Sunday, May 29, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: May 29, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
TODD: Yesterday's State Department IG report was pretty scathing, and it seemed to contradict many of the things you said about the emails. Do you accept everything that the State Department IG report said about your practices as fact?

CLINTON: Well, Chuck, the report makes clear that personal email use was the practice under other secretaries of state. And, the rules were not clarified until after I had left. But, I said this many times, it was still a mistake. If I could go back I would do it differently. And, I understand people have concerns about this, but I hope and expect voters to look at the full picture of everything I've done and stand for.
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 26, 2016, during an interview with Chuck Todd of MSNBC. The discussion concerned a report by the Inspector General (IG) regarding her use of a private email server while she was head of the State Department.

Comment: This is an evasion, as Clinton never addresses whether she agrees with all the findings of the IG report, including those that contradict her previous statements.

***
OBAMA: I'm going to take one more question. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned some tactical differences between the two Democratic candidates. But when you hear Bernie Sanders speak, it seems like he's talking more about the issue of trustability and the need for a political revolution. And just yesterday we saw that the State Department's inspector general put out a report about Secretary Clinton's emails, and it basically undermined some of what she said about her email practices. I'm wondering if you think that undermines her trustworthiness with the American people, and if you agree with Bernie Sanders that she should release the transcripts of her highly paid speeches to Wall Street.

OBAMA: Okay. You know what, I take it back. I'm not taking another question. We're in Japan. Don't we have something on Asia that we want to talk about? I'll be talking about this in Washington the whole time. Look, I've already said a lot about those issues. I think those are better directed to the campaign. As I said before, during the course of a primary people say what they think might help them get some votes. And once the campaign is over, then they move on, and they make an assessment in terms of how they can make sure that the vision they care most deeply about has the best chance of passing a Congress and getting signed by a President, and that Supreme Court nominees are confirmed, and all the things that make for a functioning, effective government. So I think that the noise that is going on back and forth between the candidates at this point, if you want insights into how they’re thinking about it, those should be directed to them.
-- President Barack Obama, May 26, 2016, while in Japan. The question referred to Democratic presidential contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: This is an evasion. There's no good reason Obama can't discuss issues related to the U.S.A. while he's in Japan, just like he often discusses relating to Japan (and other countries) while he's in the U.S.A. More, Obama is using the "not my decision" evasion: it's true that people in the Clinton and Sanders campaigns are going to have to decide what strategy they're going to use to win the primary; just because Obama isn't part of either of those campaigns doesn't mean he can't express his opinion on which strategy is more effective.

***
"As an independent, we gotta use equal standards on both sides. And, for example, the protests last night that degenerated into violence, that is a bad move for the Democratic party and Trump opponents. Because if they degenerate into violence – imagine what would have happened if the folks on the right had protested so violently and danced on police cars. There would be a totally different tone of conversation today."
-- Pundit John Avlon, May 25, 2016, referring to protests against Republican presidential contender Donald Trump that turned violent.

Comment: Avlon is saying that – had supporters of Trump resorted to the same behavior of as the opponents of Trump did – the criticism would have been much worse. In other words, he is saying the criticism has been hypocritical (though it's not clear if he's using this as an ad hominem argument to dismiss the criticism).

***
"All of this has been a political hit job from the beginning … Whether it’s the report being written in the State Department’s Office of Inspector General with the help of a former confidante of Chuck Grassley, at the same time Senator Grassley has been on a political crusade to hurt Hillary Clinton, or the final report of the discredited House Benghazi Committee, we will do as we have from the beginning: preempt, debunk and push back on these partisan lies."
-- Political operative David Brock, as related in a May 25, 2016, story by Josh Gerstein in Politico. Brock's comments regarded the investigations surrounding the use of a private email server by Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her time as head of the State Department.

