John McCain’s False Dichotomy

John McCain’s False Dichotomy February 7, 2013

President Obama’s framework for immigration reform includes a provision that gives gay couples the same rights in terms of immigration as straight couples. Sen. John McCain, who claims to favor immigration reform, says this is a good way to derail the deal by angering bigots.

“I think it is a red herring. I think then, do we want to guarantee a tax payer free abortion?” McCain asked in response to a question about the provision from Politico’s Mike Allen. “I’m telling you now, if you love this up with social issues and things that are controversial, the it will endanger the issue. ”

He added, “I’ll be glad to talk about, discuss it, what the ramifications are, but if someone does that as the most important aspect of comprehensive immigration reform, then we just have a fundamental disagreement.” “Which is more important, LGBT or border security?” McCain finally said.

But this is a false dichotomy. It’s not an either/or. You can do the right thing on both issues because the right thing is consistent. The only reason the inclusion of that provision would endanger the passage of the reform package is because bigots don’t like it. And a group of bigots, including Roman Catholic bishops and Southern Baptist preachers, have been lobbying to have it taken out.

“It’s an overreach,” said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which signed the letter. “Immigration is hard enough as it is and adding another controversial issue to the mix makes it even harder. I’m surprised the administration would risk sacrificing 11 million people over this issue. It’s very combustible.”

Translation: “That’s a lovely immigration reform bill you got there. Be a shame if something were to happen to it, God forbid.” There are almost 30,000 Americans in committed same-sex partnerships with people from other countries. They should be treated exactly the same as straight Americans in similar relationships.

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  • glodson

    Is McCain descending into senility? I mean… that isn’t even a good false dichotomy. Of course, leave it t Bishops and Preachers to be against doing the right thing for people.

  • greenspine

    The Catholic Church has a “director of migration policy”? What the fuck? Why? Do they have an entire shadow government?

  • The Lorax

    Hah, excellent. A little thing like this, so subtle, so sweet, so innocent, is like throwing a pebble at a beehive. Come out, hyper-conservatives, and let your voices be known! I’ll just be here getting some popcorn ready…

  • do we want to guarantee a tax payer free abortion?

    yes please (I’m assuming he meant tax payer [free abortion], not [tax payer free] abortion

  • )

  • tynk

    Oh what the fuck now. I suppose same sex immigration will destroy opposite sex immigration?

    How the hell can they even justify excluding an equality statement in immigration reform beyond the Hecklers Veto?

  • I knew the moment McCain embraced immigration reform, he’d find an excuse to oppose the final package. As long as he’s in the Seante, he’s going to be a pain in the ass. He isn’t senile. He’s just a sore loser.

  • steve84


    McCain has been senile for a long time. There was this clip where someone explained to him that the military still went after gay people for flimsy reasons and without evidence under DADT. And he shook his head and basically screamed “NO! NO! This doesn’t happen!”. He all but put his fingers in his ears while doing so.

  • Oh, please! Everybody knows that Obama is trying to get them eye-leegal homoMexicans over here to take our ‘Merkin jobs pickin’ all our gayest fruits and vegetables.

    What are you going to do when some homosexual Hispanic (or “Homopanic”) comes out to your farm and gathers all the glitter from your glitter trees?

  • parasiteboy

    I think it is a red herring (emphasis mine)

    I don’t think that term means what you think it means Johnny Mac

    I think then, do we want to guarantee a tax payer free abortion

    Now that’s a red herring!!!

  • Johnny Au Gratin

    The false dichotomy is just a bonus. The real goal is another hekcler’s veto .

  • conway

    Any day you can anger a bigot is a good day.

  • Modusoperandi (9)

    Or the secrets from your bubble trees?

  • wscott

    McCain’s a senile buffoon, but this isn’t a false dichotomy. What he seems to be trying to say is: push for too much and you’ll generate more opposition, making it less likely you’ll get anything at all. Whether or not that’s true in this case, it’s a valid tactical/political point in general. If you saw the movie Lincoln last year (if you haven’t, go now!), they make a point of this in the debate over passage of the 14th Amendment. Tommy Lee Jones’ character wants to push for full equality for blacks (as opposed to merely “equal before the law”), but understands that doing so would ensure the Amendment’s defeat. Like it or not, politics is a game of compromises. I know people think that’s a four letter word these days; but since the alternative is either gridlock or tyranny, maybe a little compromise isn’t so bad.


    IMO, including equal treatment for gays in the bill was certainly the moral choice. Whether it works out tactically or not, we’ll have to see. If it winds up scuttling any chance of immigration reform at all, then the answer was No. OTOH, if the democrats have to give up on that provision at the last minute, all that would do is further highlight what a bunch of unrepentant, reactionary bigots the GOP has become and further alienate them from the under-50 vote. So that’s not all bad either.

  • Nihilismus

    It’s true that politics requires compromise, but you have to make it obvious that you are compromising. Like any negotiation, you have to ask for way more than you will probably get, then haggle back and forth and give up things (that you knew you wouldn’t get anyway) until you get somewhere in the middle. If you only start where you think such haggling would have led, the other side will still expect you to “compromise”, and you’ll wind up even closer to your opponent’s dream deal.

    President Obama hasn’t demonstrated effective negotiating strategies for most of his presidency — he has regularly started in the middle. But maybe now he is changing strategies — offering a more liberal version of immigration reform so that Republicans will think they’ve “won” if a more moderate bill gets passed. For moderate voters in the next election, Democrats will appear more willing to reach across the aisle and effective at getting important legislation passed, as well as saner compared to the bigots.

  • jameshanley

    Meh, standard legislative process. Not that I don’t approve of Obama’s gal, but it’s damn near a killer amendment. If he’s got he votes to get it through, awesome. If not, he should drop that part of it and get the immigration reform.

    Politics is still the art of compromise, even if nobody wants to remember that anymore.

  • politics is also the art of counting, as in “count your votes”…

  • lofgren

    Even though McCain’s general message of “do what’s possible” is typical politics, he deserves harsh criticism for these statements for a few reasons:

    A1, abortions are not related to immigration reform the way that same-sex couples’ legal status is. The comparison to abortion makes it appear that Obama is ladening the immigration reform package with unrelated social engineering projects. In fact, an immigration reform bill debate is exactly the appropriate time and place for our leaders to stake out their positions on this subject of grave significance to at least 30,000 families. So for that reason alone, the comparison to abortion shows a certain level of antipathy to gay couples. He’s trying to put them in a box and label them “gay issues,” as if gay issues are not also (in this case) immigration issues.

    B2, McCain is boohooing the president’s attempt to offer parity to these couples. If he doesn’t think that the president has the votes, he could say “Of course I agree that same-sex couples deserve equal rights and I will work with the president to include that in the bill. Ultimately, however, we may need to make some hard choices to ensure our border security.” Even if he thinks this is an overreach only because it might cost the bill necessary votes, that doesn’t excuse being on the wrong side of the issue initially. (And to anybody who thinks that McCain isn’t suggesting he will be on the opposite side of this issue, what do you think he means when he says he will be happy to “discuss the ramifications?” He used almost that exact same phrase for over a decade in order to oppose LGBT equality in the military.)

    C3, McCain is phrasing the issue dishonestly. Affording same-sex couples the same rights as hetero couples should be the default position. If bigots are willing to scuttle the bill because it treats gay couples equally, then it is they who are treating the suppression of gay rights as “the most important aspect of comprehensive immigration reform.” It is his fellow Republicans that McCain should be chastising. Which is more important, oppressing 30,000 same-sex couples or border security? I’m pretty sure we have McCain’s answer.