Sunday, March 1, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: March 1, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
"In America, we believe that a lifetime of hard work and responsibility should be rewarded with a shot at a secure, dignified retirement. … we’ve got more work to do to make sure that our recovery reaches more Americans, not just those at the top. That’s what middle-class economics is all about—the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everybody does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."
-- President Barack Obama, February 28, 2015, during the weekly presidential address.

Comment: These remarks by Obama on fairness seem to involve either platitudes or "Americans want" rhetoric.

"Comparing the events of today to the events of 1000 years ago, how does that make sense to any thinking human being?"
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, February 27, 2015, on his radio show. Beck is referring to remarks made by President Barack Obama in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015.

Comment: Obama didn't "compare" today's Islamic terrorists with the Christian Crusaders, at least not in the sense of equating the two. Rather, he said that if the former violence shows that Islam is fundamentally violent, then the latter violence proves the same about Christianity. So Beck's accusation is a distortion.

"So, some Mexicans are gonna be given yet another chance to stay in the US. They're gonna be offered a chance to return and have their deportation hearing reheard. Opening the borders has one explicit purpose, in my mind. The reason why all of this is happening is that this administration and the current Democrat Party and the American left really want to dilute and weaken American culture. That's actually what this is all about, in addition to voter registration. But that's where it leads. You want the voter registration so that you can stay in power, and you want people to vote for you to do what you're gonna do to dilute, water down the American culture: traditions, laws, the economy, everything. And part of the American culture is patriotism. Part of the American culture is rugged individualism. And this American culture, patriotism, individualism, American culture is the enemy of the left. Fourth of July. Remember the story we had, the Harvard survey, about the events featuring the American flag are more beneficial to Republicans and don't help Democrats? Why in the world would that be?"
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 27, 2015.

Comment: Limbaugh is demonizing Democrats, accusing them of sinister motives in their immigration policy, and saying that they are not "real Americans".

"And imagine if we had a commander-in-chief that understood that the way to defeat ISIS is not to find them a job."
-- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), February 27, 2015.

Comment: This is a distortion – in particular, the "silver bullet" caricature – of the words of State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. Harf never said jobs were all that was needed to defeat ISIS, in fact she clearly spelled out that military force (among other things) would be used as well.

"Last November, President Obama announced a series of sweeping executive actions on immigration. In doing so, he completely reversed his own opinion. Remember that 22 times the president said he didn't have the authority to do what he eventually did. … I just think it's outrageous that Senate Democrats are using homeland security funding for blackmail to protect the actions of the president, where the president himself said he didn't have the authority to do this."
-- Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), February 26, 2015. Boehner's remarks were in response to Senate Democrats blocking passage of a bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security (as President Barack Obama and others want) but not the portion of the department that would enact Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Comment: "Blackmail" is essentially "hostage-taking" rhetoric.

[Regarding the Supreme Court case King v. Burwell], in the event that the court strikes down the subsidies as illegal, Congress must be prepared to offer immediate, targeted protection to those hurt by this administration’s reckless disregard for the rule of law. ObamaCare took these patients hostage. Conservatives have a duty to save them.
-- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), February 25, 2015.

Comment: This is "hostage-taking" rhetoric.

"And if you hear people during the course of the future campaigns, over the next several months and into next year, if all they’re doing is demagoging -- if all they’re saying is, “we have to do something about these illegal immigrants,” but then when you ask them, okay, what is it that you want to do, then they don’t have a good answer, or they pretend that we’re going to somehow deport 11 million people, even though everybody knows that the economies of Miami, New York, Chicago, the entire Central Valley in California would collapse -- so they’re not being serious about it -- if you hear people not being serious and not being honest about these issues, then you got to call them on it."
-- President Barack Obama, February 25, 2015, during town hall on immigration.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric, albeit hypothetical or speculative. Plus, it's a false choice to suggest that you must either deport all 11 million illegal immigrants or legalize them: you could instead do neither.

"One of the things I’ve learned in this position is that as the only office in which you’re the President of all the people, not just some, you have to be thinking not just in terms of short-term politics, you have to be thinking about what’s good for the country over the long term. Now, over the long term, this is going to get solved, because at some point there’s going to be a President Rodriguez, or there’s going to be a President Chin, or there’s going to be a -- the country is a nation of immigrants, and ultimately, it will reflect who we are, and its politics will reflect who we are. And that’s not something to be afraid of. That’s something to welcome. Because that’s always been how we stay dynamic and stay cutting-edge, and have energy and we’re youthful. So what I would say to the next President is: Think ahead. Don’t say something short term because you think it’s politically convenient, and then box yourself in where you can’t do what’s right for the country. Think long term."
-- President Barack Obama, February 25, 2015, during town hall on immigration.

Comment: This sounds like Obama is deriding opponents of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) as being motivated by "short-term" politics rather than legitimate concerns, or thoughts about what's good over the long term. (What about the objection that CIR unfairly gives work permits to immigrants who broke the law ahead of those who are abiding by visas that prohibit their working?) This is a distortion, if not outright demonizing, particularly when Obama says that CIR – and not its opponents – reflects "who we are" as Americans. It sounds like Obama is saying CIR opponents are opposed to immigrants as a whole and aren't "real Americans". Plus, haven't we already had a president with a non-traditional name: "President Obama"?

MR. DIAZ-BALART: Mr. President, I can’t tell you the amount of questions that we’ve received, both on Telemundo and MSNBC, has really been extraordinary. And one I get a lot, over and over and over again, is a question, Mr. President, when you had absolute control of Congress, you really didn’t fight for immigration. And then when you had the situation where you lost majorities, then you take action. Is there political implications behind something that affects so many people so close to their hearts?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know if anybody remembers, José, that when I took office and I had a majority, we had the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The global economy was collapsing. The unemployment rate in the Latino community and the immigrant community had soared. People were losing homes and entire communities were being devastated. So it wasn’t as if I was just sitting back, not doing anything.

MR. DIAZ-BALART: No one says you were sitting back not doing anything --but you did do the ACA, for example.

THE PRESIDENT: We were moving very aggressively on a whole host of issues. And we moved as fast as we could and we wanted immigration done. We pushed for immigration to be done. But, ultimately, we could not get the votes to get it all done.… I appreciate Mr. Bush being concerned about immigration reform. I would suggest that what he do is talk to the Speaker of the House and the members of his party. Because the fact of the matter is that even after we passed bipartisan legislation in the Senate, I gave the Republicans a year and a half -- a year and a half -- to just call the bill. We had the votes. They wouldn’t do it. And then the notion that, well, if you just hadn’t taken these executive actions, if you hadn’t done DACA, maybe we would have voted for it -- well, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s an excuse.