Comment: Brock is using ad hominem reasoning. Even if it's true there are partisan motives behind the criticisms of Clinton, that doesn't mean the criticisms are false. What if we used the same reasoning against Clinton: "there are partisan motives behind the defense of Clinton, therefore the defense is false"?

***
CAMPBELL: If Donald Trump is the nominee, do you – Sen. Ted Cruz – think that he can win?

CRUZ: Well, that’s gonna be up to the voters. And that’s gonna be a decision for the voters.



CAMPBELL: Should a true conservative support Donald Trump if, in fact, he is the Republican nominee?

CRUZ: Well, you know, that’s a decision every voter's gonna have to make. And it's gonna be a decision that I think is gonna have to come from prayer and from careful examination as to whether he has demonstrated that he's earned your vote, whether he has demonstrated that he is standing for the principles that built this country.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), May 24, 2016, during an interview with pundit Pat Campbell. The discussion concerned Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: On the first question, Cruz employs the "not my decision" evasion. Of course it's true that voters are going to determine who wins the election, but that doesn't answer the question of who Cruz predicts voters will choose. Cruz uses it again on the second question: of course conservatives are going to have to decide whether they think Trump is close enough to their own political views to be worth voting for, but why can't Cruz express his own opinion on the matter? For instance, if the question was, "Should conservatives support Bernie Sanders?", would Cruz reply, "Well, voters are going to have decide that for themselves.", or would he say, "No, Sanders isn't very conservative."?

***
"The parties are completely out of control and completely out of touch. And Hillary Clinton doesn't realize that the game has entirely changed. She is playing the old main line politician that will say whatever they have to say to get elected. Donald Trump, I think also says whatever he has to say to get elected, but in a completely different way."
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, May 24, 2016, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Beck is accusing Clinton and Trump of being willing to "say anything" in order to get elected.

***
"Muslims who support Trump is like chickens for Colonel Sanders, you know what I mean?"
-- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), May 24, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. Trump had previously made comments to the effect that Muslims should briefly be barred from entering the country. Colonel Sanders was the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a fast food business.

Comment: Ellison is comparing Muslims to chickens – though not in the sense of dehumanizing Muslims – and Trump to Sanders – though (I'm assuming) not in the sense that Trump is going to do violence to Muslims. Ellison is simply making the point that – just like chickens wouldn't be a fan of Sanders – Muslims wouldn't or shouldn't be a fan of Trump.

***
"Now, I know the Republicans have been mean to her, and they say terrible things. You gotta respect them. They’re good at this. They delegitimize the people they don’t like."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, May 20, 2016, referring to his wife, Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Bill Clinton is resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature, accusing Republicans of resorting to some form of negative politics (i.e., "delegitimizing") that he and his own side don't (in his view) resort to. Is it really true that Clinton and other Democrats don't say terrible things about Republicans in order to win elections? Aren't they "good at this", too?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: May 23, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"They're just words. She reads off a teleprompter. You notice, she's reading off a teleprompter. She always does. She really doesn't have her own words."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, May 22, 2016, responding to criticism of him made by Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Trump is accusing Clinton of using talking points. It would be ad hominem reasoning, if he's trying to say Clinton's criticisms are false because they are read from a script.

***
In this year of political rage, one aspect that baffles me somewhat is the absolute, electrified, apoplectic, blurred-vision hatred of Hillary Clinton. Nor do I get the similar outrage expressed about President Barack Obama, who in Comment Section World makes Donald Trump look like a lovable Disney character. I can only ascribe this Rage Against the Clinton Machine to misogyny.
-- Political cartoonist Jack Ohman, May 22, 2016.

Comment: Ohman is accusing many of Clinton's critics of bigotry.

***
Trump:
1) Profited off of 9/11
2) Rooted for the housing crash
3) Ran a fraudulent university
4) Sued for tax dodging
5) Is a dick
-- Political consultant Jon Favreau, May 20, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Favreau's fifth point is name-calling, perhaps of the "disgusting" variety, but certainly vulgar.

