Thursday, April 10, 2008

February 2008

Today's Debate
February 29, 2008

McCain Campaign on Public Financing

Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, February 24 said he would move to prevent presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R, AZ) from withdrawing from the system providing public funding for presidential campaigns. Dean said McCain had used the prospect of receiving public funds to obtain a loan for his presidential campaign, and therefore could not withdraw from the system and had to abide by its rules.

Brian Rogers, a spokesman for the presidential campaign of McCain, later that day responded by saying this:

"Howard Dean's hypocrisy is breathtaking, given that in 2003 he withdrew from the matching funds system in exactly the same way John McCain is doing today."

Two things are wrong with Rogers' defense of McCain, here.

First, Rogers seems to be making an ad hominem appeal to hypocrisy. That is, he's arguing that, since Dean did the same thing that McCain is doing, Dean can't say that McCain's actions are wrong. But this is ad hominem. Maybe Dean did engage in the same behavior, and maybe he is being hypocritical by criticizing McCain. But that doesn't mean that that behavior is acceptable. Dean's hypocrisy may be breathtaking, but it doesn't prove that McCain is doing nothing wrong.

Second, did Dean, in his 2004 run, use the prospect of public funding to obtain a loan? If not, then that's a crucial difference between Dean's case and McCain's, and undermines the assertion that McCain and Dean both did the same thing. In other words, Rogers' ad hominem argument may be even further flawed by having a false premise.

Today's Debate
February 29, 2008

Highlights from the February 21 and 26 Democratic Debates

Highlights from the Democratic Party debates between Senator Hillary Clinton (NY) and Senator Barack Obama (IL).

February 21, 2008, Debate

Clinton on Obama's Readiness

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos: Senator Clinton, yesterday you said, and I'm quoting, "One of us is ready to be commander in chief." Are you saying that Senator Obama is not ready and not qualified to be commander in chief?
Clinton: Well, I believe that I am ready and I am prepared. And I will leave that to the voters to decide.

Ramos later repeated the question:

Ramos: Are you suggesting that Senator Obama is not ready; he doesn't have the experience to be commander in chief? That's a question of: What did you mean by that phrase?

After listing her foreign and military policy experience and noting recent events, Clinton said:

Clinton: So when you think about everything that is going to happen, what we can predict and what we cannot predict, I believe that I am prepared and ready on day one to be commander in chief, to be the president, to turn our economy around, and to begin making a lot of these very difficult decisions that we will inherit from George Bush. And that is what I am putting forth to the voters.

Comment: Clinton first uses the "not my decision" evasion to avoid answering the question. Then - when Ramos asks the question a second time - she lists her reasons for asserting that SHE is ready "on day one" to be commander in chief. She does not say whether she thinks Obama is ready to be commander in chief. So, she fails to answer the question, or to give a good reason for refusing to answer it. As a result, on the matter of readiness, Clinton fails to give people a reason to prefer her over Obama.
Clinton on Bush

Clinton: We need to end [President] George Bush's war on science, which has been waged against scientists and researchers.

Comment: This is a derisive caricature. Clinton may disagree with some of Bush's policy, but it is false and derisive to portray him as being opposed to science as a whole.

February 26, 2008, Debate

Obama on Clinton's Health Care Plan

Obama: I have consistently said that Senator Clinton's got a good health care plan. I think I have a good health care plan. I think mine is better, but I have said that 95 percent of our health care plan is similar.

Comment: Obama sets a good example with this statement, which goes against the usual practice of telling voters that they face an apocalyptic choice between perfection and disaster.
Obama on McCain's Iraq Statement

Obama: Al Qaeda is stronger than anytime since 2001 according to our own intelligence estimates, and we are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another 100 years, spending $12 billion a month that could be invested in the kinds of programs that both Senator Clinton and I are talking about.

Comment: This is a distortion of McCain's position on U.S. troops staying in Iraq. McCain did not advocate having U.S. troops fighting insurgents and engaging in combat activities for 100 years in Iraq. Rather, he said he would accept a 100-year deployment in Iraq if it were similar to the decades-long deployments in Japan and South Korea, in which U.S. troops are NOT involved in any combat activities within those countries.
Obama on Public Financing for his Campaign

NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert: Last year you said if you were the nominee you would opt for public financing in the general election of the campaign; try to get some of the money out. You checked "Yes" on a questionnaire. And now Senator McCain has said, calling your bluff, let's do it. You seem to be waffling, saying, well, if we can work on an arrangement here. Why won't you keep your word in writing that you made to abide by public financing of the fall election?
Obama: Tim, I am not yet the nominee. Now, what I've said is, is that when I am the nominee, if I am the nominee ... then I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides, because Tim, as you know, there are all sorts of ways of getting around these loopholes.