MR. DIAZ-BALART: Yeah, but they’re saying --

THE PRESIDENT: That’s an excuse.
-- President Barack Obama, February 25, 2015, during town hall on immigration.

Comment: This is an evasion in the form of Obama distorting his own record as president. On May 28, 2008, Obama "guaranteed" that a comprehensive immigration reform bill would be introduced in his first year as president, and on several occasions in 2009 (after becoming president in January of that year, by which time he was well aware of the financial crisis) he reaffirmed that pledge. By the end of 2009, Obama had had ample opportunity to either push a bill or to adopt the position that the flurry of crises at hand prevented him from pushing a bill, yet he did neither. On top of that, the executive actions he has introduced in November 2014 could have been done at any point since January 2009, and without Congress. Why not, in December 2009, say, "Sorry, there's too much going on for me to keep my promise to push immigration reform through the Congress, so instead I'll enact changes by executive order"? So, he hasn't answered the question of why he didn't move on immigration – either in the form of a bill or executive action – years ago. And, if having other priorities is really an excuse for his inaction, then why can't it also be one for Republicans in Congress?

"The bottom line is, José, that I’m using all of the legal power vested in me in order to solve this problem. And one of the things about living in a democracy is that we have separation of powers -- we have Congress, we have the judicial branch -- and right now, we’ve got some disagreements with some members of Congress and some members of the judiciary in terms of what should be done. But what I’m confident about is, ultimately, this is going to get done. And the reason it’s going to get done is it’s the right thing to do and it is who we are as a people."
-- President Barack Obama, February 25, 2015, during town hall on immigration. Obama's remarks concerned the effort to legalize the status of immigrants in the country illegally.

Comment: By saying that his efforts on immigration are in line with "who we are as a people", does Obama mean that people who oppose him aren't "real Americans"?

"Now, what we did most recently was to expand that so more people would qualify for DACA, and we also said if you are the parent of a U.S. citizen or a legal resident, if you’ve been here for a while, if you're part of our community, then you should be able to come forward, get registered, go through a background check, and if you generally have been contributing to our community, you should be able to stay here legally and not be in fear of deportation. It did not provide citizenship because only Congress can do that, but it was going to help. And I think we saw the reaction in the community and, the truth is, across the country, people recognized this was the right thing and the smart thing to do. Now, unfortunately, a number of Republican governors chose to sue. They found a district court judge who has enjoined -- meaning stopped -- us going forward with this program. … And in the meantime, what we said to Republicans is, instead of trying to hold hostage funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is so important for our national security, fund that, and let’s get on with actually passing comprehensive immigration reform."
-- President Barack Obama, February 25, 2015, during town hall on immigration.

Comment: First, this sounds like "Americans want" rhetoric: did ALL the people across the country recognize that what Obama did was right, or just some of them? Second, Obama is indulging in "hostage-taking" rhetoric.

"The prime minister, as you recall, was profoundly forward leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision. He was extremely outspoken about how bad the interim agreement was during which time he called it the deal of the century for Iran, even though it has clearly stopped Iran's program, and more importantly, he has decided it would be good to continue it. So you know, he's -- I talk to him frequently. We work very, very closely together. We are deeply committed. We, this administration, I think we have done more to help Israel. I have a packet of 25 pages or more of things we have done on behalf of Israel in the course of this administration to stand up for it, stand with it, protect, fight back against unfair initiatives. So we won't take a backseat to anybody in our commitment to the state of Israel, but he may have a judgment that just may not be correct here. And, you know, let's wait and hear what he says. I'm not going to prejudge his statement anymore than he should prejudge this agreement. But when we have heard, if appropriate, I'll respond."
-- Secretary of State John Kerry, February 25, 2015, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's criticism of negotiations with Iran concerning Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: This is ad hominem reasoning. If Netanhayu was incorrect in his judgment regarding the Iraq War, how does that prove that he's wrong about negotiations with Iran? Shouldn't the quality of one's argument determine whether or not they're correct? Maybe Netanyahu had a bad argument back then, but now has a good argument. If Kerry was wrong on February 16, 2007, when he said the Iraq Surge would not end violence or rein in militias, does that mean his judgment on negotiations with Iran is also flawed?

Anyone who has watched Obama’s genteel response to his Republican tormentors shouldn’t be surprised at his delicacy about Islam. He resists generalizations and looks for common ground, whether the context is terrorism or domestic politics. No matter what Republicans do—heckle his speeches, impugn his patriotism, shut down the government, threaten a credit default, stage countless votes to repeal his health care law—he refuses to categorically condemn them. … Republicans, determined to block his immigration agenda, were withholding money for the Department of Homeland Security. But Obama said these saboteurs didn’t represent the true GOP: “A large percentage of Republicans agree that we need comprehensive immigration reform.” Instead of using the fight for partisan advantage, Obama spread the blame to his own party. “Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics” with the department’s funding, he warned. … That’s how Obama treats his domestic adversaries. He doesn’t take the bait. He doesn’t define the whole opposition party by its worst elements. He rejects polarization. He emphasizes shared values. He reminds his own partisans that they, too, are sinners. For Democrats, this can be exasperating. It’s especially exasperating when Republicans refuse to take responsibility for, or even disown, outbursts from their colleagues, such as Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” or Rudy Giuliani’s “I do not believe that the president loves America.” … Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana backs up Giuliani’s insinuation that Obama favors the enemy over his own country: “[Giuliani] is understandably frustrated with a president who, as I said before, is fully willing to lecture the people of this country about the Crusades but is unwilling to call Islamic extremism for what it is.” Please. If we’re going to start calling out religious and political groups for extremism, we could start at home with Republicans. Too many of them spew animus. Too many foment sectarianism. Too many sit by, or make excuses, as others appeal to tribalism. If Obama were to treat them the way they say he should treat Islam—holding the entire faith accountable for its ugliest followers—they’d squeal nonstop about slander and demagogy. They’re lucky that’s not his style.
-- Pundit William Saletan, February 24, 2015, in an article entitled, "Go Ahead and Say It, Mr. President: Republicans are your true enemy".

