Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Analysis: Obama's "Dos Caras" Ad Links McCain to Rush Limbaugh

Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) presidential campaign released an ad on September 15, 2008, with this content (both the TV and radio versions were aired in Spanish and appear below as translated into English):

OBAMA: I am Barack Obama and I approve this message.
NARRATOR: They want us to forget the insults we've put up with,
TEXT: "... stupid and unskilled Mexicans" -- Rush Limbaugh
NARRATOR: The intolerance.
TEXT: "Shut your mouth or get out!" -- Rush Limbaugh
NARRATOR: They made us feel marginalized in this country we love so much. John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces.
TEXT: Caused the failure of immigration reform -- McCain campaign advertisement
NARRATOR: One that lies just to get our vote, and another even worse, continues the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families. John McCain: more of the same old Republican tricks.

* YouTube: "Dos Caras" Ad
* YouTube: No Way Obama - Dos Caras "Two Faces" Translated
* Wash Post: Obama Invokes Rush Limbaugh in New Spanish-Language Ads (September 17, 2008)

The radio version of the ad also included the following:

NARRATOR: Don't forget that John McCain abandoned us rather than confront the leaders of the Republican Party. Many of us were born here, and others came to work and achieve a better life for their families -- not to commit crimes or drain the system like many of John McCain's friends claim. Let's not be fooled by political tricks from John McCain and the Republicans. Vote so they respect us. Vote for a change.

McCain's "Which Side Are They On?" Ad

This ad from the Obama campaign was in part responding to an earlier ad from the McCain campaign, released on September 12, 2008 (which also aired in Spanish and appears below as translated into English):

NARRATOR: Obama and his congressional allies say they are on the side of immigrants.
TEXT: On our side?
NARRATOR: But are they? The press reports that their efforts were "poison pills" that made immigration reform fail.
TEXT: Caused the failure of immigration reform
NARRATOR: The result: No guest worker program.
TEXT: Result: guest worker program: no
NARRATOR: No path to citizenship.
TEXT: Result: path to citizenship: no
NARRATOR: No secure borders.
TEXT: Result: secure borders: no
NARRATOR: No reform.
TEXT: It didn't happen
NARRATOR: Is that being on our side? Obama and his congressional allies ready to block immigration reform, but not ready to lead.
TEXT: Ready to block a reform of immigration. But not ready to govern.
MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.
TEXT: Paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee. Approved by John McCain.

* YouTube: Which Side Are They On?
* YouTube: McCain ad: Which Side Are They On?
* CNN: McCain ad slams Obama, Senate Democrats on immigration (September 13, 2008)
* WorldNetDaily: McCain TV ad blames Obama for 'amnesty' failure – in Spanish (September 18, 2008)

This ad from the McCain campaign blames Obama and other Democrats for the failure to pass the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, a bill which would have granted legal residence to many illegal aliens.

(For the final vote, see the Senate web site: S. 1348 (Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007).)

This criticism is dubious. It's far from clear that Obama and the Senate Democrats were responsible for the bill not being passed. Senate procedure on passing legislation is fairly complicated, and it's arguable as to who deserves blame for any piece of legislation failing to get passed in the Senate. Suffice to say that, in the case of this immigration reform legislation, there were lots of people involved in the process -- both Republicans and Democrats, and even the President -- who could be considered for blame.

(The claim of Obama's radio ad -- that "John McCain abandoned us rather than confront the leaders of the Republican Party" -- is similarly dubious.)

At any rate, it's far from obvious that the Democrats should shoulder ALL the blame. McCain's ad mentions "press reports" that blame Democrats for killing the legislation. But the accuracy of these press reports is given scant attention, and -- even if they ARE correct -- they still fall short of saying that Democrats are SOLELY to blame.

Obama's Response

However, Obama's response went much further than simply saying that lots of people could be blamed for the death of the immigration reform bill.

Obama's "Dos Caras" ad essentially makes three points:
  1. McCain is lying when he blames Democrats for the death of the immigration reform bill;
  2. McCain wants to continue "the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families"; and,
  3. McCain is friends with talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has called Mexicans "stupid and unskilled" and told immigrants to "shut up or get out".

The "Two Faces" Republicans Show

The Obama ad accuses Republicans of displaying two different sides or "faces" (I assume the ad means they are shown to the Spanish-speaking community, especially immigrants):

John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces. One that lies just to get our vote, and another even worse, continues the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families.

But was McCain lying when he accused Democrats of killing the immigration reform bill? I agree McCain's accusation is questionable and not clearly true, but that's far from saying it's intentionally false. Obama's ad gives us no reason to believe that McCain's accusation is an intentional falsehood or a knowing and willful endorsement of false beliefs (i.e., a lie). If he wants to claim that it is, then he needs to back it the claim, not simply assert it.

As to the other "face" that Republicans show -- continuing "the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families" -- this is obviously an attempt to disparage Bush's (and Republican's) policies as failed policies. As is typical, however, Obama's ad gives little support to this assertion.

In addition, he provides no substance to the claim that McCain (and Bush and Republicans) put special interests ahead of working families, nor does he define what a "special interest" is or explain why "special interests" are bad.

The Quotes from Rush Limbaugh

The Obama ad engages in outright distortion in the way it quoted Limbaugh.

The quotes the Obama ad mentioned were:

stupid and unskilled Mexicans


Shut your mouth or get out!

These are both direct quotes from Limbaugh. However, they are removed from their context in such a way as to make it seem like Limbaugh is saying that Mexicans are stupid and unskilled, and as telling immigrants (or, perhaps, Central and South American, or Spanish-speaking immigrants?) to shut up and leave.

But both of these impressions are false, as is evident when you consider the quotes in context.

"Stupid and Unskilled Mexicans"

Regarding the first quote, it was made by Limbaugh on his radio show in 1993, while he was supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Defending NAFTA against its critics, Limbaugh said:

If you are unskilled and uneducated, your job is going south. Skilled workers, educated people are going to do fine 'cause those are the kinds of jobs NAFTA is going to create. If we are going to start rewarding no skills and stupid people, I'm serious, let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do -- let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.

* ABC News: From the Fact Check Desk: Obama's New Spanish Language TV Ad Es Erróneo (September 17, 2008)

Limbaugh is responding to NAFTA critics who argue that the trade deal will cause the U.S. to lose jobs. In attempting to rebut this criticism, Limbaugh refers to "stupid", "uneducated", and "unskilled" people in both Mexico AND the U.S. He doesn't single out Mexicans as being stupid and unskilled. Nor does he say that ALL Mexicans are stupid and unskilled.

Limbaugh shouldn't have used the term "stupid" -- it is a derisive term unfairly assigning mental deficiency -- even if he was merely trying to mock NAFTA critics for what he saw as the low esteem that they held for unskilled laborers. But it is simply false for the Obama campaign to imply that Limbaugh was tarring all (or even only) Mexicans with the term. By quoting Limbaugh out of context, Obama's ad was making a false accusation of bigotry.

"Shut up or get out!"

The second quote -- "Shut up or get out!" -- was also taken out of context.

It was made on April 6, 2006, again on Limbaugh's radio show:

Everybody's making immigration proposals these days. Let me add mine to the mix. Call it The Limbaugh Laws:

First: If you immigrate to our country, you have to speak the native language. You have to be a professional or an investor; no unskilled workers allowed. Also, there will be no special bilingual programs in the schools with the Limbaugh Laws. No special ballots for elections. No government business will be conducted in your language. Foreigners will not have the right to vote or hold political office.

If you're in our country, you cannot be a burden to taxpayers. You are not entitled to welfare, food stamps, or other government goodies. You can come if you invest here: an amount equal to 40,000 times the daily minimum wage. If not, stay home. But if you want to buy land, it'll be restricted. No waterfront, for instance. As a foreigner, you must relinquish individual rights to the property.

And another thing: You don't have the right to protest. You're allowed no demonstrations, no foreign flag waving, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our President or his policies. You're a foreigner: shut your mouth or get out! And if you come here illegally, you're going to jail.

You think the Limbaugh Laws are harsh? Well, every one of the laws I just mentioned are actual laws of Mexico today! That's how the Mexican government handles immigrants to their country. Yet Mexicans come here illegally and protest in our streets!

How do you say 'double standard' in Spanish? How about: 'No mas!'

* Politico: Limbaugh, hitting back over usage in ad, says Obama "stoking racism" (September 17, 2008)

What Limbaugh was trying to do here was to expose what he saw as a double standard: the abundant criticism of the harshness U.S. immigration laws versus the absence of criticism for Mexican immigration laws, despite the fact that Mexican immigration laws are more stringent. And he did this by asking us to imagine what would happen if the immigration laws in effect at the time in Mexico were proposed for the U.S.

Limbaugh never actually advocated having these laws -- laws that, with their prohibition on political demonstrations and other restrictions, could be bluntly summarized as telling immigrants to "Shut your mouth or get out". He merely asked his audience to think what kind of reception a "shut your mouth or get out" immigration policy would get if it were proposed for the U.S.

Limbaugh was speaking hypothetically, not actually endorsing such an attitude. By quoting him out of context, the Obama ad is distorting his position and unfairly demonizing him as being anti-immigrant.

Again, this amounts to a false accusation of bigotry on the part of Obama and his campaign.

(The Washington Post piece by Ed O'Keefe -- Wash Post: Obama Invokes Rush Limbaugh in New Spanish-Language Ads (September 17, 2008) -- also falsely makes the accusation, describing the Obama ad as trying to link "Sen. John McCain to anti-immigrant comments made by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh". As discussed above, Limbaugh's comments weren't anti-immigrant.)

Guilt by Association?

There is another element to Obama's ad that is questionable: its reference to Limbaugh (and others) as being a "friend" of McCain.

There are several problems with this assertion.

First, it's not clear in what sense -- if any -- Limbaugh and McCain could correctly be called friends. They're both Republicans, and agree on some political issues, such as the war in Iraq. But their acrimonious disagreement on various other political issues -- such as illegal immigration -- is well-known, and they are not friends in the sense of having friendly relations with one another.

So, if the Obama campaign is going to call Limbaugh and McCain "friends", then it needs to spell out precisely what is meant by this ambiguous term. Otherwise, how can we tell whether or not the assertion is true?

Second, supposing that Limbaugh and McCain ARE friends, why should that make us think less of McCain (as is the clear implication of Obama's ad)? Is this an attempt to assign guilt by association? Guilt by association is not a straightforward business: just because person A is friends with person B and person B did something bad, it doesn't necessarily follow that we should also think badly of person A.

Lastly, the radio version of Obama's ad says this:

Many of us were born here, and others came to work and achieve a better life for their families -- not to commit crimes or drain the system like many of John McCain's friends claim.

This is yet another accusation referencing "friends" of McCain. This time, Obama's ad accuses these "friends" of saying that immigrants (or, perhaps, Central and South American, or Spanish-speaking immigrants?) come here in order "to commit crimes or drain the system".

But Obama provides no evidence of who it is who has said this. The ad cites no quotes and no names (though, of course, even when they named Limbaugh and gave quotes from him, they STILL failed to prove their case).

The burden of proof is on Obama and his campaign to prove that these things have been said (and said by "friends" of McCain, and to THEN explain why this should make us think less of McCain). Without such proof, it is evidence of yet another false accusation of bigotry.


