“Both Sides” Benning

The junior senator from Caledonia County has crafted a masterpiece of both-sidesism. Sen. Joe Benning’s essay, “With Work, We Can Heal This Divided America,” blames conservatives and liberals alike for our stark political differences.

Now, these are tough times to be a thoughtful Republican. Joe Benning is one of those. He’s a conservative but not an ideologue, and he brings a defense attorney’s perspective to his work on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But this essay…

Benning acknowledges the intolerance in his own party:

…my party must absolutely divorce itself from those promoting intolerance, conspiracy theories, bigotry and hate. The extremist mentality which led to the unfortunate events of Jan. 6 cannot go unchecked.

A bit understated, but fair. He then indicts the Democrats:

Coordinated extremists shouting down speakers they dislike, physically breaking up rally-goers gathered for a cause they disagree with and randomly destroying property are not petty concerns. They are harbingers of the very same “ends-justifies-the-means” intolerant mindset now infecting extremists on the right.

Plenty of truth there. Intolerance does exist on both sides. But it is far from evenly distributed. The vast majority of the intolerance, hate, and conspiracy thinking is on the right.

The Democratic Party has few, if any, true extremists in their ranks. Those with extreme views are almost entirely fringe actors outside the party. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is under the control of extremists.

It’s extremism to depict Democrats as socialists who hate America. It’s extremism to support Donald Trump after his shameless attempt to throw out the election. Republican leaders freely accept extremists within their ranks. When was the last time you heard a peep from Congressional leaders about the conspiratorial rantings of Marjorie Taylor Greene or Paul Gosar or Lauren Boebert or Ron Johnson or a few dozen others I could name?

A solid majority of House Republicans voted not to accept Joe Biden’s victory. That’s an extreme and anti-democratic position. Republicans across the country have stopped trying to win free and fair elections; instead, they’re working as hard as they can to block people from voting. Plenty have even admitted that that’s what they’re doing.

Remember House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s refusal to give a straight answer about QAnon? Remember Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say he’d have no trouble backing Donald Trump for president in 2024, only days after excoriating the ex-president for his efforts to stage a coup?

Meanwhile, on the left, are there any equally fringey Democrats in Congress? Some conservatives would cite the likes of AOC and Ilhan Omar, I suppose. But they are committed to working within the political system. They aren’t trying to overthrow the government or undermine democracy. There’s no comparison between AOC and MJT aside from the triple initials.

Yes, there have been protesters who committed vandalism and even the occasional act of violence. But the vast majority are peaceful. The left’s extremists are small in number compared to the extremists on the right.

The Democratic Party shouldn’t be expected to answer for those people. They have no connection with the party. Indeed, they see both major parties as essentially interchangeable; they see the political system as rigged by the power brokers on both sides, and in need of radical disruption. The Democratic Party doesn’t speak for them, and has no influence over them.

Each side has some work to do, but they’re not in the same league. The Republicans have far, far more work to do than the Democrats.


3 thoughts on ““Both Sides” Benning

  1. bobzeliff

    So true….this unending litany of false equivalence! The passive collusion of silence of many of Vermont’s republican leaders (plus the active Trump supporters) is a statement of the core values of Republican party. The fact that so few speaker give clear insight to the sole of the party.

  2. Sen. Joe Benning

    Appreciate the “masterpiece” reference. Hope you weren’t being sarcastic.

    On the other hand, I’m sorry to see you’ve fallen into the very trap that the essay was hoping to avoid. By concluding with a comparison of Republican sins versus the Democrat/Progressive sins, you give license to readers on the left to walk away feeling righteous with no need for self-reflection. You also encourage those on the right to become defensive enough to fire back with counter-examples. Both sides would feel justified, but where does that get us?

    To me, sin comparisons are the death spiral for any attempt at healing. The healing process must begin with a hard look in the mirror. It amazes me, and frankly saddens me, to see how difficult this is for some people. As your essay here demonstrates, it is way more comfortable to defend with deflection. When will both sides finally recognize what we are doing to each other? If one chooses to look at how bad the other side is without first looking in the mirror, the essay’s point is lost.

    But what the hey, you read my essay and that’s a start. Next time, let’s do lunch. I’ll treat!

  3. Walter Carpenter

    “The Republicans have far, far more work to do than the Democrats.”

    The problem is that the Republicans do not want to heal. They sowed and grew the divide on purpose. No compromise. Constantly work to destroy democrats and democracy. No quarter. All this has been in their playbook since the Reagan Revolution, planned out before that. The idea from the beginning has been to “take back America,” and, as Nancy MacLean wrote in her book “Democracy in Chains,” to make “capitalism safe from democracy.”


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