***
@neeratanden @joanwalsh Scumbag Neera uses welfare when she needs it then takes away from others when they need it. Disgusting.
-- Blogger Matt Bruenig, May 19, 2016, referring to activist Neera Tanden.

Comment: Bruenig is using "disgusting" rhetoric.

***
In his first interview since accepting an invitation to be the running mate of former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, Mr. Weld assailed Donald J. Trump over his call to round up and deport the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

“I can hear the glass crunching on Kristallnacht in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vienna when I hear that, honest,” Mr. Weld said Thursday.
-- Former Gov. William Weld (R-MA), May 19, 2016, as related in a story by Maggie Haberman and Thomas Kaplan of The New York Times.

Comment: Weld is comparing the policies of Trump to those of the Nazis. Both policies involve "rounding people up", but Trump has not advocated a pogrom against – i.e., killing – illegal immigrants, which is what Kristallnacht involved when it came to members of the Jewish faith (who were legal residents of Germany). In other words, Trump's policies are not the same as those of the Nazis when it comes to mass murder and ethnic cleansing.

***
Jon Stewart may no longer be hosting his show known for biting takedowns of political figures, but that didn’t stop him Monday from going on an epic rant against Donald Trump. The former “Daily Show” host told David Axelrod at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics that he isn’t even sure the presumptive Republican nominee is eligible for the presidency.

“I’m not a constitutional scholar, so I can’t necessarily say, but are you eligible to run if you are a man-baby, or a baby-man?” Stewart said during a taping of Axelrod’s podcast “The Axe Files.” “He has the physical countenance of a man and a baby’s temperament and hands.”
-- Comedian and activist Jon Stewart, as related in a May 9, 2016, story by Brianna Gurciullo of Politico.

Comment: Stewart is resorting to name-calling against Trump, and it's not clear how much of his rhetoric is intended to be taken as comedy.

***
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a stern public rebuke to the military deputy chief of staff.

Maj-Gen Yair Golan said on the eve of Thursday's annual Holocaust Day that he detected trends in Israeli society suggestive of "nauseating processes" that occurred in 1930s Nazi Germany.

Mr Netanyahu said the comments were outrageous, cheapened the Holocaust and caused harm to Israel.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said he had "total confidence" in Gen Golan.

"If there's something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it's the recognition of the nauseating processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then - 70, 80 and 90 years ago - and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016," the deputy chief of staff said on Wednesday.

"There is, after all, nothing easier and simpler than hating the foreigner... arousing fears and terrifying."

But Mr Netanyahu said Gen Golan's remarks were "utterly mistaken and unacceptable to me".
-- As related in a May 8, 2016, story by the BBC.

Comment: Golan is comparing modern-day Israel to Nazi Germany of the 1930s. In what sense, though, is he saying the two are the same? If the claim is that there is xenophobia both of them, then that's true, but it's equally true of most every country today. What is it about Israel today that makes it more like 1930s Nazi Germany than today's Germany?

***
"Donald Trump is like the Republican's Frankenstein with orange hair. The Republican Party is reaping what it has sowed. There's all this nostalgia about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of where three civil rights workers were killed by white supremacists. This is a party which has exploited what Trump is now exploiting. Dog-whistle racism, grievances, resentments. We need an inclusive populism, not the scapegoating populism. To speak to the real anxieties and fears and frustrations, but with hope, not demonization as Donald Trump is doing."
-- Katrina vanden Heuvel, May 8, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Vanden Heuvel is accusing Trump, Reagan, and much of the Republican party of being bigots who express their position using code words. She is also calling for a higher standard of debate in which we refrain from demonizing others, though isn't it demonizing to say Trump, Reagan, and the rest are racists?

***
GEIST: How do you explain the millions and millions of people who do not watch this show who actually like what they hear from Donald Trump, and they aren't taking messages and orders from us in the media, but they listen to what he says for themselves and vote for him, how do you explain that?