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature. Contrary to Saletan's description, President Barack Obama has a long history of derisive generalizations that demonize his opponents (for instance, accusing Republicans of "Social Darwinism", saying that they put party ahead of country, and declaring President George W. Bush to be "unpatriotic" for ringing up $4 trillion in debt). And Obama has routinely failed to condemn fellow Democrats for demonizing Republicans (for instance, Teamsters' President Jimmy Hoffa's "son of a bitches" remarks about the Tea Party movement at a 2011 Labor Day rally at which Obama also spoke). Again contrary to Saletan's account, Obama has also singled out Republicans in Congress (as opposed to Democrats) for blame on any number of issues. In addition, Saletan is using "extremist" rhetoric (in response to Pence's use of it). Finally, Saletan is accusing Republicans of wanting to treat all Muslims as terrorists. Perhaps there are some Republicans who want this (Saletan should name them), but it's certainly not the case that all of them do. Rather, that's an unfair generalization and a straw man, if not outright demonizing.

So, yeah, Kerry has basically set 'em up, Obama set 'em up for the acquisition, if they can pull it off, of a nuclear weapon in ten years. … Yeah. I'm at a loss here. Actually I'm not at a loss. I know exactly, folks, I know exactly why they're doing this. It doesn't make any sense. I'm just telling I know exactly why they're doing it. Obama's worldview is there's no such thing as American exceptionalism. We're not special except in our own minds, just as every other country thinks its special in its own mind, but there's nothing essentially about us better than anybody else. That's a myth. And the idea that we get to determine which nations get nuclear weapons, who the hell are we? We don't have that right, and we never have had, as far as Obama's concerned. That's an example of our imperialism. Us, telling the Iranians, they're just good Muslims, they can't have their own bomb? What right to we have? That's his worldview on this and John Kerry's and every other one of them.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 24, 2015, concerning a deal being negotiated between the US and Iran (and others) regarding Iran's nuclear program. US Secretary of State John Kerry, a member of President Barack Obama's cabinet, is part of the negotiations.

Comment: In explaining the move to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons (assuming that the deal actually allows that), is Limbaugh justifying what Obama is doing? Or is explaining different from justifying?

Far from the dire picture painted by the president and his fellow Democrats, 90 percent of the Department of Homeland Security would remain on the job in a partial government shutdown. President Obama and congressional Democrats are offering up doomsday scenarios if the Department of Homeland Security funding authorization expires this Friday. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson implied on the talk shows Sunday morning that efforts to thwart terrorist attacks and assist Americans buried in snow could be imperiled if Republicans keep trying to de-fund the president’s executive action on illegal immigration. Johnson amplified his dire predictions that afternoon before a gathering of the National Governors Association, saying: “[A shutdown] means taking people off the front line and realigning their responsibility.” Not to be outdone, the president issued his own warning in a session Monday before the National Governors Association. A partial government shutdown, he said, would end up suspending pay for more than 100,000 Homeland Security agents, which “will have a direct impact on America’s national security because their hard work helps to keep us safe.” All very interesting, except what they’re saying isn’t true. According to figures from the brief government shutdown last year, the department has 231,117 employees, 31,295 of whom, or 13.5 percent, were furloughed. A closer examination reveals that all essential personnel would remain on the job, from Secret Service agents who protect the president to TSA screeners protecting us in airports and counterterrorism personnel. Looked at another way, 87 percent of Homeland Security personnel were deemed essential and remained at their posts during the last funding impasse between the White House and Congress. Eighty-seven percent. … Obama and his Democrat enablers are Chicken Littles predicting dire harm to the country when they know nothing is further than the truth.
-- Pundit Ron Christie, February 24, 2015, in an article entitled, "Obama Is the Scaremonger-in-Chief".

Comment: Christie is accusing President Barack Obama of fear-mongering, though he is explaining why he believes the fears are unjustified. He is also accusing Obama and Democrats of lying.

Liberals know they are full of it; they just think the rest of us are as foolish as the welfare-guzzling mouth-breathers who vote for them. It’s time for the lies to stop. Liberals, stop lying about the weather. There is no climate change crisis. Whatever changes our climate is undergoing are part and parcel of the natural processes that have been going on since the Earth was formed. … Liberals, stop lying about our war with radical Muslims. This bloodshed isn’t “random.” This isn’t about “violent extremism.” Mass enslavement, mutilation and murder isn’t “workplace violence,” and these semi-human freaks aren’t going to stop if someone hands them a mop, bucket and paycheck. We are at war – war – with radical Islam, and we need to end the lies, the equivocation and dissembling and speak the truth. Our enemies think they are Muslims, and they think the Koran commands their actions. This isn’t about theology – whether their version of Islam is a misunderstanding or misinterpretation is utterly irrelevant. They think they’re pious Muslims even if we, as well as most of the world’s Muslims, disagree. … Well, here’s a conservative who says it’s critical to understand the radical Muslims. We need to fully appreciate how they think, their goals, their ideas, their feelings. Understanding them will help us more effectively hunt down and kill them. … Liberals, stop lying about illegal aliens. They aren’t all hardworking and they aren’t all here because they love America and have dreams and stuff. Some are criminals. Some are bums. None were invited. Their problems are a result of their choices. We owe them nothing. Want out of the shadows? Go home. … Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton. Lena Dunham. Jon Gruber. That woman with the glasses who thinks we should carpet bomb ISIS with want ads. All liberals. All liars. Liberals, stop lying about everything.
-- Pundit Kurt Schlichter, February 23, 2015.

Comment: Schlichter references a lot of different "liberal" words and deeds, too many for me to cover all of what he's said, but here are a few points: first, "welfare-guzzling mouth-breathers" is simply name-calling. It's a slur. Second, is it really true that ALL liberals believe these things? Isn't that a hasty generalization (along the same lines as "all illegal aliens are hard-working"), one that means Schlichter himself is lying? Third, Schlichter gives no evidence for the claim that global warming is natural, and – even if it is – is it really unreasonable to the point of being a lie for someone to believe global warming is man-made? Fourth, notice that Schlichter points out that we need to understand (though not justify) terrorism, and that noting the Islamic affiliation of many terrorists is a key part of understanding them (which will in turn help us stop them). Finally, Schlichter is distorting the words of State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf ("That woman with the glasses who thinks we should carpet bomb ISIS with want ads."), using the "silver bullet" caricature. Harf never said jobs were all that was needed to defeat ISIS, in fact she clearly spelled out that military force (among other things) would be used as well.