Russert later repeated the question:

Russert: So you may opt out of public financing. You may break your word.
Obama: What I have said is, at the point where I'm the nominee, at the point where it's appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody.

Comment: Obama is evading the question. His pledge was to accept public financing for his presidential campaign, not to come to a financing agreement with the Republican nominee.
Clinton on Releasing her Tax Returns

Russert: Senator Clinton, an issue of accountability and credibility. You have loaned your campaign $5 million. You and your husband file a joint return. You refuse to release that joint return, even though former President Clinton has had significant overseas business dealings ... Why won't you release your tax return, so the voters of Ohio, Texas, Vermont, Rhode Island know exactly where you and your husband got your money, who might be in part bankrolling your campaign?
Clinton: Well, the American people who support me are bankrolling my campaign. That's obvious. You can look and see the hundreds of thousands of contributions that I've gotten. And ever since I lent my campaign money, people have responded just so generously. I'm thrilled at so many people getting involved. And we're raising, on average, about a million dollars a day on the Internet. And if anybody's out there, wants to contribute, to be part of this campaign, just go to, because that's who's funding my campaign. And I will release my tax returns. I have consistently said that. And I will--
Russert: Why not now?
Clinton: Well, I will do it as others have done it: upon becoming the nominee, or even earlier, Tim, because I have been as open as I can be. You have - the public has 20 years of records for me, and I have very extensive filings with the Senate where--
Russert: So, before next Tuesday's primary?
Clinton: Well, I can't get it together by then, but I will certainly work to get it together. I'm a little busy right now; I hardly have time to sleep. But I will certainly work toward releasing, and we will get that done and in the public domain.

Comment: Clinton first avoids answering the question by talking about how many people have been donating to her campaign, and then asking for more donations, none of which is relevant to Russert's query. When she finally states that she will release the returns, she says she hasn't done so already and won't do it soon because she is "busy," dubiously implying that she is handling her tax returns personally, rather than giving them to an accountant or tax specialist to handle.
Clinton on Al Qaeda in Iraq

Russert: Senator Clinton, if the Iraqis said "I'm sorry, we're not happy with this arrangement; if you're not going to stay in total and defend us, get out completely"; they are a sovereign nation, you would listen?
Clinton: Absolutely. And I believe that there is no military solution that the Americans who have been valiant in doing everything they were asked to do can really achieve in the absence of full cooperation from the Iraqi government. And they need to take responsibility for themselves.
Russert: I want to ask both of you this question, then. If we - if this scenario plays out and the Americans get out in total and al Qaeda resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right, in your mind as American president, to re-invade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?
Clinton: You know, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals. And I believe that what's--
Russert: But this is reality.
Clinton: No - well, it isn't reality. You're making lots of different hypothetical assessments.

Comment: Clinton avoided answering the question on the grounds that it involved hypotheticals. Note, however, that she answered Russert's first hypothetical question - will you pull out of Iraq if the Iraqi government asks you to? - but not the second hypothetical question - will you re-invade if Al Qaeda resurges? She doesn't offer any clear reason for refusing to answer this second hypothetical question, which is puzzling since she clearly and unequivocally answered the first hypothetical question.

Today's Debate
February 17, 2008

Is Obama Setting a New Standard?

Senator Ted Kennedy's (D, MA) January 28, 2008, endorsement of Barack Obama for president made some very flattering assertions about the Illinois senator. In particular, Kennedy praised Obama as being a figure who would elevate the level of civil debate in the U.S., and would lead the nation away from negative politics:

"He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view ... With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion."

Unfortunately, Obama has already engaged in just these sorts of behaviors. As described on this site, he has:

* distorted Hillary Clinton's position on the 2001 bankruptcy bill
* run ads saying Clinton "will say anything to get elected"
* derided her as "a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart"
* called Bush's economic policies "Social Darwinism"
* distorted John McCain's position on keeping troops in Iraq
* caricatured Republican views on immigration reform

All of these acts have had the side effect of demonizing
his opponents.

