Thursday, April 10, 2008


Today's Debate
December 11, 2007

False Accusations of Being Anti-Immigrant

Many news stories recently have falsely accused several presidential candidates of being anti-immigrant, when these candidates are, in fact, opposed to illegal immigration as well as proposals to reduce penalties on illegal immigrants.

Consider the examples below:

"Republicans Push Tougher Border Laws Before Hispanic Audience"
by Lorraine Woellert
Published by Bloomberg on December 10, 2007.
Text: Candidates avoided a repeat of the anti-immigration one-upmanship that marked a November event. At that debate, Giuliani and Romney each accused the other of giving "sanctuary" to illegal immigrants while in office.

"GOP Hopefuls Temper Anti-Immigrant Talk"
by Jim Kuhnhenn
Published by the Associated Press on December 9, 2007.
Text: GOP Hopefuls Temper Anti-Immigrant Talk

"Richardson 'Disgusted' at Republicans on Immigration"
by Lorraine Woellert
Published by Bloomberg on November 30, 2007.
Text: Anti-immigration sentiment was evident during the Nov. 28 Republican debate. Ex-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney accused former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani of making the city into a "sanctuary" for illegal immigrants, while Giuliani said Romney operated a "sanctuary mansion" because illegal immigrants worked at his home.
"Tancredo Ad Invokes Terror, Immigrants"
Published by the Associated Press on November 14, 2007.
Text: Tom Tancredo, the Republican presidential candidate running on an anti-immigration message, is airing this scene in a television ad in Iowa that casts border security as a defense against terrorism.

Governor of New Mexico and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson has also made this accusation. Appearing on "Political Capital with Al Hunt" on December 1, 2007, Richardson said the Republican presidential candidates were "trying to outdo each other on demonizing immigrants".

This assertion, that Republican presidential candidates are anti-immigrant, is false and unfair. Though many of the Republican candidates have been vocal in their opposition to illegal immigration, none of them is opposed to legal immigration. Even Tancredo, who wants to significantly decrease levels of legal immigration, is in favor of having 250,000 immigrants come to the United States each year (as stated on his web site,

In fact, many of the Republican candidates have opposed illegal immigration on the grounds that it is unfair to legal immigrants, as is revealed by some of the very same news stories that describe them as being anti-immigrant:

"Republicans Push Tougher Border Laws Before Hispanic Audience"
by Lorraine Woellert
Published by Bloomberg on December 10, 2007.
Text: Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani packaged their law-and-order border enforcement positions with the observation that legal immigrants are among those hurt most by the growing number of people entering the country illegally.
"There should be no special pathway for those that have come here illegally to jump ahead of the line or to become permanent residents or citizens," Romney said in a debate aired last night on the Spanish-language network Univision.
"GOP Hopefuls Temper Anti-Immigrant Talk"
by Jim Kuhnhenn
Published by the Associated Press on December 9, 2007.
Text: Still, Giuliani, Huckabee and Romney made it clear they would not favor a special path toward citizenship for the estimated 12 million immigrants in the Unites [sic] States illegally.
"There can't be an amnesty policy, because that's an insult to all the people who waited, sometimes, ridiculously, for years, just to be able to make the transition here," Huckabee said.
Text: Said Romney: "Those who have come illegally, in my view, should be given the opportunity to get in line with everybody else, but there should be no special pathway for those that have come here illegally to jump ahead of the line or to be come [sic] permanent residents or citizens."

So, Republican candidates who are opposed to illegal immigration are having their positions distorted. Ironically, contrary to the claim that they are demonizing immigrants, it is THEY who are being demonized.

Today's Debate
December 10, 2007

Hypocrisy at the Bali Climate Convention?

Currently, representatives for several nations and interest groups are meeting in Bali, Indonesia, for a meeting on climate change and global warming. The meeting is being hosted by the United Nations, and its purpose is to reach an agreement among the nations of the world on reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in order to stem global warming.

A charge of hypocrisy has been leveled by some against the meeting and those who are attending it, because of the massive amounts of CO2 that will be emitted by those traveling to, from, and around the meeting, as well as for their accomodations during the two-week conference. The accusation amounts to: "They claim that we should be reducing CO2 emissions, yet here they are, hosting a meeting that releases huge amounts of CO2. They're hypocrites."

But this accusation of hypocrisy is not so easy to support. Although the participants in the UN conference are emitting a great deal of CO2, they could argue that the conference is necessary in order to reach an agreement that will lead to far greater reductions in CO2 emissions. In other words, this could be similar to committing a minor injustice in order to avoid a much greater injustice.