"Let me just say this. It is fantastic to finally see some people realizing what's going on when the left, the media, keeps going to our candidates, "What do you think about what Rudy said about Obama?" In the first place, Scott Walker is showing everybody how to answer that question, how to answer all those questions. And another thing about this, we're also finally getting people turning it around on 'em. "Hey, why don't you go ask some Democrats what they think of Bill Clinton flying all over the world with a pedophile? Why don't you guys go ask the Democrats what it's like to have to stand up and defend Joe Biden every day." It's always a one-way street. Obama goes out and says some crazy things, apologizes for the country, or Rudy will come out and say, "I don't think he loves the country. Not the way we do." Then the press will go to other Republicans and ask them two things, to condemn Rudy and to validate Obama. … But it never works the other way. … And finally there's some people now pointing out the right way to do this. Don't answer the question and turn it back on 'em. For example, Scott Walker, this is just an example. He had his own answer to it. He was asked about Obama's Christianity. He said: I don't know. I don't know whether Obama's a Christian. Why are you asking me? Go ask him. It doesn't matter to me whether Obama's a Christian. … Somebody will ask a Republican, "Well, what do you think about Rudy, Rudy insulting Obama, Rudy saying that Obama doesn't love America?" The response is, "You know, I don't remember the last time you guys went around and started asking Hillary if she's very worried about her husband flying all over the world with a pedophile and showing up at the pedophile's homes in New York and Florida. When are you gonna ask Bill Clinton what it's like, when are you gonna ask people in the Democrat Party to defend Bill Clinton for doing this kind of stuff?" … A TV station in Florida, WPBF … They were interviewing Rubio about Giuliani's remarks, and Marco Rubio said, "I don't feel like I'm in a position to have to answer for every person in my party that makes a claim." … This is Rubio: "Democrats are not asked to answer every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing, so I don't know why I should answer every time a Republican does. I'll suffice it to say I believe the president loves America. I think his ideas are bad.""
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 23, 2015, discussing the responses by Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's remarks that President Barack Obama does not love the country.

Comment: Limbaugh and Rubio (and perhaps Walker) are saying that it is not their job to police civility. Inconsistent treatment on the part of the media when it comes to reporting and condemning unacceptable rhetoric (that is, hypocritically going easy on Democrats and liberals while piling on Republicans and conservatives, such that the latter get hit with guilt by association accusations but not the former) is no excuse not to repudiate name-calling and invective.

"This is exactly what we have to get away from in our politics. We have to find a way to disagree without disqualifying each other as Americans."
-- David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, February 23, 2015.

Comment: Axelrod is calling for a higher standard of debate, but he apparently didn't spell out any specifics of what that means in practice, nor did he apologize or take responsibility for any acts of uncivil debate on his part or the part of the Obama administration.

"You want to know how to take all the wind out of the sails of the Sovereign Citizens? Obey the Constitution."
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, February 23, 2015. The Sovereign Citizen movement believes that much of the federal government is intrusive and acting beyond what the United States Constitution allows. Prior to Beck's remarks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had cited the movement as being a major domestic terrorism threat.

Comment: Notice that Beck is suggesting an explanation for the (sometimes violent) actions of members of the Sovereign Citizen movement: they have a grievance, in that they believe that the Constitution is being disobeyed in a way that reduces our freedoms. While Beck agrees with that grievance, he did not justify their violent actions. Explaining is not justifying, and saying that someone has a grievance (even a legitimate one) is not the same as defending anything they do in the name of that grievance.

Many were left flat-footed and with jaws dropped after the president’s remarks at the recent National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, where he let the Islamic terrorists know that he is keeping their actions in context. Obama felt compelled to equate today’s Islamic terrorist butchers to the Christian Crusaders of 900 years ago. It was just another example of how the president appears willing to try to understand — if not justify — the actions of those who hate America. When the president is slow to condemn our enemies, it raises doubts about what he really thinks of their case against America.
-- Pundit Ed Rogers, February 23, 2015. Rogers is referring to remarks made by President Barack Obama in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015.

Comment: First, Obama didn't equate (or, "compare") today's Islamic terrorists with the Christian Crusaders: rather, he said that if the former violence shows that Islam is fundamentally violent, then the latter violence proves the same about Christianity. So Rogers' accusation is a distortion. Second, trying to understand terrorist acts against America can simply be an effort to explain and predict terrorism, and need not be the same as justifying terrorism. Explaining is not the same as justifying., and Rogers is demonizing Obama to suggest otherwise. (Also, isn't pointing out the Islamic affiliation of many terrorists – as Rogers does – an effort to explain, understand, and/or predict terrorist acts, yet without justifying them?)

GLENN BECK: You're not going to win by bombing them, you're not going to win from the air.

PAT GRAY: No, we're going to win by giving them jobs.

STU BURGUIERE: And a three-day summit.

BECK: You cannot fight an enemy like World War Two, or an enemy like we have in ISIS, by saying, "We're gonna hug it out. We're gonna give you a job."
-- Pundits Glenn Beck, Pat Gray, and Stu Burguiere, the week of February 23-27, 2015, on the Glenn Beck Radio Program.

Comment: This is a distortion – in particular, the "silver bullet" caricature – of the words of State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. Harf never said jobs were all that was needed to defeat ISIS, nor did President Barack Obama's administration say that the three-day summit on terrorism would be sufficient. Harf and Obama have clearly stated that military force (among other things) would be used as well. The idea that the Obama administration has suggested "hugging it out" is just another caricature.

BORGER: … we have asked lots of potential presidential candidates this week about Rudy Giuliani's comments. Some of them have disowned them, for example, Jeb Bush. Some of them, like Scott Walker, refused to comment. Yesterday, he told "The Washington Post" he wasn't sure if the president was a Christian. And then his press secretary had to clean that up a little bit. Don't you think Republican presidential candidates, who are blindsided by this, I admit, but don't you think they have to come out there and say what they believe about what Rudy Giuliani said directly? You need to do that?

PATAKI: I think -- I think, when you're asked the question, you have to answer it.


PATAKI: Yes, I think what he said was wrong. But I am -- I think it was wrong. But what I understand is that Rudy and I saw the horrible consequences of looking the other way because radical Islamic terror was thousands of miles across the world. And we saw the thousands of people, many of whom both of us knew, die that day. And we saw the courage with which Americans and New Yorkers responded. And it's deep in our bloods. And when we look today and we see them have training camps, we see them have recruiting centers, we see them have social media capability...

BORGER: Right.