REINER: There are a lot of people who are racist.
-- Entertainer and activist Rob Reiner, May 5, 2016, responding to a question from Willie Geist of MSNBC concerning Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Reiner is accusing many of Trump's supporters of bigotry.

***
"Why don't you go to a really tall building and see if you can fly without a parachute?"
-- Pundit Mark Levin, May 4, 2016, during the 2nd hour of his radio show, referring to political strategist Steve Schmidt, who had accused Levin of harming the conservative movement.

Comment: This is violent rhetoric.

***
Donald Trump is a pathological liar, Ted Cruz said Tuesday in a forceful and passionate rebuke of the Republican presidential front-runner. Phoning into Fox News on Tuesday, the real-estate mogul parroted a National Enquirer report alleging that Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, was with John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, suggesting that the elder Cruz was somehow involved in JFK’s murder.

“This morning, Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father. Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK,” Cruz told reporters during a news conference in Evansville, Indiana. “Now, let’s be clear, this is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky.”

“And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard,” Cruz continued sarcastically.

Cruz defended his father, recalling the story of how came to America with just $100, and slammed the National Enquirer as “tabloid trash” that published an “idiotic story.” Cruz said the tabloid, which recently published a story alleging that the Texas senator has had multiple extramarital affairs, has become Trump’s hit piece to smear his targets.

“I’m gonna tell you what I really think of Donald Trump: This man is a pathological liar,” Cruz said. “He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.”

Trump floated the conspiracy between the Cuban immigrant and Oswald in retaliation for Rafael Cruz using his pulpit to encourage evangelicals to support Cruz. “I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?” Trump said on Fox News. “It’s horrible.”
-- Republican presidential contenders Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Donald Trump, as related in a May 3, 2016, story by Nolan D. McCaskill of Politico.

Comment: First, Trump is suggesting Rafael Cruz may have conspired with Oswald to kill JFK largely based on a picture in which Oswald appears with someone resembling Cruz. Even if the person is, in fact, Cruz, this is flimsy evidence at best; many other people appeared in the picture, are they therefore ALL conspirators? Trump's accusation against Cruz is derisive, and the burden of proof is on Trump to prove that it's true. Second, even if it were true that Rafael Cruz had played a role in assassinating JFK, what bearing would that have on his son, Ted Cruz? Is Trump accusing the younger Cruz of guilt by association? Last, Ted Cruz is accusing Trump of not caring about the truth. Granted, Trump is saying (or at least, has said) things that are false; is that enough to reach the conclusion that he's a pathological liar who doesn't care about facts? If we discover that Cruz has said things that are false, can we conclude the same about him?

***
When it comes to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, even a few months’ time out of Congress has done little to lessen former House Speaker John Boehner’s contempt for his former Capitol Hill colleague.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” Boehner told an audience at Stanford University on Wednesday night, according to the Stanford Daily. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

In fact, Wednesday night was not the first occasion that Boehner has compared Cruz to “Lucifer.” He used the epithet last month during a question-and-answer session with reporters at the Futures Industry Association conference in Boca Raton, Florida.



Cruz is notorious for his toxic relationship with his congressional colleagues. It turned radioactive in 2013 when the Texas senator played a pivotal role in shutting down the federal government with his high-stakes attempt to defund Obamacare.



On Thursday, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) seized on Boehner’s comments and again showed he’s not letting bygones be bygones over the shutdown.

“Maybe he gives Lucifer a bad name by comparing him to Ted Cruz,” King said on CNN. “Listen, what John Boehner was most concerned about was Ted Cruz perpetrated a fraud and a hoax when he brought about the shutdown of the government on some kind of a vague promise that he was gonna be able to take Obamacare out of the budget or to end Obamacare.”
-- As related in an April 28, 2016, story by Nick Gass of Politico.

Comment: Boehner and King are demonizing Cruz.