Of course, anyone offering this rebuttal would need to provide some evidence that the Bali conference really is likely to help bring about such reductions. But, likewise, the accusation of hypocrisy also needs more support. That is, it needs to be shown that the conference isn't playing a role in leading to greater reductions in CO2 emissions.

Today's Debate
December 7, 2007

Huckabee's Evasion on the Religious Affiliation of Mormons

On Sunday, December 2, Republican presidential candidate and former governor (AR) Mike Huckabee refused to give his opinion on whether Republican presidential candidate and former governor (MA) Mitt Romney was a Christian. Huckabee is a Southern Baptist, and Romney is a Mormon. Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, though many Christians deny that Mormons are Christian.

Huckabee was asked in an interview on ABC News' "This Week" whether Romney was a Christian. Huckabee's response:

"You know, Mitt Romney has to answer that. Nobody can answer for another person, for you, for me."

Huckabee added:

"We all have to personally answer for what our faith is and whether we call ourselves a Christian or we call ourselves Jewish or Muslim. And it's not for me to determine what somebody else's faith is."

This, however, is very much like the "Not My Decision" evasion.

While Huckabee is certainly right that one's religious affiliation is, generally, a matter of personal choice, the question he was being asked wasn't, "Should someone else be allowed to choose Romney's religion for him?" The question posed to Huckabee, essentially, was: if somebody chooses to be a Mormon, as Romney has, are they therefore also choosing to be Christian?

Understandably, Huckabee doesn't want to answer this question with a "yes" or a "no". If he says "yes", he offends the many Christians who believe that Mormons aren't Christian. If he says "no", he offends all the Mormons who do consider themselves to be Christian.

So he opted for an evasion, which was first of all illegitimate because the question wasn't suggesting that he had the authority to determine or proclaim some people to be Christians or not. Rather, it was asking whether he thought Mormons did enough of the right sort of things to be considered to be Christians. That is, he was being asked if he could discern - not determine - whether Mormons are Christians.

The second reason Huckabee's evasion was illegitimate is because - contrary to his claim that "nobody can answer for another person" - there are cases where we CAN discern another person's religion. If someone asks if the Pope is Buddhist, or Hindu, or Muslim or Jewish, we can clearly answer "no". We can then go on to say that the Pope is Catholic, and that Catholics are Christians. We can also say that Muhammad was a Muslim and that Gandhi was a Hindu.

There are, of course, cases where religious identity is more controversial. The standards for what is required in order to belong to a particular religious group are not always clear or universally agreed-upon. As a result, there are some religious groups, such as Mormons, about which there is much debate regarding their membership in a larger group. For instance, Messianic Jews claim themselves to be both Jews and Christians; many Jews, however, insist that Messianic Jews are not Jewish, and many Christians insist that Messianic Jews are not Christians.

But that doesn't mean that anything goes. Someone who works on Saturdays and eats pork can't rightly claim to be an observant Jew. Someone who eats pork and denounces Muhammad and the Qur'an can't rightly claim to be Muslim. And someone who denies the existence of God and denies that Jesus is anybody's savior can't rightly claim to be Christian. Despite the controversial cases, we can, in principle, discern another person's religion.

Huckabee was asked what his position was on the controversial case of religious membership regarding Mormons and Christians. That's what presidents are often expected to do, to make a call on a controversial matter. If he doesn't know whether Mormons are Christians, he should just say "I don't know". If he doesn't think the issue is relevant to his presidential campaign, he should just say "That issue is not relevant to my presidential campaign". He can't duck the question by saying that he doesn't have the authority to decide who is or who isn't Christian - an authority no one attributed to him anyway - or by appealing to the false claim that we can NEVER discern another person's religious affiliation.

(Another reason that I say religious affiliation is "generally" a matter of personal choice, because you could argue that there are exceptions. For instance, a widely accepted standard for being Jewish maintains that you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish, regardless of whether or not you choose to observe Jewish law.)

Today's Debate
December 7, 2007

Huckabee's Statements about the Wayne DuMond Case

Republican presidential candidate and former governor (AR) Mike Huckabee argued on Wednesday, December 5, that people should not try to "politicize" the deaths of people at the hands of convicted rapist Wayne DuMond.

Some background: In the 1980s, DuMond had been convicted of rape in. In the 1990s, he was paroled, and Huckabee, as governor at the time, had expressed support for his parole. After his release, DuMond was charged in the September 2000 rape and murder of Carol Sue Shields, for which he was convicted in 2003. Prior to his death in 2005, DuMond was also being investigated for the June 2001 rape and murder of Sara Andrasek.