So, to round up, McCain ran an ad making an unsubstantiated accusation that Obama and Democrats killed an immigration reform bill.

Obama responded with an ad that made several accusations of his own:

  • that McCain lied;
  • that Republican policies were failed policies;
  • that Limbaugh (and others) made bigoted, anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican statements; and,
  • that McCain's friendship with Limbaugh (and others) should make us think worse of him.

And these accusations of Obama's wound up being unsubstantiated or even false.

-- Civ.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Analysis: McCain's "Education" Ad Claims Obama Supported Sex Education for Kindergarteners

Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) presidential campaign released an ad on September 7, 2008, with this content:

NARRATOR: Education Week says Obama hasn't made a significant mark on education,
TEXT: Education Week: "Hasn't made a significant mark on education." 3/7/07
NARRATOR: That he's elusive on accountability,
TEXT: The Washington Post: "Elusive" 7/7/08
NARRATOR: A staunch defender of the existing public school monopoly.
TEXT: Chicago Tribune: "Staunch defender of the existing public school monopoly." 7/20/08
NARRATOR: Obama's one accomplishment?
TEXT: Obama's one accomplishment?
NARRATOR: Legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergarteners.
TEXT: Illinois Senate Health and Human Servicess Committee: "Comprehensive sex education" 5.8.99, passed 3/6/03
NARRATOR: Learning about sex before learning to read?
TEXT: Learning about sex before learning to read?
NARRATOR: Barack Obama: wrong on education,
TEXT: Wrong on education
NARRATOR: Wrong for your family.
TEXT: Wrong for your family
MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approved this message.
TEXT: Paid for by McCain-Palin 2008. Approved by John McCain
* [YouTube: Barack Obama Sex Ed for Kindergarten 5 year olds.]

There are a variety of claims being made in this ad, but it is the last one -- that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) supported teaching "comprehensive sex education to kindergarteners" -- is the most serious.

First, though, let's address the other claims being made, which were made by various periodicals, but which the McCain campaign has chosen to publicize (and, as such, implicitly endorse):

  • Obama "hasn't made a significant mark on education": Since it's arguable what amounts to a "significant mark", it's arguable whether or not this is true. But, if it is, is that such a bad thing? Many politicians haven't made a "significant mark" on lots of issues, does that seriously count against electing them?
  • Obama is "elusive" on education issues: Again, it's not clear what counts as "elusive", so it's not clear whether this is true.
  • Obama is a "staunch defender of the existing public school monopoly": Perhaps this is true, but we're given no reason to think that defending the "public school monopoly" is a bad thing. Maybe it is, but the ad only assumes this point, it doesn't offer -- or even point us toward -- any argument for it.

Beyond these issues, there is also the matter of whether these sources -- Education Week, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune -- are being accurately quoted by the McCain campaign.

Was the Sex-Ed Bill Obama's "One Accomplishment" in Education?

On the sex education legislation, the McCain ad calls it Obama's "one accomplishment". But this claim is problematic on a variety of fronts.

First, the bill never became law, so can it be called an accomplishment at all?

Second, while Obama did vote for the bill, he was not a sponsor of it. So, if it HAD passed, would it be correct to call the bill HIS accomplishment, rather than the accomplishment of those who DID sponsor it?

Finally, Obama has -- in the Illinois State Senate and in the U.S. Senate -- sponsored other education legislation. Shouldn't these other pieces of legislation be considered accomplishments, as well? As such, isn't the "one accomplishment" assertion false?

Did Obama Support Inappropriate Sex Education for Kindergarteners?

But the most serious claim made by the McCain ad is that the legislation that Obama supported would have allowed inappropriate sex education for kindergarteners.

But is this true?

The answer to that question hinges, in part, on what counts as appropriate sex education, a matter of controversy that I won't go into here.

However, the answer also hinges on the content of the bill (you can see the text of the legislation here: Illinois General Assembly: Full Text of SB0099).

The bill says the following:

Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV.

This pronouncement is ambiguous. As a student, would the "comprehensive sex education" I receive occur over the course grades K through 12 (that is, piece by piece over 13 years), or would it occur in just one year (that is, once in kindergarten, then again in first grade, then AGAIN in second grade, and so on)?

The bill, in this respect, is poorly worded, since it seems open to the interpretation that a student could receive a comprehensive sex education in just one year (including instruction on HIV and other STDs, etc.), and at an age of as young as five years old (and then again at six years old, and AGAIN at seven, and so on).

However, the bill also says:

All course material and instruction shall be age and developmentally appropriate.


All course material and instruction in classes that teach sex education and discuss sexual activity or behavior shall be age and developmentally appropriate.

This fits in more with the idea that students would receive a comprehensive sex education over the course of 13 years -- starting at age five and ending at age 18 -- rather than all in one year while they're still learning to read.

Of course, the "age appropriate" constraint is not clearly spelled out, but neither is it absent altogether. The bill could certainly do to be clearer about what, exactly, is going to be taught to five-year-olds regarding sex education (it was suggested that kindergarteners would be taught about "inappropriate touching" so that they would not fall prey to child molesters [FactCheck.org: Off Base on Sex Ed (September 10, 2008)]).

But it's far from clear that this is opening the door -- intentionally or unintentionally -- to teaching five-year-old children about sex, HIV, condoms and so forth. McCain is baselessly endorsing the worst interpretation of a somewhat ambiguous bill.

It is false for the McCain campaign to assert that the bill would definitely have had these consequences, let alone to imply that this was an accomplishment that Obama sought to bring about.

-- Civ.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rhetoric: Gaffes

Gaffes are absurd, nonsensical, false or otherwise obviously out-of-bounds statements that people make. Politicians and pundits make them, of course, but they are often put to misuse in the political arena.

This is done by paying selective attention to them. That is, you pardon and excuse (or even ignore) the ridiculous gaffes made by yourself and your allies, while excoriating your opponents for theirs.

(This is a common bias: people tend to focus on the flaws and mistakes of those they hate, while casting a blind eye to the flaws and mistakes on their own side.)

Under the "Examples and Analysis" section below, you will find a list of gaffes made by different people of different political persuasions. Consider how these gaffes were put to use, how they were treated by different people. Some people pointed to them as evidence of extreme stupidity, ignorance, obtuseness, etc., while others excused them as merely a "slip-up" or ignored them altogether.

"You all have friends thinking about voting for Donald Trump. Friends do not let friends vote for con artists. All right, so you want to have a little fun? All right, what is Donald Trump do when things go wrong? He takes to Twitter. I have him right here. Let's read some. You'll have fun. All right, number one, here's the first one, "Lightweight Marco Rubio was working hard last night." This is true. "The problem is, he is a chocker. And once a chocker, always a choker." I guess that's what he meant to say. He spelled choker, C-H-O-C-K-E-R, chocker. He called me Mr. Meltdown. Let me tell you something, during one of the breaks, two of the breaks, he went backstage, he was having a meltdown. First, he had this little makeup thing applying, like, makeup around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches. He wanted a full-length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet. I don't know. Then I see him pacing back and forth, and then he is huddled in the corner talking to somebody, waving his arm up and down and the person trying to calm him down. Any way, but I'm a chocker. All right, next tweet. "Leight weight chocker, Marco Rubio, looks like a little boy on stage, not presidential material." He meant to say lightweight, but he spelled it L-E-I-G-H T, so he got it wrong. "Looks like a little boy on stage." It's not that I look like a little boy, it's not that I would be the youngest president but he would be the oldest president ever elected. So you start to worry. All right, last one, "Wow, every poll said I won the debate last night." Now, this is him about himself, OK. "Great honer." I think he meant to say "honor." I don't know how he got that wrong, because the "E" and "O" are nowhere near each other oh there on the keyboard. That's what I'm thinking. So how do this guy three tweets misspell words so badly? I only reach two conclusions. Number one, that's how they spell those words at the Wharton School of Business where he went. Or number two, just like Trump Tower, he must have hired a foreign worker to do his own tweets. All right, so guys, we have a con artist as the front-runner in the Republican Party. A guy, a guy who has made a career out of telling people lies so they come in and buy his product or whatever he does. You ever heard of Trump vodka. You have? Well, it isn't around any more. Or a Trump mattress, or Trump air, or Trump ice or Trump water. Those are all businesses that are gone, because they were disasters. Trump hot air, yeah."
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), February 26, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Rubio is mocking Trump for his gaffes, as well for Trump's mocking of Rubio. It's not clear how much (if any) of this is meant comically.

[Rep.] Alan Grayson [(D-FL)] is Elizabeth Warren without a filter — but he intends with her help to become Florida’s great Democratic hope. Since Grayson first burst onto the national media scene as a first-term congressman from Central Florida with a savage wit, he has generated near non-stop headlines and Internet hits, calling all manner of political opponents “whores,” “vampires” and “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.” Even some Democrats who agree with almost all of his policy positions want to keep their distance. … After he shot into the national media arena in 2009, Grayson was unbowed, asking me, “Is it a necessary element of this job that I take shit from people? No one gets a free pass if they attack me. I don’t think it’s beneficial to turn the other cheek. There is no reason a Democrat has to be a weakling.” … His strident criticism of the financial system led to an early — and highly embarrassing — gaffe in February 2010, what soon would become just an indicator of what was to come. In a radio interview, Grayson attacked Linda Robertson, a senior adviser to Fed Chairman Paul Bernanke, calling her a “K street whore” and accusing her of “trying to teach me about economics.” He later apologized. Yet once catapulted into the national spotlight for his outrageousness, he never looked back. In fact, he doubled-down, comparing former Vice President Dick Cheney to a vampire bat (“I have trouble listening to what he says sometimes because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he’s talking”), calling the Republican Party a “lie factory” and dubbing Rush Limbaugh a “a has-been hypocrite loser” who was “more lucid when he was a drug addict.”
-- From an article in Politico, May 20, 2015, by Mark I. Pinsky.

Comment: What Pinsky calls a "savage wit" and "gaffe" on the part of Grayson is better described as demonizing. "Whore" is name-calling of the "sexual deviancy" sort. Also, Grayson reportedly uses "get tough" rhetoric, according to Pinsky.

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez has apologized for an ethnically touchy gaffe that was caught on cell phone video.

The Democrat, who is running to replace California's retiring Sen. Barabara Boxer, would otherwise seem like a paragon of diversity. But when she let out a stereotypical Native American "war cry" over the weekend, it marred that image and sent her running.

Literally -- away from a reporter trying to chase her down for comment on the gaffe that many found racially offensive. But late Sunday, she spoke about the slip-up.

Native Americans know she's watching out for them, she said at a Democratic Party convention in Anaheim, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "And they know what many of you don't know — that like so many Mexican Americans, I am proudly Native American on my mother's side," Sanchez said.

Sanchez was ad-libbing at a California Democratic party convention in Anaheim, when she made a stereotypical Native American "war cry."

Raising her hand to her lips, she let out about two seconds of it.

"I'm going to his office, thinkin' that I'm gonna go meet with woo-woo-woo-woo, right? 'Cause he said 'Indian American,'" she said, using the gesture to try to discern between Indian Americans -- with ancestry from India's subcontinent -- and Native Americans.
-- From a CNN article, May 17, 2015, about remarks made by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), on May 16, 2015.