PATAKI: ... and our own homeland security secretary coming on and saying we have to use extreme caution going to a mall here, and we have very weak leadership from Washington, I can understand how you get very upset about that. I get upset about it as well.
-- Former Gov. George Pataki (R-NY), February 22, 2015, during an interview with CNN's Gloria Borger. The discussion concerned former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's comments the previous week that President Barack Obama didn't love the country.

Comment: Pataki is not evading the question about Giuliani's comments. He is explaining Giuliani's behavior, but explaining is not justifying.

[Regarding the Islamic affiliation of many terrorists] President Obama continues to insist the opposite, pretending that what is true is false, and even suggesting those who are speaking the truth are actually endangering the lives of innocent people. … in its statement the White House avoided saying that the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by members of ISIS were Christian, even though that was the reason they were beheaded. At the same time the president suggested that the murder of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina was because they were Muslim, when in fact that wasn’t by any means clear when the White House issued its statement. … And then there was the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, in which the president and his attorney general constantly spoke about the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson as if race was a factor in the shooting. That assertion is fiction. It was an invention, just as it was an invention to suggest, as the president did back in 2009, that the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley was racially motivated. … Which makes Mr. Obama a truly post-modern president, in which there is no objective truth but simply narrative. Mr. Obama doesn’t just distort the facts; he inverts them. He makes things up as he goes along. … The sheer audacity of Mr. Obama’s multipronged assault on truth is one of the more troubling aspects of his deeply troubling president.
-- Pundit Peter Wehner, February 22, 2015.

Comment: Wehner is arguing that false statements, distortions, and hypocritical double-standards on the part of President Barack Obama prove that Obama doesn't care at all about truth or facts. Does the same standard apply to everyone who says something false or is found guilty of double-standards?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Civility Watchdog Digest: February 22, 2015

A few examples of rhetoric worth looking at from the past week:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith, Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”
-- Washington Post story, February 21, 2015, by Dan Balz and Robert Costa.

Comment: This is an evasion. Don't we typically take people's word for their religious faith until they do something grossly in violation of that religion? Should we ignore Walker's claims that he is a Christian until we've talked to him personally? (In the background is Obama's refusal to say that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terror groups are Islamic, despite the fact that they call themselves Muslim. This is a fair point to criticize Obama for, but just because Obama fails to take ISIS's religious declarations at face value doesn't mean that it's OK for Walker to do so, as well.)

The selective nature of taboos in American political and media culture has been exposed this week. Democrats are free to impugn their opponents’ decency and patriotism while Republicans never are allowed to do so.

Speaking at a “private” dinner for Scott Walker (note: only Democrats are permitted to have truly private events), Rudy Giuliani violated one of the taboos of American politics with these words:
"I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America."
There is a norm in American politics to presume that all issues and disagreements are between people who are patriotic and love America, except for Republicans and conservatives. In other words, only Democrats must be presumed to be patriotic and full of love of country. For example, Democrats are free to attack the Tea Party, which they have lumped together with terrorists. The Republican-controlled House was even called “terrorists” in White House offical communications. And when running for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama labeled President Bush “unpatriotic” for his deficit spending.

But Democrats must be presumed to be decent, patriotic, and motivated purely by love of country. And when they are not, they cry foul, as did Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who called Giuliani’s words “ugly.” For the record, Rep. Wasserman Schultz a few months ago agreed that the GOP is worse than Ebola and the Islamic State. But apparently that is not ugly in her mind. There was no widespread media controversy over her words, as compared to Giuliani’s.
-- Pundit Thomas Lifson, February 20, 2015.

Comment: Lifson is accusing the media of being hypocritical in its coverage of Giuliani's comments about President Barack Obama. Keep in mind it would be ad hominem reasoning to say that, because criticism of Walker's comments has been hypocritical, therefore the criticisms of Walker are unfounded.

ED HENRY, FOX NEWS: Josh, given your sorrow for Rudy Giuliani do you think the president has any regrets about saying President Bush was unpatriotic for adding $4 trillion to the debt?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: Ed, I don't know that sorrow is the word that I would use.

HENRY: You said you feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani.

EARNEST: Yeah, I do. I do feel sorry for him.

HENRY: You feel sorry, but does the president have any regrets, regardless of what Giuliani said? As a candidate, Senator Obama said that President Bush was unpatriotic.

EARNEST: I think -- again, I haven't seen the actual comments. I don't know if you have it there in front of you.

HENRY: He said that the president, I'm paraphrasing this part, had added about $4 trillion to the debt and then he said, quote, "that's irresponsible, that's unpatriotic." I see a difference from Giuliani because he's talking about an issue. But nonetheless, questioning the patriotism of the president of the United States.

EARNEST: I think that what the president was doing was he was questioning the specific wisdom of that decision and questioning whether or not that was in the best interest of the country.

HENRY: He didn't say it was unwise, he said that's unpatriotic.

EARNEST: Right, but again, he was talking about that, he wasn't talking about a person. And, again, I think there's a lot that the president also had to say in the State of the Union and the level of our discourse. There is no doubt that we are going to have significant disagreement across the aisle. And that is ultimately what a democracy is all about, where we go in and debate issues. But the president as you'll recall said during the State of the Union said we should have a debate that's worthy of the United States Congress and worthy of the country. There are significant challenges facing this country and sort of resorting to a politics in which we question each others' basic decency is not consistent with the reason that a lot of people got into public service.
-- White House press briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest February 20, 2015. The quote in question comes from July 32008, when then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), said that President George W. Bush had been "unpatriotic" in adding $4 trillion to the national debt.

Comment: Giuliani is guilty of questioning the patriotism of President Barack Obama this week, and Obama is guilty of questioning the patriotism of Bush back in 2008. Henry and Earnest seem to think that, because Obama was talking about the patriotism of a policy -- the policy of borrowing money -- rather than the patriotism of a person -- President Bush -- that what Obama says is somehow OK. But it isn't. It's just as much of a derisive caricature to call the policy unpatriotic as to say that the person is. More, it's hypocritical, as well, given that President Obama has added just as much money to the national debt.

McAuliffe says the Republican party is defunding the Department of Homeland Security "for partisan political reasons … I don't have time for partisan politics. … Tying this whole issue on the immigration to the DHS funding is nothing but a partisan political maneuvering. We shouldn't do that, we shouldn't do it with our budget, and we clearly shouldn't do it with the Department of Homeland Security. It is too vital for our nation's security interest. As I say, as a governor, it will have a tremendous impact on our economy, and it will hurt people. They're not going to get paid."
-- Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), February 20, 2015. McAuliffe is referring to House GOP members voting to deny funding to DHS in order to undo President Barack Obama's executive action on illegal immgration.