Shields' mother, Lois Davidson, said on Wednesday, December 5, that she would work to defeat Huckabee's presidential campaign, and many other people have criticized Huckabee for supporting the parole of a convicted rapist who want on to commit murder.

Huckabee responded to the criticism later that day, saying that, while he sympathized with the families of Shields and Andrasek, "for people to now politicize these deaths and to try to make a political case out of it rather than to simply understand that a system failed and that we ought to extend our grief and heartfelt sorrow to these families, I just regret politics is reduced to that."

Huckabee also denied that he had pressured the parole board to release DuMond, pointing out that Democratic governors had appointed the board members who made this accusation.

Now for the analysis in terms of good reasoning and civil discourse:

First, there's nothing "political" in the negative sense about evaluating the actions Huckabee made as governor in order to evaluate his acceptability as a presidential candidate. They're part of his public record, which makes them fair game. If people think he made a bad decision as governor - or a good one, for that matter - how is it unfair to bring it up as a way of judging whether or not he would make a good president? How else are we supposed to evaluate a candidate?

Second, Huckabee's reference to the political affiliation of the parole board members is nothing more than ad hominem reasoning. What he is (implicitly) arguing is that, because they are Democrats, their criticism of him is suspect and should be dismissed. That line of reasoning is straightforwardly ad hominem. If he believes what they are saying is false, then he should say so. But it's flawed reasoning to say "their accusation against me is false because they're from a different political party than me."

Today's Debate
November 18, 2007

Irrelevant Partisanship

Earlier this month, Democratic members of Congress's Joint Economic Committee (JEC) produced a report claiming that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost roughly twice as much as previously estimated. The Bush administration attempted to dismiss the claim with ad hominem reasoning: the Associated Press quoted White House press secretary Dana Perino as saying the committee that created the report was made up of "Democrats on Capitol Hill" and "is known for being partisan and political."

Perino might be correct that the committee is made up of Democrats who have it out for the Bush administration, but that doesn't prove that the report is false. To make such a leap - from, "they're partisan and political" to "their report is false" - is simply ad hominem reasoning. If such reasoning were valid, Democrats could rebut the Bush administration by saying, "Hey, the Bush administration is known for being partisan and political. Therefore, their criticism of our report is false."

You don't evaluate an assertion according to the partisanship of the person making the assertion. The accuracy of the report is determined by how it measures up to the facts, not by its relation to this or that person's political agenda. If the Bush administration believes that the report makes false assertions, it should point those assertions out and provide evidence for their falsity. If the report makes false assertions, then the facts will be more than enough to prove it wrong. They should not try to convince people that the report is false simply by saying, "Well, the people who wrote it are partisan."

Today's Debate
November 18, 2007

Not Standing Against Name-Calling

Let me bring attention to two instances where there was a failure to stand up against name-calling in political discourse.

The first involved Republican presidential candidate and US Senator John McCain (AZ). McCain attended an event for his presidential campaign on November 12, during which a woman in attendance asked "How do we beat the bitch?" The question was in reference to Democratic presidential candidate and US Senator Hillary Clinton (NY). McCain and others in attendance laughed immediately following the question. Though he responded by saying "I respect Senator Clinton," McCain did not rebuke the woman for making the disparaging reference to Clinton.

Two days later, McCain defended this omission, saying that he "can't dictate what other people say" at campaign events. "Nor is it an appropriate role for me to play in a gathering at a restaurant," he said, "and if anybody thinks that I should, then I think they have the wrong idea of what [political campaign] gatherings are all about."

McCain's response to the woman's act of name-calling was inadequate. It is not enough for him to say that he respects Clinton, especially after laughing in response to someone using a slur to refer to her. He should have gone on to tell the woman that her language was not appropriate. He should have made his respect for Clinton more apparent by rebuking someone who treated her disrespectfully. Suppose that, at a campaign event for Clinton, attendees used slurs to refer to McCain? Would it be enough for Clinton to just stand there, laugh, and say, "I respect McCain"?

Moreover, for McCain to say it's not his job to rebuke people at his campaign events is just false. He may not be able to control what they say, but he can certainly take a stand against it. That's the responsibility of ANY individual involved in political debate. Isn't it also the job of presidential candidates who want to lead the country?

The second involved an article by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that catalogued several comments made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The article, posted November 12, 2007, was entitled "Chavez's colourful quotations" and provided "a selection of the most memorable of Mr Chavez's colourful quotations." These included quotes referring to US President George W. Bush as "the Devil," an "ignoramus," a "donkey," and "an alcoholic, a drunk, a liar." They also included references to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as "little girl" and Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, as "quite an idiot, a true idiot."