Comment: Were Sanchez's remarks a "gaffe" or a racist slur?


Examples from 2013.


Examples from 2012.


Examples from 2011.


Examples from 2008.

OLBERMANN: As we continue -- scrap NAFTA, Senator Obama, or fix it?
OBAMA: I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now.
-- Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), August 7, 2007, during Democratic Party presidential primary debate moderated by Keith Olbermann.

Comment: Canada has a prime minister and a governor-general (who is the representative of the British monarch), but no president.


Examples from 2000.

"A minor slip-up by Vice President Dan Quayle hatched a frenzy and a long-running joke. Quayle led a spelling bee for sixth-grade students while visiting an elementary school in New Jersey in 1992. Working from an inaccurate flash card prepared by a teacher, he corrected William Figueroa, 12, when the child spelled "potato" on the blackboard -- making the boy add an unnecessary "e" at the word's end. Quayle would never hear the end of it."
-- Account of incident involving Vice President Dan Quayle that occurred on June 15, 1992.

Comment: This gaffe was partly due to the misspelled flash card -- which spelled the word "potato" as "potatoe" -- made by the teacher, but also due to Quayle's failure to catch the error.

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Analysis: McCain's "Celeb" Ad Derides Obama's Celebrity

Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign released an ad on July 30, 2008, with this content:

NARRATOR: He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?
TEXT: Obama: is he ready to lead?
NARRATOR: With gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says "no" to offshore drilling,
TEXT: Obama: no offshore drilling
NARRATOR: and says he'll raise taxes on electricity?
TEXT: Obama: new taxes
NARRATOR: Higher taxes,
TEXT: higher taxes
NARRATOR: more foreign oil:
TEXT: more foreign oil
NARRATOR: that's the real Obama.
TEXT: McCain
MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approved this message.
TEXT: Paid for by John McCain 2008. Approved by John McCain.
* [YouTube: Celeb (July 30, 2008)]

Along with the above content, the ad displays video of Sen. Barack Obama as well as of celebrities Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, and audio of crowds cheering Obama's name.

This ad focuses on Obama's celebrity, but without making a clear point about it. Clearly, the ad is not praising Obama for his celebrity, and is instead being dismissive of it. But what is the basis for this position?

If the ad is making the argument that you shouldn't go along with someone simply because they are famous, that's fine. In fact, it's a good point.

But we shouldn't be AGAINST someone simply because they're famous, either. The argument that "so-and-so is popular, therefore his ideas are wrong" is nothing more than ad hominem reasoning.

Which brings us to the choice of celebrities that appear alongside Obama in the ad: Hilton and Spears, who are (popularly, at least) regarded as being vapid celebrities, the implication being that Obama's celebrity is similarly unfounded.

But this is an invalid form of argument. You can't force the conclusion that Obama's celebrity is vapid simply by putting his photo up alongside Spears and Hilton any more than you can force us to conclude that he's a great, admirable leader simply by putting his photo up alongside Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela.

If the McCain campaign (or anyone else) wants to argue that Obama's celebrity is vapid or baseless, fine. But you have to provide reasons for that conclusion. It's not enough to simply point out that SOME celebrities (i.e., Spears and Hilton) are superficial in order to argue that Obama's celebrity is superficial. Just like it wouldn't be enough to point out that SOME celebrities (i.e., Churchill, Mother Teresa, and Mandela) are deserving of admiration in order to argue that Obama is a celebrity who deserves admiration.

So, this ad by the McCain campaign lacked substance in this respect. They would have done better to focus instead on the merits of Obama's position on taxes and drilling for oil, rather than making a spurious argument about his celebrity.

Was the Ad Racist?

Many people criticized the "Celeb" ad for appealing to racism.

For instance:

"The ad gave us an uneasy feeling that the McCain campaign was starting up the same sort of racially tinged attack on Mr. Obama that Republican operatives ran against Harold Ford, a black candidate for Senate in Tennessee in 2006. That assault, too, began with videos juxtaposing Mr. Ford with young, white women."
* [The NY Times Editorial Board: Say What? John McCain, Barack Obama, and the "Race Card" (July 31, 2008)]

And, more explicitly:

"a political dog whistle sends a message that only a particular constituency will hear (or intuitively understand). [President George W.] Bush has, care of his speechwriters, been dog whistling to his evangelicals for the past eight years; often, when we heathens think he sounds most nonsensical, it's because he's sending a coded message to his Jesus peeps. Often, dog whistles are merely a covert shout-out to a particular constituency ... to quietly speak to subconscious (or conscious) biases and evoke a particular visceral reaction. ... Obama, dog whistles the ad, hitting old racists in the sweet spot, could fuck these white girls ... and we don't want that, now, do we?"
* [Melissa McEwan, UK Guardian: McCain blows the dog whistle (August 1, 2008)]

Any accusation of racist behavior should be supported by evidence, not supposition. The burden of proof should be on the accuser to prove the claim, not on the accused to disprove it. And proving racism has to amount to more than pointing to someone's behavior and positing racism as a possible explanation (since just about anything is possible). There must be evidence that demonstrates that racism is a likely -- or the best -- explanation.

There doesn't seem to be any such evidence clinching that case, here. The claim that "code words" are being used to send "coded messages" is a frequent accusation in politics, but one that is seldom defended in any substantive way. A "code" for anything can be found anywhere if you're willing to entertain different interpretations of a speech. But that's different from proving that the speechwriter was actively and intentionally using a code to communicate to people.

Absent more convincing evidence, those who are accusing the McCain campaign of appealing to racism in their "Celeb" ad are making an unfounded accusation of racism.

-- Civ.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Who Will Win? The Debate is Already Lost ...

At this point, most people are waiting to learn the outcome the 2008 presidential election.

But, in one respect, we can already say that the electoral campaign has been a failure.

The point of elections isn't only to select a candidate for office. Participating in the democratic process -- engaging in elections and debates about candidates and policies -- should make us better people. It should make us wiser and increase our understanding of moral and political issues. At the very least, it shouldn't make us worse.

By this measure, the election of 2008 has certainly failed.

It has been riddled with instances of name-calling, demonizing, misrepresentation, exaggeration, ad hominem reasoning and more.

(Many of these instances have been cataloged by The Civil Debate Page, though many more are still waiting to be addressed.)

Generally, each side has used underhanded tactics in order to make us think the worst of their opponent. Frequently, they've tried to convince us that their own side is trying to do what's right and good, while the other side is selfish or unmoved by moral considerations.

For instance, those who have suggested that we should try to help people in need have been tarred as "socialists" or "redistributors" [AFP: McCain reignites Obama 'socialist' claim over 2001 interview (October 27, 2008)]. Meanwhile, those who have suggested that we should try to be self-sufficient and reward work and productivity have been ridiculed for supporting "Social Darwinism" [AP: Obama Accuses Bush of 'Social Darwinism' (March 27, 2007)]

Astonishingly, after expressing all this contempt for their opponents, each side insists that they want to unify the country, even though their behavior demonstrates that they have neither the will nor the knowledge requisite to do so.

Regardless of who wins or loses -- John McCain or Barack Obama -- what happens next is predictable.

The winning side will act as if they and their ideas have been overwhelmingly embraced by the nation, even though -- at best -- only a third of the country's residents will have voted for them (and many of those will have done so with reservations).

Each side will give a self-servingly false account of their fate (by way of the "only my opponent" caricature):

The winning side will say that they won by running a clean campaign (which is false), while insisting that their opponents did not behave virtuously (which is true), resulting in their loss.

The losing side will say that they behaved virtuously during the campaign (also false), while insisting that the winning side played dirty (true), resulting in their loss.

The winner will make a dramatic appeal, "reaching across the aisle" to the loser in order to unite the country. Given past behavior, the loser will (correctly) judge this to be insincere, and turn it down. The winners will accuse them of being stubborn, ignorant and/or deliberately subversive, and will call them sore losers.

Resentment will accrue on both sides, which will degenerate into more name-calling, misrepresentation, etc., and four years from now we'll hold another election so we can do it all over again.

Given this, does it matter who wins the election? Both sides will have succeeded mostly in making their supporters think the worst of their opponents, thereby encouraging the worst in us, inciting our hatreds and deluding us into thinking that our political adversaries are evil, selfish, and stupid.

(You can see it already in the desperate, fearful hatred people express, particularly toward Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, and Sarah Palin.)

They'll have succeeded in making us worse people in the name of improving government.

Is this sort of politics any place for good people?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Faulty Reasoning: "Even My Opponents Agree"

Sometimes politicians and pundits argue that the fact that their opponents agree with them on a particular topic shows that they are correct about it.

For instance, they'll advocate one of their policies by saying:
Even my opponent supports my position on this issue.
The implicit argument is that -- since political opponents usually disagree on things -- when they reach consensus and agree on some position, that position must be correct. (The Latin name for it I suppose would be argumentum ad hostes.)

But this is flawed reasoning. Is it impossible that two political opponents could both be wrong at the same time? What's preventing that? Nothing.

Just because your opponent supports the same position you do doesn't somehow give that position extra credibility.

Bipartisanship is often praised using the same flawed reasoning: if opposing parties are agreeing on something, they must be right about it.

This is an instance of a particular kind of fallacious reasoning, the appeal to authority.

TEXT: Republicans keep saying the same thing.

RUBIO: We are at war with radical Islam.

JEB BUSH: Radical Islamic terrorism.

TEXT: Equating Islam, all Muslims, with terrorists…

TRUMP: We do have a problem radical Muslims.

CARSON: Radical Islamic jihadists.

CRUZ: Radical Islamic terrorism.

TEXT: It’s oversimplification. And it’s wrong. But don’t take our word for it.

GEORGE BUSH: We do not fight against Islam, we fight against evil.

GEORGE BUSH: The war against terrorism is not a war against Muslims, nor is it a war against Arabs. It’s a war against evil people who conduct crimes against innocent people.

GEORGE BUSH: That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.

TEXT: Inciting fear isn’t presidential.
-- Democratic Party political ad, retrieved November 24, 2015. The ad quotes Republican presidential contenders former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Donald Trump, as well as former President George W. Bush.

Comment: The ad is accusing Republicans of fear-mongering. It is also falsely accusing Republicans (perhaps via code words?) of equating Islam and Muslims with terrorism and terrorists, thereby demonizing them as bigots. Being opposed to radical Islam doesn't mean being opposed to all Muslims, any more than being opposed to corrupt police officers means being opposed to all police officers. Citing George Bush – a Republican – seems like a faulty appeal to authority, perhaps an argument ad hostes. (Plus, the ad cites George Bush selectively: he denounced Islamic radicalism.) 

Apparently, he thinks there’s nothing amiss in suggesting that the only thing standing between the present moment and the broad, sunlit uplands of a denuclearized Iran is the Jewish state and its warmongering Beltway lobbyists. That slur in particular was the loudest dog whistle heard in Washington since Pat Buchanan said in 1990 that the Gulf War —advocated by columnists like Abe Rosenthal and Charles Krauthammer—would be fought by “American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown.” Then again, Mr. Buchanan wasn’t the president. It says something about the crassness of Mr. Obama’s approach that the New York Times noted that allies of the president fear he “has gone overboard in criticizing” opponents of the deal. But it also says something about the weakness of his deal.
-- Pundit Bret Stephens, August 10, 2015. Stephens' remarks refer to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Stephens is accusing Obama of using "code words". He is also arguing that, since even Obama's allies (who are Stephens' adversaries) are criticizing Obama's rhetoric, therefore the criticism is credible, which is flawed "even my opponents" reasoning.