Comment: McAuliffe is demonizing Republicans, essentially saying they are putting party ahead of country. It's one thing to say the GOP has adopted a bad policy, it's another to say that the GOP is doing it for "partisan" reasons. The House GOP believes Obama's executive action is bad for the country, too, would it therefore be OK for them to accuse Obama of partisan motives?

Across the board, the modern American right seems to have abandoned the idea that there is an objective reality out there, even if it’s not what your prejudices say should be happening. What are you going to believe, right-wing doctrine or your own lying eyes? These days, the doctrine wins. … Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, conservatives predicted disaster: health costs would soar, the deficit would explode, more people would lose insurance than gain it. They were wrong on all counts. … Along with this denial of reality comes an absence of personal accountability. If anything, alleged experts seem to get points by showing that they’re willing to keep saying the same things no matter how embarrassingly wrong they’ve been in the past.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, February 20, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is accusing Republicans of not caring about truth (or maybe being out of touch with reality). It's true that Republicans have made predictions about the policies of Obama and Democrats that haven't come true (though it may be too early to judge the predictions on health care reform), but Obama and Democrats have made false predictions, as well. (On health care reform, it was said that people would be able to keep their existing health insurance and that premiums could drop by as much as $2,500.) Like Republicans, Democrats have refused to own up to the falsity of their predictions on economic issues, military affairs, etc. Does this prove that Democrats also don't care about truth or are out of touch with reality?

"I don't think that net neutrality is net neutrality. … Here's the thing. I don't want to make this simplistic. I'm going to be accused of being simplistic. But who is it that wants to fix this? Who is it that wants to "reform" this? Who is it that's running around saying it's broken? Who is it that's running around saying it's broken so he can get his fingerprints on it? Who is doing this? Barack Hussein O. The One. That's all you need to know. As far as I'm concerned, that's all anybody needs to know. … Look it, all you need to know is Obama wants it; you should oppose it. It's that simple."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 20, 2015, referring to Internet reforms proposed by President Barack Obama.

Comment: Limbaugh is dismissing an idea simply on the basis of who is supporting the idea, which is ad hominem reasoning. As much as he predicts that he'll be criticized for being "simplistic", that does nothing to change the fact that his reasoning is flawed.

"What undermines the global effort is for the President of the United States to be an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists … ISIS is the face of evil, and these latest atrocities, our heart breaks. And to see 21 Coptic Christians murdered, beheaded by radical Islamic terrorists, to see 45 people lit on fire, this is horrific and it is deliberate and it is targeted at Christians. It is targeted at Jews. It’s targeted at Muslims in the region who do not accede to the radical Islamist view."
-- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-RX), posted February 19, 2015.

Comment: Cruz disagrees with President Barack Obama because Obama refuses to identify the terrorists as Islamic. This is a fair point, as the terrorists identify themselves as Muslim, but Obama is nonetheless ordering military strikes against these very terrorists, so in what sense could he be called an "apologist" or defender of people he has ordered his military to kill? This is at least an exaggeration, if not outright demonizing.

"I'm right about this. I have no doubt about it. I do not withdraw my words. … We haven't even mentioned some of the other communists and leftists who educated him as a young man. But all we need is Reverend Wright. Seventeen years in that church and that man condemned America over and over and over again, and he remained a member of that church."
-- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), February 19, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Giuliani is using guilt by association rhetoric.

BECKY QUICK: You were at a dinner last night where Rudy Giuliani spoke, you were sitting just a few chairs away when he said, "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country." What do you think about those comments, because they are raising a stir this morning.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: The mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well. I’ll tell you, I love America, and I think there are plenty of people — Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between — who love this country. I think we should talk about ways that we love this country, and that we feel passionate about America, whether it's about making sure everyone can succeed and live the American Dream, or whether it's talking with.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: But did you agree with those comments? Were you offended by those comments? What was your reaction when you heard them?

WALKER: I’m in New York, I’m used to people saying things that are aggressive out there.
-- Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), February 19, 2015, on "Squawk Box".

Comment: This is an evasion, perhaps the "not my decision" evasion. The point is, Giuliani is speaking, not simply for himself, but attributing a deplorable mindset to President Barack Obama. Given that Obama can speak for himself, does Walker think it's OK to speak for Obama and declare that Obama doesn't love the country or the people in it? Would it be OK if someone did the same to Walker? Walker seems comfortable speaking for lots of other people -- "Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between" -- and saying that they love the country, so why can't he do the same for Obama and therefore repudiate Giuliani?

"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
-- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), February 18, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Giuliani is demonizing Obama, questioning his patriotism. Whether it's in reference to the country, the poor, minorities, etc., the slur is basically, "You don't care about things that decent people care about, therefore you're not a decent person." Giuliani and Republicans don't like it when Democrats accuse them of not caring about minorities or the poor (nor should they like it, because it's wrong), they shouldn't do essentially the same thing to others. Giuliani has said his comments were based on Obama's failure to denounce attacks by Islamist terrorists in Libya and France in 2015 the same way he addressed racial unrest in Ferguson, MO, in 2014. But that line of criticism against Obama doesn't require questioning his love of country.

RUSH: … It's getting dangerous out there. She said, "We're killing a lot of 'em, and we're gonna keep killing more of them, and so are the Egyptians, and so are the Jordanians. They're in this fight with us. We can't win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need -- in the medium to longer term -- to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups." … the left thinks that everybody should love them. They love themselves, and they think they can make everybody love them. They think with doctors, nurses, clean water, and good speeches, that they can turn the most vicious hatemonger into somebody that loves them. And that's what the seminar is about.

RUSH: … I mean, Marie Harf and Obama think getting ISIS people jobs is the best way to counter extremism. Maybe, in addition to doing that, you could bring in the Chamber of Commerce. Maybe bring in the Chamber of Commerce as a weapon of mass destruction against ISIS. I mean, the Chamber of Commerce, vast networking and fundraising ability to recruit all sorts of franchisable businesses. You could have the Chamber working with the State Department to teach ISIS how to set up Starbucks, McDonald's, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Uber, Domino's, AutoZone, even Walmart could be all funded, and look what we could do. We could establish American economic beachheads right in the middle of the ISIS encampments using Obama's White House jobs summit and the Chamber of Commerce to help get it done, all based on Marie Harf's contention that all we need to do to defeat ISIS is get them jobs.