Obama and his supporters have consistently portrayed him as being somebody who doesn't stoop to unfair tactics, and who is setting a new standard of civil debate in the political arena.

But there is already ample evidence that this is not true.

Like most politicians, Obama says a lot of inspiring things about how we should treat our opponents respectfully, but then fails follow through. Like most politicians, Obama allows himself to engage in the very same tactics that he says we shouldn't use. And, like most politicians, Obama doesn't stand up on a consistent basis against other people who use these tactics, even if they are in his own party.

(No word, by the way, on whether Kennedy considers HIMSELF to be part of the "old politics of misrepresentation and distortion".)

Today's Debate
February 17, 2008

More Distortions on Immigration Reform

For whatever reason, some people still insist on saying that people who oppose reducing penalties for illegal immigration are anti-immigrant xenophobes:

"To attract Republican primary voters, he [former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee] has become an anti-immigrant absolutist."
-- New York Times editorial, "Primary Choices: John McCain", January 25, 2008.
Comment: This is demonizing and distortion. Huckabee is not anti-immigrant, and the New York Times offers no evidence for their assertion. Has Huckabee said all immigrants are inferior and should be deported? If so, the New York Times should point out where. If he hasn't, they should retract their false accusation of bigotry.
"All of a sudden, the Republican Party is hijacked de facto by the Sensenbrenners and Tancredos ... There's an anti-Latino, a nativism, xenophobic spirit emerging out of the Republican Party."
-- Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, February 2008, on Bill Moyers Journal.
Comment: This is a distortion. Many Republicans - including Rep. Tom Tancredo (Co) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI) - have opposed immigration reform proposals that allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country. But there is nothing inherently xenophobic or bigoted about this. In fact, many base their opposition to these reform proposals on the grounds that they are unfair to immigrants who have obeyed the current immigration and border security laws. Rodriguez is demonizing people who disagree with him by making a false accusation of bigotry.
"While other Republican candidates revved up the mobs by debating how high a limb is optimal for hanging illegal immigrants, he [Senator John McCain] patiently explained that it's a complex problem with unsatisfying solutions, including creation of a path to citizenship for illegals."
-- New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in "The World's Worst Panderer", February 17, 2008.
Comment: This is a caricature of Republican opposition to immigration reform proposals. Kristof is falsely and derisively describing Republicans as only being interested in punishing illegal immigrants. Moreover, Kristof invokes the image of a hanging, perhaps even a lynching - an atrocity often attributed to racists. Is he suggesting that Republicans are racists who believe that illegal immigrants are discardable, even to the point of it being OK to kill them?

Today's Debate
February 17, 2008

Highlights from the Presidential Primaries

Still more examples of presidential candidates failing to live up to the standards of civil debate:

Bill Clinton on Polarization

"They have systematically polarized the country, the right-wing Republican faction has. They first took over the Republican Party and then they performed reverse plastic surgery on all the Democrats."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, January 25, 2008.
Comment: This is a caricature. To blame the polarization of the country on one party - more, on one faction of one party - is false. Both parties routinely engage in uncivil, unfair tactics. And it's not limited to particular party factions, either. For Clinton to claim that one side (his) is good and the other side is evil is a self-serving distortion.
Hillary Clinton on Special Interests

"After seven years of a president who listens only to the special interests, you're ready for a president who brings your voice, your values and your dreams to your White House."
-- Senator Hillary Clinton (D, NY), referring to President George W. Bush, February 5, 2008.
Comment: First, the claim that Bush only ever listens to special interests - that he has never, not once listened to someone outside of a special interest group - is straightforwardly false. Second, it is derisive, which makes it name-calling. Finally, it assumes that special interest groups are always a bad thing, which is also false. Clinton herself made this point recently, in her August 4, 2007, assertion that:

"A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans, they actually do."