***
"Look, people are only voting for Donald Trump, most of his supporters are only voting for him because he’s a white guy. And frankly, if he were a woman, or if he were, I don’t know, let’s pick, Latino, Muslim, any of the groups that he’s stoked hatred amongst his supporters, if he were any of those, I don’t think he’d be getting support either."
-- Pundit Sally Kohn, April 28, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Kohn is accusing the majority of Trump's supporters of bigotry.

***
"At the end of the day, this is a distraction because the American people are going to decide who they vote for, for president, based on who they believe is going to continue to move us forward and help everybody who wants to succeed have a fair shot to do so. And what they're not going to vote on is distractions like this one and they're certainly not going to choose any one of the Republican candidates who think that we should continue and go back to policies that focus on the wealthiest most fortunate Americans."
-- DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, April 24, 2016, referring to the investigation into Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private server when she was the head of the State Department.

Comment: Wasserman Schultz is using "distractions" rhetoric.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: April 24, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past two weeks:
First Lady Michelle Obama gave a rare and impassioned defense of her husband's legacy Saturday, saying he's risen above personal attacks and taken the high road even as opponents have questioned his patriotism, his honesty, his citizenship and his faith.

"As I’ve walked this journey with Barack, I’ve gotten a pretty good look at what it means to rise above the fray, what it means to set your eyes on the horizon, to devote your life to making things better for those who will come after you," she told the graduating class of Jackson State University, a historically black college in Mississippi.

"I have seen how, no matter what kind of ugliness is going on at any particular moment, Barack always stays the course," she said.



"Yet, too often, instead of acknowledging or celebrating this change, we have a tendency to focus on conflict and controversy. We pay endless attention to folks who are blocking action, blocking judges, blocking immigration, blocking a raise in the minimum wage — just blocking," she said. "We are consumed with the anger and vitriol that are bubbling up, with folks shouting at each other, using hateful and divisive language."

The president has often been at the receiving end of that language, she said. "Charges that he doesn’t love our country. The time he was called a liar in front of a Joint Session of Congress. The nonstop questions about his birth certificate and his belief in God," she said.

Mrs. Obama's defense of her husband was in the context of a commencement address in which she told the 800 graduates that they, too, will face discrimination — in voting rights, criminal justice, education and housing — and have to make a choice of how to deal with it.

"Are you going to get angry or lash out?" she asked. "Or are you going to take a deep breath, straighten your shoulders, lift up your head, and do what Barack Obama has always done — as he says, 'When they go low, I go high.'

"That’s the choice Barack and I have made. That’s what has kept us sane over the years. We simply do not allow space in our hearts, minds, or souls for darkness," she said.
-- First Lady Michelle Obama, April 23, 2016, referring to her husband, President Barack Obama, as related in a story by Gregory Korte of USA TODAY.

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature, making it sound as if President Obama has only been a victim of vitriol, and not a perpetrator of it.

***
If Bernie Sanders were elected president, his supporters would “shoot every third person on Wall Street,” former President Bill Clinton joked on Friday.

Stumping for his wife Hillary Clinton at an event in Fort Washington, New York, Clinton jabbed Sanders and students who support the Vermont senator's attacks on corrupt financial systems.

"One of the few things I really haven't enjoyed about this primary: I think it's fine that all these young students have been so enthusiastic for her opponent and [he] sounds so good: 'Just shoot every third person on Wall Street and everything will be fine,'" he said.



In an interview with NBC News following the event, Clinton insisted his comment was "a total joke.”
-- Former President Bill Clinton, April 15, 2016, as related in a story by Hanna Trudo of Politico.

Comment: Clinton is using violent rhetoric, though he insists he is using it comically.

***
SANDERS: Let's talk about super PACs and 501(c)(4)s, money which is completely undisclosed. Where does the money come from? Do we really feel confident about a candidate saying that she's going to bring change in America when she is so dependent on big money interests? I don't think so.