RUSH: Let's go to the audio sound bites. This is Marie Harf, last night The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, who said, "Some of the best-known terrorists out there came from wealth and privilege, Marie. Osama Bin Laden, a lot of these, Ayman al-Zawahiri is a doctor from Egypt. These people have a lot of money, Marie. They have higher education. They have degrees. Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, 9/11, had all kinds of money, all kinds of college degrees, bin Laden himself. What do you say about that?"

HARF: We cannot kill every terrorist around the world, nor should we try. How do you get at the root causes of this? Look, it might be too nuanced an argument for some, like I've seen over the past 24 hours, some of the commentary out there, but it's really the smart way. The Democrats, Republicans, military commanders, our partners in the Arab world think we need to combat this.

RUSH: So she doubles down on it and blames us for not having the smarts to understand her brilliance. You can't kill every terrorist around the world, nor should we try. So we should use no deterrents whatsoever. We should make no effort, doesn't matter, it's a losing effort, it's a losing cause, and we can't appreciate the nuance in this. But it's the smart foreign policy now that's identified as the Obama foreign policy. And it's a smart way Democrats, Republicans, military commanders, our partners in the Arab world think we need to combat this by finding ISIS jobs, an unemployment program or a jobs program for ISIS.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 17, 2015, and February 18, 2015. Limbaugh was referring the comments made by State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf in two separate interviews on February 16, 2015, and February 17, 2015.

Comment: Limbaugh is knocking over a straw man, distorting Harf's comments. In particular, he is using the "silver bullet" caricature. At no point did Harf say all that was needed to defeat ISIS and other terror groups is jobs. In fact, President Barack Obama's administration has frequently used military action, which Harf referred to with her remarks that "we're gonna keep killing more of them" -- remarks which Limbaugh himself directly quoted. Obama's anti-terror policy may include things other than military action, but it is simply false for Limbaugh to say Obama wants "no deterrents whatsoever". Maybe Obama's policies on terrorism aren't good enough, but it's not acceptable to misrepresent them, as Limbaugh and many other pundits have done. (Also, recall that President George W. Bush paid Sunni militants fighting alongside US troops against Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007.) Harf's rebuttal is also flawed: people don't believe economic aid will be as effective as military action, a position that shouldn't be dismissed as an intolerance for "nuance".

The Texas decision clearly defines who is against immigrants in the U.S. Latino voters will remember; 2016 is not that far away.
-- Tweet from pundit Jorge Ramos, February 17, 2015. Ramos is referring to a decision by a federal judge in Texas to place an injunction on President Barack Obama's executive action on illegal immigration.

Comment: Ramos is demonizing people who oppose Obama's executive order on illegal immigration. Being opposed to providing work permits to illegal immigrants is not the same as being opposed to immigration and all immigrants. It's entirely compatible with being in favor of increased legal immigration, for instance. Ramos is essentially accusing his opponents of being xenophobes.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Distortions in the Debate on Terrorism

The recent discussion about terrorism has been foundering on a particular set of rhetoric. Let me see if I can summarize and then clear up some of the distortions and confusions.

1. "The Obama administration believes all we need to defeat terrorists like ISIS is a jobs program."
This is a reference to comments made by deputy US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf. But it's also a blatant distortion (in particular, it's the "silver bullet" caricature). Harf -- and the Obama administration more generally -- have laid out a program for dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Certainly, one component of that program is jobs, but it's only one component: there's also US military action strikes (as Harf said, "We're killing a lot of them. And we're going to keep killing more of them."), US advisors training Iraqi troops, and other forms of aid and cooperation.

So it's false to depict Harf or the Obama administration as saying ISIS or other militants can be defeated with only some jobs programs. But that's exactly what some pundits (e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannnity) have been doing. Maybe Obama's policy isn't adequate, that's a fair point to argue. But it's not acceptable to misrepresent that policy, and it's simply false to say that violence has been ruled out in favor of a jobs program.

Remember the Iraq Surge was caricatured by many critics in 2007 as just "sending in more troops", when there in fact it involved significant changes in deployment and objectives for troops, as well as non-military components as well. There was even a jobs component: the US paid the salaries of members of the Sahwa / Sons of Iraq movement, a movement made up of Sunni militants fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), often times militants who had months earlier been fighting alongside AQI against US forces.

Harf and the Obama administration could also be accused of indulging in the "silver bullet" caricature: who has actually said that we can "kill our way out of this war", and that no extra-military strategies are needed?

2. "Islam's scripture and history with violence demonstrate that it is inherently brutal and flawed."
It's certainly true that Islamic history and the Quran contain episodes of horrific violence. But, if violent history and scripture are sufficient reasons to declare a religion inherently brutal, flawed, evil, or false, then every major religion is going to wind up in that bin. Is this really the correct conclusion to reach? No.

Consider, Islam and other religions also have history and scripture involving acts of great justice and compassion; why not take those episodes as showing the essential nature of those religions? The point is, the world's major religions contain both good and bad, and the majority of religious adherents tend to ignore or abstain from the bad.

3. "We shouldn't label terrorist acts "Islamic": such violence is not truly Islamic, and it unfairly demonizes Islam and Muslims."
The Obama administration continually refuses to claim that acts of terror by ISIS and other groups is Islamic, insisting that the violence is not indicative of "true Islam". This raises a complicated (and probably endless) debate about who really is or isn't a proper Muslim. I don't see much hope of settling that issue with Islam any more than any other religion.

But leaving that aside, the fact is that most of the acts of terror done today are done by people who proclaim it in the name of Islam than any other religion. That doesn't mean Islam is inherently violent (see point 2 above), and it's certainly worth noting and investigating why, in current times, people are more likely to commit violence in the name of Islam as opposed to Buddhism or Hinduism or Christianity. Such an investigation might help us understand (see points 4 and 7 below) and prevent acts of terror in the future.

Or, as a caller to Rush Limbaugh's show pointed out Feb. 20, 2015, how is pointing out that some terror is done in the name of Islam any different from pointing out the motives in a hate crime?

As an aside, would the Obama administration ever say the same thing about misbehavior said to be done in the name of the conservative movement or the Republican Party? Would he say that it's not truly done in the name of being a conservative or Republican?

4. "You can't understand evil. Pointing out that terrorists have grievances amounts to saying that terrorism is justified."
Evil is a human behavior. It's frequently cruel and even irrational behavior, but is there any reason we can't understand it just as well (or poorly) as other human behaviors?

