsibly demonizing.

  • Somite

    I am glad you admit the GOP and Tea Party put politics over constituents.

  • Verbose Stoic


    Yeah, a quote from a comment in this thread from some person is really support for your position.

    Anyway, I was an interested bystander in the debate, being Canadian and all. And from what I saw, here’s what happened:

    1) The Tea Party took a very strong line on the issue, mostly because they could because they really had no chance on their own to do anything. If a compromise could be worked out that most non-Tea Party Republicans and the Democrats could support, the Tea Party could vote against it as a block and it would still pass. That let them play politics and try to argue that they’re standing up for reducing debt without ever having to worry that they’d actually cause the problem.

    2) Both the Democrats and Republicans seemed to be playing chicken with each other, threatening to let the deadline expire if they didn’t get the deal they wanted.

    3) Obama played party politics instead of leading by calling out both sides to get a compromise done.

    4) It’s debatable if either side was right or wrong.

    As for the Republicans putting politics over their constituents, name me a political party that doesn’t. And no, the Democrats are not a party that doesn’t put politics over their constiuents.

  • Somite

    Again you get it wrong. The Tea Party’s goal was not deficit reduction. Their goal was no new taxes, period. There was no compromise that taxes could be increased to increase revenue. Only cuts to services and government was accepted by the tea party. You keep arguing that because the tea party feels strongly about something it must automatically be respected.

    Obama did lead the negotiations meeting members of congress multiple times.

    What the tea party was doing is protecting the interests of the super rich, as it has become very clear since.

    This is a timeline of the debt ceiling debate. Note how many times Obama was involved and how the GOP and tea party line is about taxes and cut in spending. Not debt.

  • Somite
  • grung0r

    Few people today call for civility towards racists, rapists or pro-slavery types(except for the rapists, racists and pro-slavers themselves), but once upon a time, they did. People wanted the proponents of those repugnant systems to be treated be treated civilly because while they wanted to be seen as opposing those systems, they also wanted to keep the privileges that those systems granted them. They didn’t like slavery, but they wanted to keep an unpaid workforce. They didn’t like women being raped, but they wanted to be able to have sex with their wives on demand. They didn’t like people being treated differently based on the color of their skin, but somebody had to ride in the back of the bus, and sure as shit wasn’t going to be them.

    Every call for civility is the pathetic cry of a frightened person who is absolutely terrified of what will happen if the system that they hate but depend on for their privilege begins to be disrespected and treated with contempt. For Jon Stewart(who all but says so at the beginning of this video)it’s the fear that the media(and himself along with them) with no longer be the gatekeepers of information to the public. For Daniel(and Eric) it is a desperate attempt to keep some semblance of of the patriarchal, hierarchical system of religion that has shaped our entire society, and thus has granted them the privileges that they have and desperately want to hold onto.

    Basically, fuck civility and the hypocritical cowards who call for it. Civility is a sign of respect, and if I have contempt for a system or one of it’s defenders, I’m going to fucking show it. To do less, to pretend to respect those people and systems, is the ultimate in disrespect for those who have been beaten down and oppressed because the cowardly practitioners of civility needed them to be to keep their stations in life.

  • josh


    The terrorism part is where one’s tactics include threats of catastrophic consequences if one does not get one’s way, issued during what is normally a formality and a non-partisan effort. Setting the debt ceiling is separate from the process of passing a budget and Republicans initiated a confrontation hoping to force concessions elsewhere. The Democrats were then faced with the usual issue of terrorism, which is to comply in order not to be responsible for an immediate catastrophe, or to resist in order not to set a catastrophic precedent.

    1)Debt is high but not at unprecedented levels for the US. Other countries have maintained higher debt to GDP ratios. It’s a problem to be addressed but not the most pressing one.

    2)Debt can be maintained indefinitely if economic growth can match it. More importantly, allowing that we shouldn’t kick the can down the road forever doesn’t mean now is the right time to address it or that Republicans are even offering a solution. In the middle of a recession, the loss of revenue due to the recession is one of if not the biggest factor in increasing the deficit. Cutting public spending tends to deepen and lengthen the recession, making the debt worse overall.