CLINTON: Make no mistake about it, this is not just an attack on me, it's an attack on President Obama. President Obama – you know, let me tell you why. You may not like the answer, but I'll tell you why. President Obama had a super PAC when he ran. President Obama took tens of millions of dollars from contributors. And President Obama was not at all influenced when he made the decision to pass and sign Dodd-Frank, the toughest regulations on Wall Street in many a year.
-- Democratic presidential contenders Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY), April 14, 2016, during a Democratic primary debate.

Comment: Sanders is accusing Clinton of being beholden to special interests. Clinton is saying that it is hypocritical to criticize her without also criticizing President Barack Obama, who also took campaign money from super PACs.

***
"Now Secretary Clinton has said Medicare for all will never happen. … Medicare for all will never happen if we continue to elect corporate Democratic whores who are beholden to big pharma and the private insurance industry instead of us".
-- Activist Paul Song, April 13, 2016, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY).

Comment: In addition to using "sexual deviant" name-calling, Song is using "special interests" rhetoric.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: April 10, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past two weeks:
"I think she would be the best president, and I think it's obvious by a country mile, and that's all that matters to me. Yes, I think there are some different standards. Some of them are subconscious."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, husband to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, posted April 8, 2016, asked by MSNBC reporter Alex Seitz-Wald whether he thought a male candidate would face the same question about being qualified for office as Hillary Clinton had.

Comment: Bill Clinton is accusing people of being hypocritical on the basis of his wife's gender, apparently, which amounts to bigotry.

***
"I just wanted to make it clear to the Clinton people … if we're hit, we can hit back."
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), April 8, 2016.

Comment: This is "get tough, hit back" rhetoric.

***
"Right now, when we’re hearing so much disturbing and hateful rhetoric, it is so important to remember that our diversity has been -– and will always be -– our greatest source of strength and pride here in the United States."
-- First Lady Michelle Obama, April 6, 2016.

Comment: Obama doesn't mention who is uttering this inappropriate rhetoric. Why not? Is she criticizing both Democrats and Republicans, or does she believe it's only Republicans who resort to invective?

***
When asked point-blank by "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough whether Sanders was ready for the Oval Office, Clinton raised the senator's recent interview with the New York Daily News.

"Well, I think the interview raised a lot of serious questions," Clinton said. "I think of it this way: The core of his campaign has been 'break up the banks,' and it it didn't seem in reading his answers that he understood exactly how that would work under Dodd-Frank."

Asked again whether Sanders is qualified, Clinton dodged. "Well, I think he hadn't done his homework, and he'd been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn't really studied or understood, and that raises a lot of questions," she said.

Asked a third time, Clinton said she would "leave it to voters to decide who of us can do the job the country needs."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, April 6, 2016, as related in a story that day by Hanna Trudo and Nick Gass of Politico. The discussion concerned Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: Clinton is evading the question about whether Sanders is qualified to be president. One of the evasions she is using is the "not my decision, it's up to the voters" evasion. Should no one ever take a position on whether someone is qualified to be president? Should they just say, well, that's up to the voters? That's not the position President Barack Obama has taken on Clinton.

***
CHARLIE SYKES: When you start asking your guy these questions about policy, there's no "there" there. I know you want to talk about policy. Donald Trump hasn't spent thirty seconds thinking about abortion before he was asked by Chris Matthews.

ANN COULTER: No, I think that's crazy. I thought the full exchange was fabulous. It was a stupid hypothetical question that has absolutely no bearing on what a president does. It is like asking a president: If you were a tree, what tree would you be?
-- Pundit Ann Coulter, posted April 5, 2016, during interview with talk radio host Charlie Sykes. The two were referring to a question faced by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, in which he was asked whether women who had abortions should be punished if abortion were ever made illegal.