Keep in mind, explaining why someone does something in no way means justifying what they did, or saying what they did was right.

Pointing out someone's grievances is a way of understanding that person's motives. Again, you can understand someone's motives for behaving a certain way without arguing that their behavior was moral or good or justified in any way.

For example, I can explain Bernie Madoff's behavior in bilking people out of their money: he wanted to get rich. I've explained his behavior, but at no point have I said what he did was OK.

The same goes for grievances. You can point out the grievances someone has without saying their grievances are legitimate. Even if you believe their grievance is legitimate, you can do so without arguing that they were justified in behaving violently on the basis of that grievance.

Take another example: Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with the murder of three people in Chapel Hill, NC, over a parking dispute. Suppose we find out he was really treated unfairly in some parking matter: that is, he had a legitimate grievance. Are we therefore committed to saying that it was legitimate for him to act on that grievance by killing three people? No, of course not.

5. "In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama equated Christianity with ISIS."
This is false. Obama didn't "compare" Christianity to ISIS in the sense of saying they're both just as bad. Rather, he made the argument that I made above, saying that if a history of violence (such as ISIS's) is sufficient to declare the religion that violence is related to (Islam) inherently flawed, then the same conclusion must be reached about any and all other religions that also have a history including horrific violence. And Christianity, like every other major religion, has a history that includes horrific violence.

6. "It's wrong to blame poverty for terrorism, because many terrorists (like Osama bin Laden) were rich."
This is something along the lines of "you don't know what it's like to be me" rhetoric. You don't have to poor to be motivated by poverty, any more than you have to be a slave to be in favor of abolishing slavery.

That's not to say that bin Laden was motivated by poverty (let alone that he chose an acceptable way of protesting poverty, even if he was motivated by it). But rich people can be motivated by poverty just as much as poor people.

More, there are certainly poor people who are fighting on the side of ISIS, just like there were poor people fighting on the side of AQI, who were peeled off of AQI (in part) because the US paid them money (see point 1 above).

7. "By blaming poverty for terrorism, you're failing to lay blame where it belongs: with the terrorist."
Again, saying that poverty plays a role in terrorism doesn't mean you're absolving the terrorists.

Does saying Islam plays a role in terrorism absolve the terrorist? No. In either case, you can point to data showing that terrorism is currently more likely to be tied to poverty or Islam or whatever else while at the same time insisting that this is not a justification for terrorism (see point 4 above).

Knowing these connections that terrorism has to other things can help in predicting and thwarting acts of terror. If you know that terrorism is more likely to come from certain affiliations, that can help you figure out how stop it before it happens, in the same way that crime statistics can be used to prevent crime.

Rhetoric: "Blaming the Victim"

When someone in politics offers an explanation for why something bad happened, they are often accused of "blaming the victim".

Is this a fair accusation? Is there ever a case where someone "brought it on themselves" when something bad happens to them?

One of the issues with this kind of rhetoric is the distinction between predicting and justifying. For instance, if I leave my front door unlocked, that increases the likelihood that someone is going to steal something from me. If I leave my door unlocked and someone steals something from my house, you could say that I "brought it on myself" by failing to lock the door.

But that's not to say I deserved to be a victim of theft in the sense that stealing from me was justified. Even if I leave my house unlocked, it's still wrong to steal from me. It's just that, knowing that there are people out there who will do the wrong thing and steal from an unlocked house, I failed to take a sensible precaution to stop those people. I should expect that, when I don't lock my house up, I'm more likely to be a victim of wrongful behavior. You could say I left myself vulnerable to mistreatment.

The "unlocked house" case is a clear case, in my view, of where it would be acceptable to blame the victim (me) for mistreatment. This isn't to absolve the thief: they're still wrong to have taken things that didn't belong to them. But I'm also at fault in the sense that I could easily have taken steps to thwart the thief.

How many other cases are there where it's acceptable to "blame the victim"? Consider some other instances (the victim is italicized):

  • Country A has a foreign policy that upsets people in country B, and people in country B respond with acts of violence or terrorism against country A;
  • You privately had nude pictures taken of yourself, and those pictures were leaked to the public;
  • person enters an unfamiliar neighborhood late at night and is robbed;
  • A person is alone and drunk in public late at night and is robbed or physically or sexually assaulted;
  • woman is dressed in a revealing outfit and is sexually harassed or assaulted;
  • US citizen visiting a hostile country such as North Korea or Iran is arrested on trumped-up allegations of being a "spy";
  • Person A verbally insults something that person B cares about greatly -- e.g., their family or religion -- and person B responds by beating up person A.

Which of these are cases where the victim could justly be said to have "brought mistreatment on themselves" (again, not saying that it was OK for them to be mistreated, but that they behaved in a way that left them vulnerable to being mistreated)?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Code Words and Dog Whistle Politics" Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 "Code Words and Dog Whistle Politics"
"Notice both TIME Magazine and The Atlantic are calling the 401(k) tax deduction now a subsidy. It's a government subsidy. That's important because that means it's the government's money. You didn't earn it, the government allowed you to have it, and calling it a "subsidy" is a dog whistle term for people. "Why are we subsidizing the rich?" is the shout from middle America and central California. "Why are we subsidizing the rich, Mabel?" So a tax deduction is now a subsidy."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 29, 2012.

Comment: This is "dog whistle" or "code words" rhetoric.

But yet we find candidates like Newt Gingrich who want to throw fuel and matches and fire to develop sort of an explosiveness in this country that is unnecessary. To suggest President Obama is the food stamp president has underlying suggestions.
-- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), January 18, 2012.

Political commentator Martin Bashir: Now, listen to some of the things that are being said by these Republican candidates.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA): President Obama is the most effective food stamp president in American history.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA): I don't want to make [blah? black?] people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money, I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.
Bashir: There's nothing subtle about Newt Gingrich or Mr. Santorum. Their comments are clearly targeted at the President, who's black, and at other members of society ... Newt Gingrich is never going to win the Republican nomination, but he could badly damage race relations in the process. So here is a simple plea: Let's cut out the food stamps rhetoric right now before things get any worse.
--  January 6, 2012.

This really is the kind of dog-whistle politics that the Republican party has used to lure our people, the white working class, over to their party, to tell them over and over that money's being -- their money's being given to black people when in fact, as we all know, it's been given to rich people.
-- Political commentator Joan Walsh, January 6, 2012.