RUSH: Here's Ken in Miami. I'm glad you waited, sir. Great to have you on the program.

CALLER: The reason I called was that Republicans were elected to stop Obama. Obama publicly endorsed the USA Freedom Act, so shouldn't that be enough for the Republicans to be against it?

RUSH: Yeah. I feel your pain. The Republicans even acknowledged that they were elected to stop Obama, but then when they have the chance, they don't. Like in the trade deal. This transpacific partnership that still remains a big mystery. It's the Republicans that are gonna pull Obama -- it's caused me to be on the same page as Elizabeth Warren on this. Imagine how bad this thing must be. Actually, Elizabeth Warren's on the same page with me on this thing.
-- A caller to the Rush Limbaugh show, June 1, 2015.

Comment: The caller is saying Republicans have a mandate to stop Obama – or, perhaps, that they have not mandate to NOT stop Obama. The caller also argues that Obama's support for the USA Freedom Act is cause to oppose it, which is something of a reverse appeal to authority (and still invalid reasoning). Limbaugh notes that he agrees with his opponents on the transpacific trade deal, but doesn't seem to use that as an "ad hostes" argument.


Examples from 2012.


Examples from 2011.

"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. ... Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable."
-- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), August 16, 1937, letter to Luther C. Steward, then President of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

Comment: FDR's position here -- that public sector unions should not be allowed to engage in collective bargaining -- was frequently cited by Republicans and conservatives who were supporting the restriction of collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in Wisconsin in 2011. Many liberals, progressives, and Democrats opposed this restriction, which was pushed by Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI). FDR was a Democrat, and his agreement with Walker and Republicans on this matter was offered as evidence that such restrictions were OK (in other words, committing the "even my opponents agree" fallacy).

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

Name-Calling and Caricature: "Only My Opponent Does It"

Politicians and pundits often caricature and distort their opponents, and there is a certain kind of distortion that stands out: the "only my opponent does it" caricature.

This caricature involves falsely claiming that only your opponent violates the norms of civilized debate. Such claims are almost always false, because -- unfortunately -- usually all sides have given up on civil discourse.

The "only my opponent" caricature is usually stated something like this:
We are setting a higher standard of debate, while our opponents are engaging in negative politics and attacks.
The people who make such an assertion rarely specify what they mean by the "higher standard" that they claim they are living up to. Nor do they specify what they mean by the "negative politics" that they claim their opponents are living down to. As such, it's difficult to evaluate whether their assertion is true.

But it's usually the case that both sides in U.S. politics -- meaning Democrats and Republicans, liberals/progressives and conservatives -- are engaging in such things as name-calling, misrepresentation, exaggeration and ad hominem reasoning. And all these behaviors are failures to live up to the standard of civil debate.

Sometimes people make a weaker claim along the same lines:
Both sides engage in unfair tactics, but the other side does it more often.
But is even this weaker claim true? What is the evidence that backs it up? To defend this claim, you'd have to provide an actual count of incidents over a given period of time. That is, you'd need to put together a rigorous study, not just an impression of what it "seems like" from your memory.

It's almost never the case that only one side is violating the norms of civil debate. Statements like, "name-calling is wrong, but only my opponent does it", "it's wrong to demonize your opponents, but only my opponents do it", or even "we don't do it as much as they do" are almost always false.

"That’s the choice you face this November -- between dividing ourselves up, looking for scapegoats, ignoring the evidence -- or realizing that we are all stronger together. If we turn against each other -- whether it's divisions of race or religion -- we're not going to build on the progress we started. If we get cynical and just vote our fears -- or we don’t vote at all -- we won’t build on the progress we’ve started. America has been a story of progress, but has not gone in a straight line. There have been times where we've gone forward, there have been times where we've gone backwards. And what’s made the difference each and every time is citizens voting, and caring, and committing to our better selves. Coming together around our common values, and our faith in hard work and our faith in each other, and the belief in opportunity for everybody, and assuming the best in each other, and not the worst."
-- President Barack Obama, June 25, 2016.

Comment: Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of debate, but at the same time he's demonizing his opponents as not caring about evidence. As a result, his remarks imply that it's mostly his opponents who resort to unfair rhetoric. Also, Obama is using "uniting, not dividing" rhetoric – though, how do you unify with people you accuse of ignoring evidence? – as well as "appealing to fear" rhetoric.

We respect the choice the people of the United Kingdom have made. … This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House to protect Americans’ pocketbooks and livelihoods, to support our friends and allies, to stand up to our adversaries, and to defend our interests. It also underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, June 24, 2016, in a statement regarding the Brexit vote.

Comment: "Pull together" is "unify the country" rhetoric. How are we supposed to pull together? On what should we be unified? Who is it that has been tearing other Americans down? Has Clinton been doing it, or does she believe that it's only her opponents who have resorted to that behavior?

"But unfortunately, graduates, despite the lessons of our history and the truth of your experience here at City College, some folks out there today seem to have a very different perspective. They seem to view our diversity as a threat to be contained rather than as a resource to be tapped. They tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we disagree. They act as if name-calling is an acceptable substitute for thoughtful debate, as if anger and intolerance should be our default state rather than the optimism and openness that have always been the engine of our progress."
-- First Lady Michelle Obama, June 3, 2016, speaking at City College of New York Commencement.

Comment: Obama is accusing some people – she does not name who – of being opposed to diversity, of inciting fear and suspicion, and resorting to name-calling. It’s impossible to know if these accusations are true until she identifies who they are about (Republicans are the likely target). This seems like the “only my opponent” caricature, as Obama’s fellow Democrats often behave in many of the same ways.

TAPPER: Historically speaking throughout your decades in public life you and your husband have had occasionally contentious relationships with journalists, though, it certainly never went as far publicly as it did today with Donald Trump calling journalists sleazy and dishonest and unfair. So what went through your mind watching his press conference today?

CLINTON: Well, I have to say, Jake, I had my team check. I have done nearly 300 interviews just in 2016 and I believe that it's important to continue to, you know, speak to the press as I'm doing right now. And to understand that his attacking everybody, fellow Republicans, Democrats, the press, you just name it. He attacks everybody, is a recipe for gridlock in Washington. And that's what we've got to break and get away with. You know, he seems to believe, or at least is demonstrating that insulting and attacks is his mode of operations. And you know, I just don't think that's going to cut it. If you want to actually produce results for the American people and not only lead it home, but lead the world.
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 31, 2016, during an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN.

Comment: This is the “only my opponent” caricature. Granted, Trump has often resorted to name-calling, but so have Clinton and many other Democrats.

"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?

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.

"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?

"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"?

"In my State of the Union address, I remarked that many of you have told me you’d like to see more cooperation and a more elevated debate in Washington, but everyone sometimes feels trapped by their politics. I understand that feeling. I served with many of you in Congress. And so I know that I’m not the only one in this room who may be more than a little dismayed about what’s happening on the campaign trail lately. We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities -- at Americans who don’t look like “us,” or pray like “us,” or vote like we do. We’ve seen misguided attempts to shut down that speech, however offensive it may be. We live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold. In response to those attempts, we’ve seen actual violence, and we’ve heard silence from too many of our leaders."
-- President Barack Obama, March 15, 2016.

Comment: Obama is calling for a higher standard of debate, and saying that many people have failed to denounce inappropriate rhetoric in politics. He is correct, but he fails to include himself as being one of the people at fault.

"But the truth of the matter is America is pretty darn great right now. … And what the folks who are running for office should be focused on is how we can make it even better. Not insults and schoolyard taunts, and manufacturing facts. Not divisiveness along the lines of race or faith. Certainly not violence against other Americans or excluding them. … And what’s been happening in our politics lately is not an accident. For years, we’ve been told we should be angry about America, and that the economy is a disaster, and that we’re weak and that compromise is weakness, and that you can ignore science and you can ignore facts, and say whatever you want about the President, and feed suspicion about immigrants and Muslims and poor people, and people who aren’t like “us,” and say that the reason that America is in decline is because of “those” people. That didn’t just happen last week. That narrative has been promoted now for years. It didn’t just spring out of nowhere. And of course, none of it has been true. It just ignores reality -- the reality that America is the most powerful nation on Earth. The reality that our economy is not only stronger than it was eight years ago, that it’s, right now, the bright spot in the world. … We can have political debates without turning on one another. We can have political debates without thinking that the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. We can support candidates without treating their opponents as unpatriotic, or treasonous, or somehow deliberately trying to weaken America. That's not just one candidate who’s been saying that; some of the so-called more responsible candidates, including a gentleman from this state -- no, no, you read what he says, it's not -- it's no more rooted in reality than some of these other statements. We can point out bad policies without describing them as a “government takeover” or “an assault on freedom.” And by the way, when I say this, this is not about “political correctness.” It’s about not having to explain to our kids why our politics sounds like a schoolyard fight. We shouldn’t be afraid to take them to rallies, or let them watch debates. They watch the way we conduct ourselves. They learn from us. And we should be teaching them something about this democracy is a vibrant and precious thing. It's going to be theirs someday, and we should be teaching them how to disagree without being disagreeable, and how to engage, and how to analyze facts, and how to be honest and truthful, and admit if you make a mistake, and teach them that politics at its best is about a battle of ideas, and resolving our differences without encouraging or resorting to violence. … As Democrats, we believe in things like science. It has resulted in great improvements in our lives. Science -- that's why we have things like penicillin and airplanes."
-- President Barack Obama, March 12, 2016, commenting on the Republican presidential nomination contest.

Comment: First, Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of debate, and accusing Republicans of being "divisive". Second, Obama is accusing Republicans of being bigots who ignore facts, science, and reality. Third, he is saying that Republicans – but not Democrats? – are guilty of questioning the patriotism of their opponents.

Speaking at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Austin, Texas, on Friday evening, President Barack Obama lit into Donald Trump, by turns mocking him for "selling steaks" and ripping his rhetoric— while urging the GOP to take responsibility for creating him.

"We’ve got a debate inside the other party that is fantasy and schoolyard taunts and selling stuff like it’s the Home Shopping Network," Obama said in a clear reference to Trump's Tuesday-night press conference, where he wheeled out products like Trump Steaks and Trump Water to prove his business bona fides.

Then the president launched into a lengthy series of taunts of his own, blistering the Republican establishment for being "shocked that somebody is fanning anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-Muslim sentiment."

"How can you be shocked?" he asked. "This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya. Who just wouldn’t let it go. And all this same Republican establishment, they weren’t saying nothing. As long as it was directed at me, they were fine with it. They thought it was a hoot. Wanted to get his endorsement. And then now, suddenly, we’re shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment."

"What is happening in this primary is just a distillation of what’s been happening inside their party for more than a decade," Obama said, accusing Republicans of denying "evidence of science" and viewing Democrats as "destroying the country, or treasonous."

"That’s what they’ve been saying," he went on. "So they can’t be surprised when somebody suddenly looks and says, you know what, I can do that even better. I can make stuff up better than that. I can be more outrageous than that. I can insult people even better than that. I can be even more uncivil."