    Moreover, IF number 1 is a problem it is equally a solution to stop decreasing taxes. (I’d also recommend regulating businesses to prevent recessions like the current one.)

  • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Feral Fembeast

    This comment is worth more than every other comment plus the OP put together.

    • Daniel Fincke

      This comment is worth more than every other comment plus the OP put together.

      Really? Even with the utterly and completely bullshit, unsubstantiated accusation against Eric and me that our discussions of religion come from a secret desire to perpetuate patriarchy? Give me a break.

      And that’s just the part of grungor’s self-righteous apology for closed-mindedness and irrational demonization of enemies that was aimed at me. The whole thing is a justification of becoming as bad as any other authoritarians who view their enemies as monsters to be destroyed, rather than ignorant but well meaning people to be educated and persuaded.

  • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Feral Fembeast

    Replies to comments are borked. I’m praising grung0r’s comment, not josh’s comment.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Wait, why do I find it surprising that those who explicitly take a policy of incivility towards they disagree with would go and make up baseless charges against me and ignore the actual things I’ve said in thousands of posts for two and a half years which flat out give lie to those charges. They disagree with me, that makes me equivalent to a racist who must be silenced at whatever cost—even if it means outright lies about my views and insidious characterizations of my true motives.

  • laurentweppe

    Civil discourse involves not accusing opponents of things they aren’t guilty of.

    Civil discourse is not just that: Civil discourse is also refraining from using coded words which carry implicit message. Terrorism is such a word: a terrorist is not a legitimate actor in a political debate: once you accuse someone of terrorism, you also say “This person does not deserve to have airtime to defends their views, This person does not deserve to run for election, this person does not deserve to be able to move freely”. Accusing the GOP of terrorism carries the implicit message that the Republican party should be outlawed, that republican candidates should be forbidden to run, that republican activists should be forbidden for defending their views in public, that the firepower of the state should be used to force the republican into submission.
    Of course, One may claim, shocked, that they never ever would advocate such anti-democratic deeds. But that’s a lie: as soon as one starts employing a term which carry an implicit message, they’re advocating the implicit message as well. When Teabaggers called Obama a traitor, or a dictator, or both, then said “but Of Course, we’re not advocating for a coup d’état”, they were clearly lying as calling a head of state a traitor, or a dictator implies that violently toping him is the responsible thing to do.
    One thing which infuriates me to no end is this tendency so many people have to believe that is is extraordinary cunning to imply reprehensible things through coded words which implicit meanings are known to all. In the case of the GOP economic sabotage (I chose this term as depending on the context it can also have a positive meaning), there is no explicit lie about the deeds of the GOP -they really tried to screw up the US economy in order to increase their chances to win the next presidential election- but there is an implicit demand to treat the republican party not as a political actor but as an ennemy of the American Republic which deserve to be treated as such. Now maybe there is a case to be made for such a claim, but if one believes that the republican GOP is an ennemy of the American Republic which ought to be hunted down like other terrorist groups, they should advocate their case openly, not through crappy coded language.

  • Somite

    Regardless. There is simply no comparison between an ambiguously uncivil comment to the actual harm that the GOP caused to the economy. Call it sabotage, terrorism or taken hostage the GOP harmed the economy of this country for personal gain.

  • grung0r

    they disagree with me, that makes me equivalent to a racist who must be silenced at whatever cost

    I never said or implied that racists or anyone else’s views should be “silenced”. In fact, to make my position perfectly clear, I think they should shout their stupid beliefs from the rooftops, and everyone should listen. Then, I think we should treat their idiotic beliefs with all the disrespect and contempt one can muster. Are you of a different opinion on this? Should we treat The Aryan brotherhood or the KKK with respect? We should conduct civil discourse with them, as though it was debate between to equal but desperate opinions? Fuck that, and fuck you if you think so.

    If you don’t think so, I am curious to what exactly you think civility would entail. You think I should toe your arbitrary civility line on a concept(civility)that is incredibly nebulous in the first place? It’s cool if I’m uncivil to skinheads or rapists, but if it’s possible that Daniel Fincke thinks that the belief system in question is true, innocuous, or just held by well meaning but ignorant people that I should be civil to Daniel Fincke’s standards (and not, presumably, to a not significant portion of the population’s standards, who would find the very presentation of my(or your) positions to be uncivil by the sole fact they were expressed openly)? Could you set up a hotline? As the arbiter of civility, people such as myself may need quite a few consultations as to whether a certain belief warrants civility or incivility(and in fact what is or isn’t civil at all), and a quick call to you would really help sort this out.