Comment: First, "crazy" is "stupid" rhetoric. Second, Coulter is objecting to the hypothetical question that Trump was asked, though there's nothing out of bounds about the question, even if it is unlikely that abortion will be made illegal.

***
"As you may know by now, when you attack him, he will punch back 10 times harder."
-- Melania Trump, wife of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, posted April 4, 2016.

Comment: This is "get tough, hit back" rhetoric.

***
DICKERSON: There's been a lot of commentary this week that this has been the worst week in your campaign. A lot of people want to stop you. Are they succeeding?

TRUMP: I don't know that it's been the worst week in my campaign. I think I have had many bad weeks, and I have had many good weeks. I don't see this as worst week in my campaign. But, certainly, I've had some weeks, and you've been reporting on them, where "that was the end," and then the next week you see poll numbers where they went up and everybody's shocked. So, yeah, people want to stop me because I'm leading by a lot. The new polls that came out had me leading by just about more than ever. NBC had a very good national poll that just came out. I guess I'm leading very big in New York and Pennsylvania.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you a question about abortion. What would you do to further restrict women's access to abortions as president?

TRUMP: Well, look, look, I just -- I mean, I know where you're going, and I just want to say -- a question was asked to me, and it was asked in a very hypothetical -- and it was said, "Illegal, illegal." I've been told by some people that was a older line answer, and that was an answer that was given on a, you know, basis of an older line from years ago, very-- on a very conservative basis. But --

DICKERSON: Your original answer, you mean.

TRUMP: My original --

DICKERSON: Punishing the woman.

TRUMP: But I was asked as a hypothetical, hypothetically, hypothetically. The laws are set now on abortion, and that's the way they're going to remain until they're changed.

DICKERSON: Because you had said you wanted -- you told Bloomberg in January that you believed abortion should be banned at some point in pregnancy. Where would you --

TRUMP: Well l first of all, I would have liked to have seen, you know, this be a states' rights, I would have preferred states' rights. I think it would have been better if it were up to the states. But right now, the laws are set, and that's the way the laws are.

DICKERSON: But do you have a feeling how they should change? There are a lot of laws you want to change, you've talked about them from libel to torture, anything you'd want to change on abortion?

TRUMP: At this moment, the laws are set and I think he we have to leave it that way.

DICKERSON: Do you think it's murder, abortion?

TRUMP: I have my opinions on it, but I would rather not comment on it.

DICKERSON: You said you were very pro-life, pro-life views that abortion is murder.

TRUMP: Yeah, but I do have my opinions on it, but I'd rather -- I just don't think it's an appropriate forum.

DICKERSON: But you don't disagree that proposition, that it's murder?

TRUMP: What proposition?

DICKERSON: That abortion is murder.

TRUMP: No, I don't disagree with it.
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, April 3, 2016, during interview with John Dickerson of CBS News. The two were discussing a question faced by Trump, in which he was asked whether women who had abortions should be punished if abortion were ever made illegal.

Comment: Trump is evading questions on the basis of their being hypothetical or that the interview is "not an appropriate forum" (how is a political news program not an appropriate forum to discuss political positions?). Plus, by saying that the laws on abortion are "set", Trump seems to be saying that debating abortion is rehashing old issues.

***
"We still have our house in Chicago … But there's also these big stacks of newspapers from right before the election. And every time I go back, I have occasion to look back and read what I said at the time. And Lord knows I've made mistakes in this job, and there are areas where I've fallen short, but something I'm really proud of is the fact that, if you go back and see what I said in 2007 and you see what I did, they match up."
-- President Barack Obama, March 28, 2016.

Comment: This is demonstrably false, as there are any number of things Obama pledged he would do as president that he has not done (for instance, he said he would not require people to purchase health insurance, and pledged to recognize the Armenian genocide).