Even when Obama allowed that "there are thoughtful conservatives, good people in the Republican Party," he quickly offered up some more red meat to the crowd: "Some of them have been writing that, well, the reason our party is going crazy is because of Obama, which is a pretty novel idea. The notion is, Obama drove us crazy."

"Now, the truth is, what they really mean is their reaction to me was crazy and now it has gotten out of hand," he said, challenging Republicans alarmed by Trump's ascent to look inward. "Because my question to the folks who are suddenly so spun up is, where have you been the past five, six, seven years?"
-- President Barack Obama, as related in a March 11, 2016, story by the staff at Politico.

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature. While Obama is correct to point out that Republicans have resorted to (and failed to stand against) name-calling, the same is true of Obama and Democrats (for instance, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa's remarks about the Tea Party).

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Some of your critics have pointed to the incredibly polarized political climate under your administration as contributing to the rise of someone as provocative as Donald Trump. Do you feel responsibility for that, or even some of the protectionist rhetoric from some Democratic candidates? Do you have a timeline for when you might make a presidential endorsement? And to follow on my colleague’s question here, do you feel political heat is constraining your pool of viable Supreme Court nominees? Thank you.

OBAMA: It’s a three-fer. I think it’s important for me to nominate a Supreme Court nominee quickly because I think it’s important for the Supreme Court to have its full complement of justices. … With respect to your first question, I’ve actually heard this argument a number of times. I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel. Look, I’ve said -- I said it at the State of the Union that one of my regrets is the degree to which polarization and the nasty tone of our politics has accelerated rather than waned over the course of the last seven and a half years. And I do all kinds of soul-searching in terms of are there things I can do better to make sure that we’re unifying the country. But I also have to say, Margaret, that, objectively, it’s fair to say that the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets -- social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations -- have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a “them” out there and an “us,” and “them” are the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing. And the tone of that politics -- which I certainly have not contributed to -- I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example. I don’t remember saying, hey, why don’t you ask me about that. Or why don’t you question whether I’m American, or whether I’m loyal, or whether I have America’s best interests at heart -- those aren’t things that were prompted by any actions of mine. … And what’s interesting -- I’ll just say one last thing about this -- there are thoughtful conservatives who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party. I think it is very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they’ve engaged in that allows the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire, and to do some introspection.
-- President Barack Obama, March 10, 2016, during a press conference, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: First, this is the "only my opponent" caricature. Obama has routinely resorted to derisive name-calling against his opponents. In particular, he has often questioned the patriotism of Republicans, accusing them of putting party ahead of country. Second, this is "unify the country" rhetoric.

Of course, Democrats also sometimes campaigned outrageously, and some Republicans scorned the politics of hate. There was a marvelous scene in 2008 when John McCain was running against Obama, and a woman at a McCain rally suggested that Obama was an Arab who couldn’t be trusted. McCain corrected her and then praised his rival: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Political nastiness and conspiracy theories were amplified by right-wing talk radio, television and websites — and, yes, there are left-wing versions as well, but they are much less influential. Democrats often felt disadvantaged by the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but in retrospect Limbaugh and Fox created a conservative echo chamber that hurt the Republican Party by tugging it to the right and sometimes breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant. … So today the leading candidate for president in the party of Lincoln is an ill-informed, inexperienced, bigoted, sexist xenophobe. And he’s not a conservative at heart, just a pandering opportunist. Donald Trump is the consequence of irresponsible politicking by Republican leaders, the culmination of decades of cultivating unrealistic expectations within the politics of resentment. It’s good to see leading Republicans standing up to him today, but the situation recalls the Chinese saying, qi hu nan xia — when you’re riding a tiger, the hard part is getting off.
-- Pundit Nicholas Kristof, February 11, 2016.

Comment: Kristof is accusing much of the Republican Party of being "extreme", and Trump of being a bigot. He is also claiming that is mostly Republicans who resort to the "politics of hate", though he doesn't offer any rigorous data to support this claim, so it amounts to the "only my opponent" caricature.

"[Former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.)] said, ‘Insist from us and from each other a modicum of civility as the condition for serving you.’ … Our children are watching what we do. … If we lie about each other, they learn it’s okay to lie. … If they see us insulting each other like school kids, then they think, well, I guess that’s how people are supposed to behave. … We should insist on a higher form of discourse in our common life, one based on empathy and respect … We have to stand up and insist, no, reason matters, facts matter … When folks just make stuff up, they can’t go unchallenged. And that’s true for Democrats if you hear a Democratic make something up, and that’s true for a Republican if you see a Republican cross that line."
-- President Barack Obama, February 10, 2016.

Comment: Obama is calling for us to set a higher standard of debate. He is also claiming that someone – he does not say who – is acting as if facts don't matter. He is also failing to point out the various ways that he himself has failed to support civil discourse, which amounts to the "only my opponent" caricature.

Hillary Clinton campaign strategist Joel Benenson made an eyebrow-raising claim Friday on CNN, accusing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) of running the most negative Democratic primary campaign in history.

Sanders has aired ads attacking Wall Street and big banks without naming Clinton, who has received huge speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, but he has also made it clear he would not engage in personal mud-slinging during the campaign.

“I think he’s going negative,” Benenson said. “I think he’s probably running the most negative campaign of any Democratic presidential candidate.”

“You think so?” anchor Kate Bolduan asked.

“I think so, in a presidential primary season, yes,” Benenson said. “I think he’s been more personal in his attacks. I think he’s been increasing it on the stump recently, and I do, I can’t think of one. Even in a very hard-fought campaign in 2008, I don’t think we had the range of negativity on either side, and I was on Obama’s side then, that we’ve had now.”
-- Political strategist Joel Benenson, January 29, 2016, as related in a story by David Rutz of The Washington Free Beacon.

Comment: Benenson is accusing Sanders of "negative politics", without defining the term. He is also indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature.

"I like Hillary Clinton and I respect Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton has devoted her life to public service and I have tried, as I hope you all know, not to run a negative campaign, not to be attacking every other day, to keep this discussion on a high level, where we debate the issues facing this country. And by the way, with a few exceptions, we're doing a lot better than the Republicans in that regard. But on the other hand, that's not a very high bar to reach … Look, Hillary Clinton is a very good person. Martin O'Malley is a very decent guy. So I'm not -- you know, this is not a -- personal stuff. It just seems to me that the crises that we face as a country today, and we didn't even get into climate change to a significant degree: inequality, poverty in America, an obscene and unfair campaign finance system. These problems are so serious that we have got to go beyond establishment politics and establishment economics."
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN. His remarks referred to Democratic presidential contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD).

Comment: First, Sanders seems to be using "hate the policies, not the person" rhetoric with respect to Clinton and O'Malley. Second, Sanders denounces (and claims he hasn't resorted to) "negative politics", without clarifying exactly what counts as negative (other than saying it's "not personal"). Lastly, Sanders claims that Republicans are worse than Democrats when it comes to negative politics, which is the "only my opponent" caricature.

"So, the Republicans can do what they do best: they distract, divide, and demonize. Leave no smear behind."
-- President Bill Clinton, January 19, 2016, during a campaign event for his wife, Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Republicans of resorting to distractions, divisive rhetoric, and of demonizing. He is potentially leaving the impression that this something that Republicans (but not Democrats) normally do, which is the "only my opponent" caricature.

Anyone who follows U.S. political debates on the environment knows that Republican politicians overwhelmingly oppose any action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, and that the great majority reject the scientific consensus on climate change. … More important, probably, is the denial inherent in the conventions of political journalism, which say that you must always portray the parties as symmetric — that any report on extreme positions taken by one side must be framed in a way that makes it sound as if both sides do it. We saw this on budget issues, where some self-proclaimed centrist commentators, while criticizing Republicans for their absolute refusal to consider tax hikes, also made a point of criticizing President Obama for opposing spending cuts that he actually supported. My guess is that climate disputes will receive the same treatment. But I hope I’m wrong, and I’d urge everyone outside the climate-denial bubble to frankly acknowledge the awesome, terrifying reality. We’re looking at a party that has turned its back on science at a time when doing so puts the very future of civilization at risk. That’s the truth, and it needs to be faced head-on.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, December 4, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is accusing Republicans of rejecting science. He also claims that it's wrong to say that both sides are equally at fault when it comes to being "extreme", but he offers no rigorous evidence to support the claim that one side does it more.

""The rise of new media outlets in the Internet age has allowed regular Americans to get access to information that the mainstream press," conceals. You know, it's just as important what isn't reported as what is. It is my contention that busting up the Democrat Party monopoly and the mainstream media -- I do believe it's led to divisiveness, but it's not because of us. The divisiveness and the reason there is so much partisanship and mean-spirited, extreme rancor is all on the Democrats, if you ask me, and the media. They're the ones who have the monopoly. They're the ones that had their way. They're the ones that were in charge of everything the people of this country learned, and they were in charge of everything that was hidden from the American people."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, October 26, 2015, reading from an October 20, 2015, Breitbart story on former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: Limbaugh is citing divisiveness and partisanship, explaining that they are bad because they amount to "mean-spirited, extreme rancor". He is resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature by saying that only Democrats – and not Republicans – are responsible for that rancor.

"A lot of times it seems like our politics don’t reflect the common sense and decency that we see in our neighbors and our communities and our friends, and it gets frustrating. We’ve got a system that too often rewards division and polarization and short-term thinking, and rewards people for saying the most outrageous things, even though everybody knows they’re not true, but we think of it as entertainment somehow. And so attention-grabbing and controversy is rewarded rather than folks who are rolling up their sleeves and dealing with sometimes really complicated issues that don’t lend themselves to a sound bite. And so people get cynical. And sometimes people just throw up their hands and say “Washington doesn’t work, a plague on both your houses, everybody’s dysfunctional.” Your job is to not succumb to that."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is calling for us to set a higher standard of debate. He is lamenting divisive rhetoric that is not factual and how it yields cynicism. However, he doesn't acknowledge how he and his party have contributed to these problems.

"You’ve heard from some of our outstanding candidates. I’m going to be supporting whoever the nominee is and I’m confident … We’ve got some great candidates. But when you watch the debate between the Democrats, it was logical, and civil, and people didn’t agree with everything but they weren’t just saying crazy stuff. And they weren’t dividing the country into us and them and tapping into people’s worst impulses. It made me proud, because it said that we’ve got a party that’s inclusive and that wants everybody to join and get involved and showed that we can disagree without being disagreeable."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: Obama is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that Democrats are logical and civil while Republicans say "crazy stuff" (an example of "out of touch" or "don't care about facts" rhetoric) and divide Americans (an example of "unify the country" rhetoric) and appeal to people's worst impulses (which is demonizing Republicans).

ROGER: Ronald Reagan successfully brainwashed about 45% of the nation's people with the help of Rush Limbaugh. And if you use keywords like “socialist” and “demagogue”, they right away think communist and they will not vote for you. And if you want to fix this problem, you can’t just do what you’re doing and shout out words like “demagogue”, they love demagogues. They don’t understand what the word even means. Go to a Republican bar and sit there and talk to them, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. You first have to fix the brainwash problem, and you first have to slowly fix the brainwash problem by bringing back the equal time laws that Ronald Reagan got rid of.