Hillary Clinton Demonizes Republicans

"Well, the Republicans want eight more years of the same. They see tax cuts for the wealthy and they say, 'Why not more?' They see $9 trillion in debt and say, 'Why not trillions more?'"
-- Senator Hillary Clinton (D, NY), February 5, 2008.
Comment: This is name-calling and distortion. Clinton may believe that Republican policies will add to U.S. debt, and she may be right. But to say that Republicans WANT an increased debt - that that is the GOAL of their policies - is a caricature and is an attempt to demonize her opponents.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama Misrepresent McCain

"[Republicans] see five years in Iraq and say, 'Why not 100 more?'"
-- Senator Hillary Clinton (D, NY), February 5, 2008, referring to comments by Senator John McCain (R, AZ).
"Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House."
-- Senator Barack Obama (D, IL), February 12, 2008, also referring to McCain's comments.

Comment: Clinton and Obama are misrepresenting McCain's comments about staying in Iraq. McCain made the statement on January 3, 2008. A questioner brought up an assertion made by Bush that the U.S. might be in Iraq for 50 more years. McCain, in response, said:

"Maybe 100 ... We've been in Japan for 60 years, we've been in South Korea 50 years or so. That's fine with me, as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, it's fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al Qaeda is training, recruiting, and equipping and motivating people every single day."

McCain's comments here are clearly endorsing a long-term military presense in Iraq only so long as it parallels the long-term deployments in Japan and South Korea, which involve little or no active combat. For Clinton to say that McCain was advocating that U.S. spend 100 more years in Iraq doing the heavy combat duty that it has been doing for the past five years is a distortion. And for Obama to say that McCain wanted the U.S. to be "mired" in Iraq for 100 years - when McCain explicitly said the U.S. presence in Iraq should be along the lines of the ones in Japan and South Korea - is a distortion.

One interesting tangent: McCain and Clinton have often expressed respect and friendship for one another. Bill Clinton on January 25, 2008, went so far as to say:

"She [Hillary Clinton] and John McCain are very close ... They always laugh that if they wound up being the nominees of their party, it would be the most civilized election in American history and they're afraid they'd put the voters to sleep because they like and respect each other."

First off, you shouldn't have to be friends with someone in order to conduct a civilized campaign or debate with them. That behavior should be a given regardless of any feelings of personal affection.

More to the point, though, this friendship between Clinton and McCain hasn't prevented either of them from engaging in uncivil debate. Above we have Clinton distortion McCain's comments about a U.S. military presence in Iraq, and earlier we had McCain's failure to stand up and rebuke a woman who referred to Clinton as "the bitch".
Bill Clinton on Obama's Explicit Argument, Part I

"You have a pretty clear but a difficult choice in this election for many people. Two gifted compassionate public servants. One who argues that the best way to change America is just to change the personnel, and to make a new beginning with people who have not been involved in the fights of the past - even an explicit argument that the '90s weren't much better than this decade. I don't know about you but I think the nineties were a whole lot better than this decade."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, referring to Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, February 8, 2008.
Comment: This is false. Obama has never explicitly made any such claim. Nor is it clear that he's implicitly made such a claim. Clinton is misrepresenting Obama.
Wilder Distorts Bill Clinton's Comments on Obama

"Barack Obama is not a fairy tale. He is real."
-- Former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder (D), February 9, 2008, referring to comments made by former President Bill Clinton.
Comment: Wilder is distorting Clinton's comments. Clinton, on January 7, 2008, said that Obama had been inconsistent in his opposition to the war in Iraq, and that Obama was not being honest about it. He noted certain stances Obama took that he believed demonstrated that inconsistency, and then said Obama's claim to have been a consistent opponent of the war was "the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen". In greater context, he said:

"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, numerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, ‘Well, how could you say, that when you said in 2004 you didn’t know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war and you took that speech you’re now running on off your website in 2004 and there’s no difference in your voting record and Hillary’s ever since?’ Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen."

Many people - Wilder is a good example - have misrepresented Clinton's comments, accusing Clinton of saying that Obama's candidacy was a fairy tale. But Clinton certainly didn't say that. He may have been overly emphatic - is Obama's version of his opposition to the Iraq war REALLY the BIGGEST falsity Clinton has EVER heard uttered? - but Clinton did NOT deride Obama's whole campaign as being wishful thinking.
McCain Caricatures Democrats

"We do not yet know for certain who will have the honor of being the Democratic Party's nominee for President. But we know where either of their candidates will lead this country, and we dare not let them. They will promise a new approach to governing, but offer only the policies of a political orthodoxy that insists the solution to government's failures is to simply make it bigger. They will appeal to our dreams of a better future for ourselves, our families and our country, but they would take from us more of the wealth we have earned to build those dreams and assure us that government is better able than we are to make decisions about our future for us."
-- McCain, February 12, 2008.
Comment: This is a caricature. It's one thing for McCain to say that he believes that Democratic policy proposals increase the size of government without adequately solving problems. But to say that all Democratic policies amount to is "make government bigger" is a caricature.
Bill Clinton on Obama's Explicit Argument, Part II