  • grung0r

    Intended to be a reply to Daniel’s comment, and “desperate opinions” should be “disparate opinions”

  • laurentweppe

    Should we treat The Aryan brotherhood or the KKK with respect? We should conduct civil discourse with them, as though it was debate between to equal but disparate opinions?

    Here’s an exemple of what’s problematic with demands of a more civil discourse: a civil discourse is not a courteous discourse: when people, especially politicians are demanding more civility, what they mean most of the time is “People are not being courteous enough with me“, as if civility could be reached through polite platitudes.
    So of course, it’s easy to start lying or to call for murder through badly coded messages like “Obama is a Traitor!”, “Republicans are terrorists!” then proudly say “I’m not going to submit to the PC bullshit of tone trolls, I’m free and proud of my opinions, bitches” then give oneself a pat in the back for breaking the etiquette of polite falsehoods.
    It’s also why I say it is pointless to go around and say the KKK should be allowed to “shout their stupid beliefs from the rooftops“: white supremacists are never going to openly shout their real beliefs: they’re never going to openly say “We want to go back to the legal system when we could rape our black maid, then rape the child produced by that rape, and get away with it” nor are they going to say “We want to be rich aristocrats enjoying a lavish lifestyle produced by slaves who do all the work in our stead“: they’re going to try to justify such unavowable desire, mostly by lying about the intrinsic worth of the people they long to enslave, but they’re never to openly say what they want. What should be done is a relentless public decoding of their cyphers: saying publicly “This is what they really want and This is why they’re hidding behind smokescreens“: this would extremely discourteous, but not uncivil at all.
    To go back to Harrop’s case, the problem is not that she’s employing a double standard, it’s that she’s not really advocating for more civility: she’s demanding that people she considers worthy remain courteous to each other while being deliberatly discourteous to people she deems not worthy of courteousness. Personally, I have absolutely no problem with it, but it is misleading to confuse it with civility.

  • Somite

    And this is still not economic terrorism?

    BREAKING: Boehner threatens to hold payroll tax cut extension hostage to Keystone pipeline approval

  • jeff

    Why was it “eocnomic terrorism” for Republicans to say “cut spending by an equal amount and we will agree to raise the debt cieling” but it was not “economic terrorism” for Obama to say “I will veto any proposal to raise the debt ceiling that does not raise taxes”? Obama was as much a “hostage taker” as were Republicans. Similarly, Obama threatened to evto any extention of the payroll tax cut that included approval for eth Keystone Pipeline. His position on everything these days appears to be simply “Give me everytyhing I want and you get nothing or I will veto it or prevent the Senate from voting on it.” If he wants to compromise, he has to be willing to give something to Republicans in return for gettigng what he wants. That’s how compromise works.

    What amazes me is the double standard miost liberals have. Obama draws lines in the sand all the time. His mantra is “My way or the highway” on every issue. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, has not passed a budget in more than three years and sits on at least a dozen Republican-passed jobs proposals, but somehow it is Republcians’ fault that nothing is getting passed. Every time the House takes steps to address a problem, Democrats declare it “dead on arrival” in the Senate. If Demcorats are unwilling to compromise one iota, it is they who are holding us hostage. The people spoke in 2010, they want smaller governemnt and less spending. It would behoove Democrats to take heed.

    Both sides drew a line in the sand on the debt ceiling. Both were willing to allow the debt ceiling to be reached without an increase rather than give anything to teh other side. But somehow, it is terrorism for conservatives to do it and not terrorism for liberals to do the exact same thing.

    Calling conservative “racists” or “terrorists” because they oppose liberal ideas is the exact thing Harrop claims to oppose. She is a flaming hypocrite for resorting to name calling when she does not get her way.

    • situsinversus

      Because the adverse effects of the Keystone pipeline have been argued and the executive branch can decide accordingly.

      For the GOP to cause a government standstill without good arguments that causes a downgrade of the US economy is different and rightly called terrorism.