SVART: For the last 40 years the far, far right has really systematically built up institutions to control the discourse. … And they've really dismantled the public sphere. They've really deregulated. … And another thing that they've done is they've flooded the airwaves with their mantra, including how socialism is evil and the government in general is evil and inefficient. And they just repeat it over and over again, ignoring facts, and it really is true that it has an impact on how people engage with politics.
-- National Director of the Democratic Socialists of America Maria Svart, October 18, 2015, responding to Roger, a caller on C-SPAN Washington Journal.

Comment: Roger is using "stupid" (i.e., "brainwashed") and "demagogue" rhetoric to describe Republicans and conservatives. Svart is demonizing Republicans and conservatives; they generally want smaller government, but that doesn't mean they believe all government is evil. Svart is also accusing Republicans and conservatives of not caring about facts, and she is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature (implying that Democrats, Socialists, liberals and progressives don't also repeat false assertions).

Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple. … But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.
-- Pundit David Brooks, October 13, 2015.

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that it is only Republicans and conservatives (or, in this case, certain Republicans and conservatives that Brooks is not allied with) have resorted to exaggerations and demonizing. Where is the evidence that Democrats, liberals, and progressives have not done the same? Also, Brooks is accusing Republicans of ignoring facts.

"In the spirit of problem-solving, I'm wondering if you're at all concerned that some of your divisive language you use on the campaign trail undermines your ability to solve problems," a questioner said, to raucous applause.

"I went to Ivy League schools, I know what's divisive, I know what's not divisive," Trump replied. "I don't want to be politically correct all the way down the line. ... I see politicians, they're afraid to say anything because it's not politically correct."

"I am going to have to be who I am," Trump said. "At the same time, I'm running against a lot of people, many are going to be dropping out, I think very soon, if they're smart, they're going to be dropping out. Too many people! Too many people. When it becomes a different kind of situation, you'll see, I'm going to be much less divisive. But always remember this: I never start anything ... I simply counterpunch. They start. They get very nasty."

He continued, "I don't think anybody in this room wants to have somebody who's not going to fight back. We have people now who don't fight back, the country has been hurt tremendously."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, October 12, 2015, at the No Labels conference, as related in a Politico story by Katie Glueck.

Comment: The questioner and Trump are discussing "divisive" language without specifying exactly what counts as divisive. Also, Trump is using "get tough and hit back" language. Finally, if "divisive" language means name-calling, then it's false for Trump to say that he's never instigated it: that's the "only my opponent" caricature. Besides, even if it were true that Trump wasn't the instigator, responding to name-calling with name-calling is still unacceptable. Civility doesn't require being quiet in the face of unfair rhetoric; there are ways of responding that don't indulge in more of the same.

EARNEST: Dr. Carson in many of the polls ranks second or third, so at least in the last few months he's been quite successful in elevating his status in the Republican Party. And we've seen a willingness on the part of many of those candidates to countenance offensive views, all in pursuit of political support. And in the case of the Republican primary, in pursuit of votes. And I think what's particularly disappointing to many observers, including me, is that we haven't seen a significant outcry from all of the other candidates in the Republican race.

RUSH: See, this is how they do it. Did you notice the first thing he said in this answer? He puts up here, "A willingness on the part of many of those candidates to countenance offensive views." You know, I can't tell you how this ticks me off. This presumption that nothing the left ever says is offensive. Nothing they ever say is controversial. That's just normal, it's free flowing, it's everything's kind and decent and tolerant and all that. And these are some of the most intolerant bigots among us, people on the left. … So, anyway, that's how the White House is dealing with it. "We just don't like these offensive views, particularly disappointing to many observers, including me, that we haven't seen a significant outcry from all the other candidates." This is how they do it. A Republican stands up, says something not politically correct, it then becomes incumbent on every other Republican to denounce the guilty party. This is the one-way street, this false premise, these narratives here that the left creates that I'm telling Republicans ought have nothing to do with, just nuke and just ignore these narratives out of the box.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, September 21, 2015, responding to remarks made earlier that day by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

Comment: Limbaugh is complaining that there is a double standard in how Democrats enforce civil debate, and seems to be arguing that there's no point advocating civility. Limbaugh leaves out that – like Democrats – Republicans are also self-servingly inconsistent in enforcing civil debate.

"I think what is clear is that -- and this goes to something that we talked about in this room quite a bit on Friday -- which is that we have seen not just a tendency but a willingness on the part of some successful Republican politicians -- and, let’s face, Dr. Carson, in many of the polls, ranks second or third so at least in the last few months he has been quite successful in elevating his status in the Republican Party -- and we’ve seen a willingness on the part of many of those candidate to countenance offensive views, all in pursuit of political support and, in the case of the Republican primary, in the pursuit of votes. And I think what’s particularly disappointing to many observers, including me, is that we haven’t seen a significant outcry from all of the other candidates in the Republican race. And it’s for the same reason, because they’re chasing for the same votes. And the fact is this is not something that’s consistent with the values of the vast majority of Americans. And, ironically enough, I actually do think that the views articulated by Dr. Carson are entirely inconsistent with the Constitution that does actually guarantee the freedom of religion in this country. So, ultimately, there will be consequences. And certainly those views will be taken into account by voters, both in the primary but also in the general election."
-- White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, September 21, 2015, responding to a question about remarks made by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who said he would not want a Muslim as president.

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature, as Earnest is making it sound as if Democrats don't also indulge in offensive rhetoric, and then refuse to condemn it.

I would argue that all of the G.O.P. candidates are calling for policies that would be deeply destructive at home, abroad, or both. But even if you like the broad thrust of modern Republican policies, it should worry you that the men and woman on that stage are clearly living in a world of fantasies and fictions. And some seem willing to advance their ambitions with outright lies. Let’s start at the shallow end, with the fantasy economics of the establishment candidates. You’re probably tired of hearing this, but modern G.O.P. economic discourse is completely dominated by an economic doctrine — the sovereign importance of low taxes on the rich — that has failed completely and utterly in practice over the past generation. … If the discussion of economics was alarming, the discussion of foreign policy was practically demented. Almost all the candidates seem to believe that American military strength can shock-and-awe other countries into doing what we want without any need for negotiations, and that we shouldn’t even talk with foreign leaders we don’t like. … I began writing for The Times during the 2000 election campaign, and what I remember above all from that campaign is the way the conventions of “evenhanded” reporting allowed then-candidate George W. Bush to make clearly false assertions — about his tax cuts, about Social Security — without paying any price. As I wrote at the time, if Mr. Bush said the earth was flat, we’d see headlines along the lines of “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” Now we have presidential candidates who make Mr. Bush look like Abe Lincoln. But who will tell the people?
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, September 18, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is using "stupid" name-calling as well as the "they'll say anything" caricature. He's also accusing Republicans of failed policies. Finally, Krugman is using the "only my opponent" caricature, saying it is a false equivalence to say Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty of making false assertions.

Though AIPAC can generally count on bipartisan support on any issue it cares about, it never had a prayer of beating an administration that was prepared to do and say anything to get its way. Once the president made clear that he considered the nuclear deal to be the centerpiece of his foreign policy legacy, the chances that even the pull of the pro-Israel community could persuade enough Democrats to sustain a veto override were slim and none. In order to achieve that victory, Obama had to sink to the level of gutter politics by smearing his critics as warmongers and slam AIPAC with the same sort of language that earned President George H.W. Bush opprobrium.
-- Pundit Jonathan S. Tobin, September 2, 2015. His remarks concerned the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Iranian nuclear deal.

Comment: Where did President Barack Obama say that opponents of the deal were warmongers? Is that a distortion of Obama's position? Also, Tobin is accusing of "negative politics" and being willing to "say anything" in order to win. Lastly, it's the "only my opponent" caricature to suggest that Obama, but not his opponents, resorted to unfair tactics on the debate about the Iranian nuclear deal.

Mr. Bush called the video “a complete mischaracterization of my thinking.”

“It’s almost as though Donald Trump is acting like a Washington politician — that’s what they do,” he said.
-- Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), September 1, 2015, as related in a Washington Times article by David Sherfinski. Bush's remarks concerned a video on immigration policy put out by the campaign of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: Bush is accusing Trump of distorting his position on immigration. Bush is also engaging in a variant of the "only my opponent" caricature, making it sound like only "Washington" politicians resort to distortion.

OBAMA: There are legitimate questions and concerns that have been raised by critics of the deal. I have gone out of my way to say that I am prepared to stand there and answer every single one of them as long as it takes. We have thought this through carefully. But I think all of us have to steer away from incendiary language that suggests that either those who are in favor of the deal are appeasing Iran, or, conversely, that those who are opposed to the deal are not thinking about America’s interest. That kind of language we do have to shy away from.

EISNER: There are people, even some of your supporters, who feel that you have contributed to some of that incendiary language. Do you feel that?

OBAMA: Not at all. And I’d be interested in an example of that. … These are hard issues, and worthy of serious debate. But you don’t win the debate by suggesting that the other person has bad motives. That’s I think not just consistent with fair play; I think it’s consistent with the best of the Jewish tradition.
-- President Barack Obama during interview with Jane Eisner of Forward, conducted August 28, 2015 and released August 31, 2015. Their remarks concerned the Iran nuclear deal.

Comment: First, Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of debate. Second, he is saying that others, not he himself, are failing to live up to that standard when it comes to the debate on Iran's nuclear program. Obama has certainly failed to set a higher standard on other political topics, and his accusation that opponents of the Iran deal are making "common cause" with Iranian hardliners is a good candidate for unfair rhetoric on this topic.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Sunday that he will strongly defend himself from critics, regardless of gender.

Trump rejected claims that he treats females who disagree with him unfairly.

“When I’m attacked, I fight back,” Trump told host Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I was attacked very viciously by those women,” he said of female opponents his detractors say he has demeaned.

“What they said about me is far worse than what I said about them,” Trump added. “Am I allowed to defend myself? I want to get back to the country. We have such problems.”
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, August 9, 2015, during an interview with NBC News' Chuck Todd, as related by an article in The Hill by Mark Hensch.

Comment: First, this is "get tough and hit back" rhetoric. Second, Trump is claiming to be a victim – but not a perpetrator – of invective, which is the "only my opponents" caricature. Finally, Trump is saying that the criticisms of him are a distraction from the issues America faces.

"Unfortunately, we’re living through a time in American politics where every foreign policy decision is viewed through a partisan prism, evaluated by headline-grabbing sound bites. And so before the ink was even dry on this deal -- before Congress even read it -- a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition. Lobbyists and pundits were suddenly transformed into arm-chair nuclear scientists, disputing the assessments of experts like Secretary Moniz, challenging his findings, offering multiple -- and sometimes contradictory -- arguments about why Congress should reject this deal. But if you repeat these arguments long enough, they can get some traction. So let me address just a few of the arguments that have been made so far in opposition to this deal."
-- President Barack Obama, August 5, 2015, speaking on the proposed deal on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: First, Obama is making it sound as if only opponents of the nuclear deal – and not supporters of it – had made up their minds ahead of time and were viewing the issue through a "partisan prism". That is, Obama is engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Second, Obama is making a flawed appeal to authority, dismissing the criticisms of people who aren't nuclear scientists. Just because a person isn't a nuclear expert doesn't mean they have no valid criticisms on nuclear topics. (Some of the criticism of the deal doesn't even rely on nuclear issues, it has to do with diplomatic matters, such as whether Iranian leaders are trustworthy.) Third, Obama says critics are offering "contradictory" arguments, suggesting hypocrisy. But, there's nothing hypocritical about one person offering one criticism, and a different person offering a logically contradictory one. Since Obama doesn't name who the critics are, how do we know they're being hypocritical and self-contradictory? Last, Obama is suggesting something akin to the "big lie" theory is at work with his critics, where repetition of a bad idea will give it credibility.