***
"I think the electorate would be better served if we spent less time focused on the he said/she said back-and-forth of our politics. Because while fairness is the hallmark of good journalism, false equivalency all too often these days can be a fatal flaw. If I say that the world is round and someone else says it's flat, that's worth reporting, but you might also want to report on a bunch of scientific evidence that seems to support the notion that the world is round."
-- President Barack Obama, March 28, 2016.

Comment: Put in these terms, it is a platitude to say that two sides of a dispute shouldn't necessarily be covered equally: anyone who says the Earth is flat is simple wrong. However, political disputes (which are frequently moral disputes) are seldom that easily resolved by scientific evidence. Is Obama making a "comparing" or "only my opponent" mistake in complaining about "false equivalence"?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Civility Watchdog Digest: March 27, 2016

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
CRUZ: It's not easy to tick me off. I don't get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that will do it every time. Donald, you're a sniveling coward and leave Heidi the hell alone.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: So will you support him for the nominee?

CRUZ: I'm going to beat him for the nomination.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: That's not answering the question, Senator.

CRUZ: I am answering the question. Donald Trump will not be the nominee.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), March 24, 2016., referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. Trump had blamed Cruz for an anti-Trump political ad displaying a nude photo of Trump's wife, Melania, after which Trump threatened to "spill the beans" about Cruz's wife, Heidi, and retweeted a photo comparing Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz.

Comment: Cruz and Trump are resorting to name-calling. Plus, Cruz is evading the question, refusing to answer whether he will support Trump, should Trump become the GOP nominee.

***
"So often in the past there's been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that's been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you're a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you're some crazy communist that's going to take away everybody's property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don't have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory -- you should just decide what works."
-- President Barack Obama, March 23, 2016.

Comment: It is a platitude to say that people should do what works, that they should be pragmatists rather than ideologues. A believe about what "works" is none other than an ideology. Communists believe that centralized government control of the economy works; capitalists believe that free markets work. Given how complicated human behavior is, and how difficult it is to study, perhaps it's true that communist ideology is not 100% right or 100% wrong in its belief about what works, and perhaps the same is true of capitalism. But that doesn't mean abandoning ideology. Anyone who claims to be a pragmatist has to take a stand on what works; the moment they do, they have an ideology (i.e., an idea about how things should be done).

***
"She always finds a way to make something good happen, to make people feel empowered, to buy people into the process, to make democracy work the way the Framers intended for it to work. Now, if you don’t believe that we can all grow together again, if you don’t believe that we’re ever going to grow again, if you believe it’s more important to relitigate the past, there may be many reasons that you don’t want to support her. But if you believe we can all rise together, if you believe we’ve finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that when we were practicing trickle-down economics and no regulation in Washington, which is what caused the crash, then you should vote for her."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, March 21, 2016, referring to his wife, Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton later clarified that the "awful legacy of the last eight years" her husband referred to was the hostility of Republicans to President Barack Obama.

Comment: This is "rehashing the past" rhetoric. Why is it wrong for people to criticize Hillary Clinton's past? Why is it OK for Bill Clinton to criticize – "relitigate"? – the past of the GOP? Plus, President Clinton's remarks about the "awful legacy of the last eight years" were ambiguous in their reference; many thought he was saying that Obama's presidency had been awful.

***
Of course, Republicans have known for a long time that Hillary Clinton is an unusually strong candidate, and this terrifies them. So they have seized on talking points like Benghazi (for which she bears little or no responsibility) and her email scandal.
-- Pundit Jay Parini, March 21, 2016, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: First, this is "talking points" rhetoric. There's nothing inherently wrong with people using talking points (assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is what Republicans are doing). What matters is whether the talking points are true and relevant. Second, Parini is saying the Republicans have political motives for criticizing Clinton on Benghazi and her email server. Even that's true, it tells us nothing about whether or not those criticisms are true and relevant. To dismiss the criticisms because of political motives is flawed; it's ad hominem reasoning. Should we dismiss Clinton's defense against criticism because she has political motives to defend herself? No, because that would likewise be ad hominem.