While the BBC article does state that "Hugo Chavez's verbal abuse of world leaders has become legendary," it still insists on making light of Chavez's comments by calling them "colorful" (or "colourful", to use the British spelling). Chavez's comments are nothing more than name-calling, so it's unfortunate that the BBC would insist on using the term "colorful".

(Strangely, this is the same term the BBC used to describe an act of assault and domestic abuse. In a November 10, 2007, article on Norman Mailer - "In pictures: Norman Mailer's life" - one photo carried this caption: "His private life was colourful. In 1960 he was accused of stabbing his second wife Adele with a knife. She failed to press charges.")

Today's Debate
October 22, 2007

Name-Calling in the Debate on Illegal Immigration

The New York Times today published an editorial ("Ain't That America," October 22, 2007) that has once again engaged in name-calling and misrepresented the nature of the debate regarding illegal immigration. The editorial takes aim at those who oppose immigration reforms supported by the New York Times' editorial board, reforms which include allowing most illegal immigrants to remain in the country.

While the editorial is correct to note that deporting all illegal immigrants would be a massive task - perhaps to the point of being unworkable - it engages in verbal abuse and distortion in the way it describes those who oppose the New York Times' favored reform plan. The editorial says the opponents of reform are "demagogues" who employ "only histrionics and outrage" in order to make their case. The opponents of reform, it says, are appealing to a "combustible strain of nativism" in the U.S., and veering the country into a state of "hatred and fear" by "treating a hidden group of vulnerable people [i.e., illegal immigrants] as an enemy to be hated and vanquished."

This, however, is a caricature of the real nature of the debate. It is not the case that those support the New York Times' favored immigration reforms are decent, rational people, while those who oppose them are nativist demagogues (or hate-filled "Know-Nothings," to cite a previous instance of name-calling engaged in by New York Times: "The Immigration Deal," May 20, 2007). Rather, as I've pointed out here, there are real concerns on all sides of this debate.

In particular, there are concerns about what would happen to wages and employment for U.S. citizens if the bulk of the illegal immigrants currently here were allowed to stay. In addition, allowing them to remain here, it is worried, might also lead to a loss of respect for immigration law in general. Moreover, allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country means that U.S. jobs will go to them before they can be filled people trying to emigrate to the U.S. legally, and it just seems unfair to let jobs be taken by those who broke the law ahead of those who obeyed it.

Granted, there are other considerations in this debate, and some of them may argue in favor of immigration reforms desired by the New York Times: compassion for illegal immigrants, the impracticality of mass deportation, etc. But this editorial makes it sound as if opponents of those reforms have nothing to reason from besides hatred and bigotry.

It's all to typical of how most political debate is conducted in the U.S. today. Even as the New York Times' editorial board rightly points out some of the name-calling engaged in by its opponents - CNN anchor Lou Dobbs calling New York Governor Eliot Spitzer a "spoiled, rich-kid brat" - it fails to see the name-calling it is contributing in the very same paragraph.

Today's Debate
October 20, 2007

Is Barack Obama a Black Candidate or a White One?

Senator Barack Obama (Illinois), one of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, is consistently referred to in the media as a black or African-American candidate. However, although his father is black, his mother is white. So, why is he only ever called a black candidate, and never a white one?

It seems like the media are using two different standards in order to determine whether or not a person - in this case, Senator Obama - is black or white. Just having ONE black parent is enough to make you black, apparently; however, in order to be white, BOTH of your parents have to be white.

But why should there be two different standards? Why not just say that, for any race or ethnicity, as long as you have one parent who belongs to it, then you belong to it, too? In that case, Senator Obama would be both black AND white, and the media could refer to him as "black and white candidate Barack Obama."

Or, we could accept the more stringent standard, and say that, for any race or ethnicity, BOTH of your parents have to belong to it in order for you to belong to it. In that case, Senator Obama would be neither black nor white. The media would then, I imagine, refer to him as "mixed race candidate Barack Obama."

But instead of taking either of these routes, the media seems to be endorsing these two different standards for racial membership, without any good reason. Now, these differing standards have been used in the past, but largely by white supremacists who wanted to keep the white race 'pure'. Given that they were employing different standards in order to achieve bigoted goals, is there any good reason why we should continue to use them? None that I can think of.

Moreover, I wonder if there's any good reason to be consistently identifying candidates by their race or ethnicity, anyway. After all, we don't use religion or gender all the time to refer to candidates - when was the last time you heard someone referred to as "Christian candidate," "Jewish candidate," "male candidate," or "female candidate"? - and I don't know that we need to. It seems far more sensible to refer to their political or ideological affiliation - for instance, "Democratic candidate," "conservative candidate," etc. - given that it's their political ideas that they are running on.

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