"Now, if you're asking me about the politics of Washington and the rhetoric that takes place there, that doesn’t always go great. The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are, I think, part of just a general pattern that we've seen that is -- would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad. We've had a sitting senator call John Kerry Pontius Pilate. We've had a sitting senator who also happens to be running for President suggest that I'm the leading state sponsor of terrorism. These are leaders in the Republican Party. And part of what historically has made America great is, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, there’s been a recognition that these issues are too serious, that issues of war and peace are of such grave concern and consequence that we don't play fast and loose that way. We have robust debates, we look at the facts, there are going to be disagreements. But we just don't fling out ad hominem attacks like that, because it doesn’t help inform the American people. I mean, this is a deal that has been endorsed by people like Brent Scowcroft and Sam Nunn -- right? -- historic Democratic and Republican leaders on arms control and on keeping America safe. And so when you get rhetoric like this, maybe it gets attention and maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines, but it's not the kind of leadership that is needed for America right now. And I don't think that's what anybody -- Democratic, Republican, or independent -- is looking for out of their political leaders. In fact, it's been interesting when you look at what’s happened with Mr. Trump, when he’s made some of the remarks that, for example, challenged the heroism of Mr. McCain, somebody who endured torture and conducted himself with exemplary patriotism, the Republican Party is shocked. And yet, that arises out of a culture where those kinds of outrageous attacks have become far too commonplace and get circulated nonstop through the Internet and talk radio and news outlets. And I recognize when outrageous statements like that are made about me, that a lot of the same people who were outraged when they were made about Mr. McCain were pretty quiet. The point is we're creating a culture that is not conducive to good policy or good politics. The American people deserve better. Certainly, presidential debates deserve better. In 18 months, I'm turning over the keys -- I want to make sure I'm turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems the country faces and the world faces. And that requires on both sides, Democrat and Republican, a sense of seriousness and decorum and honesty. And I think that's what the voters expect, as well."
-- President Barack Obama, July 27, 2015. Obama was referring to remarks made about the Iranian nuclear deal by Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). They described it respectively, as marching Israelis "to the door of the oven", a "jihadist stimulus bill", and as negotiated by someone who "acted like Pontius Pilate" (referring to Secretary of State John Kerry).

Comment: In the face of remarks that are exaggerations and/or demonizing, Obama is calling for setting a higher standard of political debate. However, by failing to note how he and fellow Democrats contribute to name-calling and incivility, Obama is engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Obama also conflates ad hominem reasoning and name-calling. Plus, aren't domestic issues too important to play "fast and loose" with rhetoric?

MARCO RUBIO: I think it's important for the president of the United States to be someone that can conduct, and be engaged in a public debate on an issue without demonizing their opponents, that can hold a speech where you don't invite Paul Ryan, sit him in the front row of the speech and lambast him and attack him in front of everybody, knowing he can't respond. It's important for the office the presidency to be be someone that is capable of doing those things. I have said repeatedly, Barack Obama is a great husband and great father. But I do believe the way he has conducted his presidency has been divisive. I think he unnecessarily demonizes his opponents on policy issues, not just disagreement on policies. He wants to convince people that you are a bad person, that you don't care about the disabled or children or women, or someone who is being hurt. I think that's bad for the country. I truly believe that sort of activity, and is he not alone in it, but I do believe that sort of activity is not what we need from a president.

BRET BAIER: So you stand by that statement that the president has no class?

MARCO RUBIO: I think, on the major issues of our time, he has not conducted himself of the dignity of worthy of that was office. Demonization of political opponents and divisions in America which have made it harder for us to solve our problems, and have poisoned the political environment as a result.
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), July 23, 2015, being interviewed by Bret Baier of Fox News. The discussion concerned Rubio's July 22, 2015, remarks stating that President Barack Obama had "no class".

Comment: There are many things going on here. Rubio is calling for civility in political debate, and is accusing Obama of resorting to demonizing. Rubio is also using "hate the policies, not the person" rhetoric. It's not clear whether Rubio answers the question of whether Obama "has no class" or if he evades it. It's certainly true that Obama has resorted to demonization, but, first, is that appropriately summed up by saying Obama has "no class" whatsoever (or is that itself an act of demonizing)? Second, many Republicans have resorted to demonizing, too: will Rubio describe all of them the same way, or is he resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature?

"And so the question we’ve got to keep asking ourselves is, where do we go from here? Because we still have choices. Will we drift toward an economy where only a few of us do very well and everybody else is still scrabbling, struggling to get by? That’s not the right way to do it. Or will we keep working towards an economy where everybody who works hard has a chance to succeed? And over the next year and a half, you’re going to hear a lot of pitches from a lot of people -- they’re going to deny that any progress has been made. You’ll hear a lot of folks trying to sell you on their vision of where our country should go. They’re going to be making a whole bunch of stuff up. And when I say a lot of stuff, I mean a lot of stuff. We’ve got some healthy competition in the Democratic Party, but I’ve lost count of how many Republicans are running for this job."
-- President Barack Obama, July 2, 2015.

Comment: First, it's a platitude to say we should have an economy that works for everyone. Everybody wants that, but there's a disagreement about which policies will achieve that goal. Second, Obama accuses Republicans of "making stuff up" without noting that Democrats (including Obama himself) are guilty of the same behavior. That is, Obama is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature.

When it comes to economics — and other subjects, but I’ll focus on what I know best — we live in an age of derp and cheap cynicism. And there are powerful forces behind both tendencies. But those forces can be fought, and the place to start fighting is within yourself. What am I talking about here? “Derp” is a term borrowed from the cartoon “South Park” that has achieved wide currency among people I talk to, because it’s useful shorthand for an all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong. … Thus, if you’re a conservative opposed to a stronger safety net, you should be extra skeptical about claims that health reform is about to crash and burn, especially coming from people who made the same prediction last year and the year before (Obamacare derp runs almost as deep as inflation derp). But if you’re a liberal who believes that we should reduce inequality, you should similarly be cautious about studies purporting to show that inequality is responsible for many of our economic ills, from slow growth to financial instability. Those studies might be correct — the fact is that there’s less derp on America’s left than there is on the right — but you nonetheless need to fight the temptation to let political convenience dictate your beliefs.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, June 8, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is essentially accusing people of not caring about truth, while also caricaturing Republicans and conservatives (the right) by saying that they ignore truth more than the opposition Democrats, liberals, and progressives (the left), without providing any rigorous statistics to back up this claim.

RUSH: The host says to David Shipler, the author of Freedom of Speech: Mightier than the Sword, "You write about people like Rush Limbaugh using racial imagery to criticize Obama with no repercussions. But you write in the book about an ice cream store employee who put racial epithets of Obama online and was fired. One's punished, one is rewarded," meaning me. Here's the reply.

SHIPLER: Let's face it, it's money. Rush Limbaugh does make millions of dollars, and he brings in -- has a huge audience. I think he's America's master propagandist. If you use the definition of propaganda that I heard when I was a Moscow correspondent from a Soviet professor, who described it as a truth, a truth, a truth, and then a lie. You weave in facts that are indisputable, or then half facts, semi-truths, and then by the time you got the listener engaged, you put in a lie or a semi-lie. I love to listen to Rush Limbaugh, actually. I do listen to him when I'm driving at the right time. There's practically no place in the country where you can't pick him up in the early afternoon because I really want to know how he does this. It's very clever.

RUSH: Can you imagine this, a full-fledged leftist admitting or claiming that he doesn't know how to lie and massage things to move his agenda forward? This is projection. This is exactly what these guys do. They are the ones that propagandize, and worse than that, they indoctrinate, which is what public and private education is becoming, and certainly university education. It's not mind opening, it's mind closing in its indoctrination.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, May 27, 2015, regarding remarks made about him by pundit David Shipler posted May 26, 2015.

Comment: Both Limbaugh and Shipler are resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature in accusing one another of dishonesty (perhaps "big lie" theory). Shipler is also accusing Limbaugh of racism.

"My problem is, why is it only us? Why is it only we be concerned about tone. The meanest, most extreme people in American politics are members of the Democrat Party and the American left. Tone? These are the people rooting for people to die on Twitter! These are the people rooting for people to get cancer on Twitter. These are the people who are intolerant, mean-spirited. They're the bullies, and they don't care one bit about their tone, and they don't get punished for it. Yet we come along and we're the ones that have to make sure that we're not seen as mean-spirited and bullyish and only one way of looking at anything. (sigh) This whole notion of "tone," I totally understand the art of the persuasion here and I understand where tone can come into it. But the problem I have is that all of these rules that end up shackling people, all these rules that end up causing people to be not who they are on our side, are never applied to people on the left. Look what these people say about -- take your pick. What they say about anything. George W. Bush. Sarah Palin. Take your pick of any Republican anywhere, and what they say about them, and they're never punished for it. Nobody ever goes to them and says, "Your tone needs to be moderated a little bit here, Mr. Hoyer. Your tone needs to moderated a little, Ms. Pelosi." Dingy Harry? For crying out! Tone?"
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, May 21, 2015, remarking on comments made earlier that day by Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) on a need to improve the tone of political debate.

Comment: Limbaugh is demonizing Democrats and liberals with the "only my opponent" caricature. What evidence does he have – rigorous evidence that doesn't involve selective cherry-picking – that Democrats and liberals are more uncivil than Republicans and conservatives? He is asserting that there is hypocrisy in the application of standards of civil debate, that Democrats and liberals impose them on Republicans and conservatives but not on themselves. This might not amount to saying that civility is bogus, but he does seem to say it's not worth policing.

"After only four months in the United States Senate, as a 30-year-old kid, I was walking through the Senate floor to go to a meeting with Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. And I witnessed another newly elected senator, the extremely conservative Jesse Helms, excoriating Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole for promoting the precursor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. … When I walked into Mansfield’s office, I must have looked as angry as I was. … And he looked at me, he said, what’s bothering you, Joe? I said, that guy, Helms, he has no social redeeming value. He doesn't care … He doesn't care about people in need. He has a disregard for the disabled. Majority Leader Mansfield then proceeded to tell me that three years earlier, Jesse and Dot Helms, sitting in their living room in early December before Christmas, reading an ad in the Raleigh Observer, the picture of a young man, 14-years-old with braces on his legs up to both hips, saying, all I want is someone to love me and adopt me. He looked at me and he said, and they adopted him, Joe. I felt like a fool. He then went on to say, Joe, it’s always appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but never appropriate to question his motives because you simply don't know his motives. … From that moment on, I tried to look past the caricatures of my colleagues and try to see the whole person. Never once have I questioned another man’s or woman’s motive. And something started to change. If you notice, every time there’s a crisis in the Congress the last eight years, I get sent to the Hill to deal with it. It’s because every one of those men and women up there -- whether they like me or not -- know that I don't judge them for what I think they're thinking. Because when you question a man’s motive, when you say they're acting out of greed, they're in the pocket of an interest group, et cetera, it’s awful hard to reach consensus. It’s awful hard having to reach across the table and shake hands. No matter how bitterly you disagree, though, it is always possible if you question judgment and not motive. … So one piece of advice is try to look beyond the caricature of the person with whom you have to work. Resist the temptation to ascribe motive, because you really don’t know -— and it gets in the way of being able to reach a consensus on things that matter to you and to many other people."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, May 17, 2015.

Comment: This is calling for a higher standard and "don't hate the person" rhetoric. Biden is also indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, and forgetting the times he has demonized Republicans.

The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything from the environment to fiscal policy to health care, and history tells us that what politicians say during a campaign is a good guide to how they will govern. Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. And character isn’t totally irrelevant. The next president will surely encounter issues that aren’t currently on anyone’s agenda, so it matters how he or she is likely to react. But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. In fact, it’s actively discouraged. … No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course. And that’s a virtue in very short supply. … Just to be clear, I’m not calling for an end to ideology in politics, because that’s impossible. Everyone has an ideology, a view about how the world does and should work. Indeed, the most reckless and dangerous ideologues are often those who imagine themselves ideology-free — for example, self-proclaimed centrists — and are, therefore, unaware of their own biases. What you should seek, in yourself and others, is not an absence of ideology but an open mind, willing to consider the possibility that parts of the ideology may be wrong. … So what’s the state of intellectual integrity at this point in the election cycle? Pretty bad, at least on the Republican side of the field. … as far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened. The point is that we’re not just talking about being wrong on specific policy questions. We’re talking about never admitting error, and never revising one’s views. Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw even if the consequences of that refusal to admit error fall only on a few people. But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, May 1, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is discussing the topic of character in politics. He makes a good point about ideology (i.e., everybody has one, you can't get rid of it), but he leaves the impression that only Republicans refuse to take responsibility for their failed predictions. That is, he's resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature and demonizing Republicans by suggesting that they don't care about truth. Krugman also exaggerates when he says Republicans "never" admit error. Perhaps this is a tu quoque argument on my part, but is it a lack of intellectual integrity for Krugman to only be alarmed at the absence of accountability of Republicans, and not Democrats as well? After all, President Barack Obama and other Democrats made predictions about the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") that didn't come true (e.g., premiums will drop by up to $2,500 dollars, if you like your plan or doctor, you can keep them, etc.), but they haven't owned up to their errors, have they?

Imagine yourself as a regular commentator on public affairs … You weigh in on a major policy initiative that’s about to happen, making strong predictions of disaster. … But nothing you predicted actually comes to pass. What do you do? You might admit that you were wrong, and try to figure out why. But almost nobody does that; we live in an age of unacknowledged error. Alternatively, you might insist that sinister forces are covering up the grim reality. … Finally, there’s a third option: You can pretend that you didn’t make the predictions you did. … Several months into 2014 many leading Republicans — including John Boehner, the speaker of the House — were predicting that more people would lose coverage than gain it. And everyone on the right was predicting that the law would cost far more than projected, adding hundreds of billions if not trillions to budget deficits. What actually happened? There was no rate shock … You see, in a polarized political environment, policy debates always involve more than just the specific issue on the table. They are also clashes of world views. … And there’s also a moral issue involved. Refusing to accept responsibility for past errors is a serious character flaw in one’s private life. It rises to the level of real wrongdoing when policies that affect millions of lives are at stake.
-- Pundit Paul Krugman, April 27, 2015.

Comment: Krugman is discussing character in politics, but also indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature by leaving the impression that only (or mostly) Republicans fail to correct their mistakes. He is demonizing Republicans in suggesting that they aren't concerned about being honest.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has found herself on the defensive during her first presidential campaign visit to New Hampshire this year, pushing back against swirling questions about her family foundation.

Clinton is taking part in a discussion of jobs creation Tuesday with students and teachers at New Hampshire Technical Institute, a community college.

But she spent much of Monday dismissing accusations that foreign governments that made donations to the Clinton Foundation received preferential treatment from the State Department while she served in the Obama administration.

“We will be subjected to all kinds of distractions and attacks,” she told reporters during a stop in the liberal bastion of Keene. “I’m ready for that. I know that that comes, unfortunately, with the territory.”

In her early campaign stops, Clinton has cast herself as above the political back-and-forth, vowing to change the harsh partisan tone in Washington. “I am tired of the mean-spiritedness in politics,” she told voters who gathered in a supporter’s living room in Claremont. “Enough with the attacks and the anger, let’s find answers together and figure out what we’re going to do.”
-- Associated Press story, April 21, 2015 – titled "Clinton: ‘I Am Tired Of The Mean-Spiritedness In Politics’" – concerning remarks made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 20, 2015.

Comment: This is "distractions" rhetoric. Also, Clinton is calling for a higher standard of political debate, but without admitting to any of her own acts of incivility, leaving the impression that it's others who are mostly responsible for uncivil discourse.

"There’s supposed to – there used to be a line of civility in American politics. And it’s particularly problematic on the left. They never argue with you about your ideas. Their almost instant reaction is to attack you personally and call you a name. And I’m not saying people on the right don’t do it, too, because it happens. But it’s so much more common on the left. I mean, if you read or hear most of the criticisms of me, it’s always personal."
-- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), April 16, 2015. Rubio was responding to remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who on April 15, 2015, said he thought the Republican presidential contenders were "losers".

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature. Reid's remarks were unacceptable, but what evidence does Rubio have that the left engages in more incivility than the right? For that matter, what evidence is there that politics are less civil now than they used to be?

"On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian, I am supposed to love. And I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that's a topic for another day. Where there is injustice -- I was about to veer off. I'm pulling it back. Where there is injustice we defend the oppressed. Where there is disagreement, we treat each other with compassion and respect. Where there are differences, we find strength in our common humanity, knowing that we are all children of God."
-- President Barack Obama, April 7, 2015.

Comment: Obama doesn't say who or which Christians are guilty of making "less than loving" remarks. I think we can safely assume that he is referring to Republicans and conservatives who have resorted to demonizing and other incivilities. However, Obama doesn't cite himself as being guilty of the same misbehavior (and he is certainly guilty of it), so he is resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature.

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.

EZRA KLEIN: To turn a bit towards politics, at this point, according to the polls, you are the most polarizing president really since we began polling. … In your State of the Union, you struck back at critics who say that the idea of healing some of these divisions is naïve or impossible. So when you welcome your successor into office, what would you tell them is worth trying that you think can still work, that would reduce the polarization?
BARACK OBAMA: Well, there are a couple of things that in my mind, at least, contribute to our politics being more polarized than people actually are. And I think most people just sense this in their daily lives. Everybody's got a family member or a really good friend from high school who is on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum. And yet, we still love them, right? … But a lot of it has to do with the fact that a) the balkanization of the media means that we just don't have a common place where we get common facts and a common worldview the way we did 20, 30 years ago. And that just keeps on accelerating, you know. … Gerrymandering contributes to it. There's no incentive for most members of Congress, on the House side at least, in congressional districts, to even bother trying to appeal. And a lot of it has to do with just unlimited money. … So my advice to a future president is increasingly try to bypass the traditional venues that create divisions and try to find new venues within this new media that are quirkier, less predictable.
-- President Barack Obama, during domestic policy Vox interview, released February 9, 2015, with Ezra Klein.

Comment: At no point during the discussion of polarization does Obama offer the straightforward suggestion that there needs to be less name-calling and incivility in politics, let alone that he himself needs to do more to improve his record on civil debate. This omission seems to be along the lines of either the "only my opponent" caricature, or the "not my job to police civility" evasion.

"So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America’s hopes. I’ve served in Congress with many of you. I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. … Imagine if we did something different. Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives. … If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments, but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country."
-- President Barack Obama, January 20, 2015, during the 2015 State of the Union address.

Comment: Again, this is another call to set a higher standard of political discussion, and to uphold civility and civil debate. But such a call is a platitude unless you give specifics about how it is we're supposed to be civil to one another. What concrete examples of demonizing does Obama think should be stopped? Will Obama admit to any instances of demonizing his opponents? Or does he think that it's only his opponents who resort to demonizing?


Examples from 2012.

"Just when you thought the Left couldn't stoop any lower..."
-- TV and radio pundit Sean Hannity, February 17, 2011, on his Fox News show, talking about the remarks by Chauncey DeVega against Herman Cain.

Comment: If Hannity wants to criticize DeVega's name-calling, that's fine. But to say that the Left has been so uncivil that it's not even conceivable, not even possible to imagine them being any worse or stooping any lower? That's the "only my opponent" caricature.

"[There are people] who sincerely believe that history has devised a leftward ratchet, moving in fits and starts but always in the direction of a more powerful state. ... The federal spending commitments now in place will bring about the leviathan state they have always sought. ... Our fiscal ruin and resulting loss of world leadership will, in their eyes, be not a tragic event but a desirable one, delivering the multilateral world of which they've dreamed so long. ... I urge a similar thoughtfulness about the rhetoric we deploy in the great debate ahead. I suspect everyone here regrets and laments the sad, crude coarsening of our popular culture. It has a counterpart in the venomous, petty, often ad hominem political discourse of the day. ... And besides, our opponents are better at nastiness than we will ever be. It comes naturally. Power to them is everything, so there's nothing they won't say to get it."
-- Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN), February 11, 2011, during speech to Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Comment: Notice, Daniels calls for a higher standard of discourse and laments the coarsening of our politics. He says we should avoid "venomous, petty" rhetoric and strive for civil debate. But then he demonizes his political opponents by saying that they are happy that we face fiscal ruin and a loss of international status, and that they only care about power and will say anything to get it. And he indulges in the "only my opponent" caricature by saying that liberals -- and not conservatives -- are "better at nastiness". This, unfortunately, is fairly typical. Politicians routinely say they're opposed to name-calling and invective, and then go on to verbally abuse their opponents with name-calling and invective.

"...given the economic elitism of the modern Republican Party, populism is unavoidably partisan ... history shows that Republicans are very good at demonizing their opponents as individuals."
-- New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in "The Edwards Effect", February 1, 2008.

Comment: This is a caricature on two counts. First, Krugman's allegation of "economic elitism" caricatures Republican economic policies as being concerned only with the rich. Second, Krugman is falsely implying that it is only Republicans that are adept at demonizing opponents. The wealth of examples on this web site demonstrates otherwise.

Politicians "don't always say what they mean, or mean what they say...That is what this debate in this party is all about."
-- Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), January 23, 2008.

Comment: This is a caricature. Yes, it's true that politicians often say one thing and then do another. But Obama is implying that he's not that sort of politician whereas his opponents -- notably, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) -- are. But that's false. January 2007 has seen both the Clinton and Obama campaigns stoop to many of the same unfair tactics, despite Obama's call for a new and higher standard of political conduct.

"I don't mind taking hits on my record on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud at least we can hope it's accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook."
-- Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Hillary Clinton (NY), November 15, 2007.

Comment: This is an interesting example, because Clinton is caricaturing her own party, the Democrats, by implying that Democrats typically don't resort to unfair political tactics or uncivil debate (in contrast to Republicans). This is false: both parties routinely engage in uncivil debate.

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)