"You have one candidate who's made the explicit argument that the only way we can change America is to move into a post-partisan future and therefore we have to eliminate from consideration for the presidency anybody who made good things happen in the '90s or stopped bad things from happening in this decade ... It doesn't matter how much good you did, we've got to get rid of you because you had to fight to make something good happen. You had to fight to stop something bad from happening. And if you fought, you made somebody mad, we ought to give you an old watch and retire you. You can't possibly make a contribution to America's future."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, referring to Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, February 15, 2008.
Comment: This is false. Obama has never explicitly made such an argument. It's not even clear that he's implicitly made such an argument. Again, Clinton is misrepresenting Obama.

Today's Debate
February 8, 2008

Romney's Campaign Suspension

In explaining his decision to suspend his presidential campaign, former governor Mitt Romney (R, MA) mad this statement:

"If I fight on in my campaign [in the Republican primaries], all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator [Hillary] Clinton [(D, NY)] or [Barack] Obama [(D, IL)] would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."

It's one thing for Romney to disagree with the policies of Democrats on terrorism; there's plenty of room for legitimate disagreement. But to suggest that their policies are a "surrender to terror" is either a needlessly apocalyptic exaggeration or an outright distortion. Whatever the flaws of Democratic policies on terrorism may be, those policies don't advocate surrendering to terrorism, nor is it clear how those policies would inevitably lead to a surrender to terrorism.

Certainly, in announcing the suspension of his campaign, Romney didn't offer any explanation of how this surrender would come about.

Today's Debate
February 8, 2008

This Time, Clinton Fails to Stand Against Name-Calling

Reports emerged February 3 that a woman referred to President George W. Bush as "the bastard" while asking Senator Hillary Clinton (D, NY) a question. The woman reportedly made the comment at a town hall meeting near St. Louis, Missouri, held by Clinton's presidential campaign. The crowd attending the meeting reportedly laughed and cheered upon hearing the insult. Clinton reportedly smiled and laughed in response, but did not denounce the woman for using the insult.

Assuming the reports are accurate, it is unfortunate that - when faced with a clear instance of name-calling against one of her political opponents - Clinton refused to take a stand against such conduct. It is a significant failure with respect to setting a good example for civil debate.

Clinton has often complained about Republicans and conservatives using unfair tactics against her. She could have used this opportunity to show that her opposition to such behavior is principled and across-the-board. By refusing to stand up against this reference to Bush as "the bastard", she behaves as if she only dislikes these tactics when they are used to her disadvantage.

Recently, in November 2007, Senator John McCain (R, AZ) similarly failed to stand up against a disparaging reference to Clinton as "the bitch". Clinton had a chance to elevate herself above McCain's cowardice, but she instead duplicated it.

It's dismaying that two presidential front-runners who are touting their leadership credentials are unable to muster a simple "Ma'am, you shouldn't refer to people you disagree with that way."

Today's Debate
February 6, 2008

More Presidential Primary Highlights

Following are more highlights from the presidential primaries involving the participants in the January 31, 2008, California Democratic Debate (Senator Hillary Clinton (NY) and Senator Barack Obama (IL)) and the participants in the January 30, 2008, California GOP Debate (former Governor Mike Huckabee (AK), Senator John McCain (AZ), and former Governor Mitt Romney (MA)):

Clinton on Universal Health Care
Clinton: The differences between Barack [Obama] and I pale in comparison to the differences that we have with the Republicans … But we do have differences, and let me mention a couple. First, on health care, I believe absolutely passionately that we must have universal health care. It is a moral responsibility and a right for our country. And - and I have put forth a plan, similar to what [former North Carolina] Senator [John] Edwards had before he left the race, that would move us to universal health care.
Comment: This is a distortion. Obama has often stated that his goal is to achieve universal health care, and, like Clinton, he has offered a proposal that he believes will achieve that. There are, of course, differences in the details of Clinton and Obama's proposals - Clinton calls for mandating health insurance; Obama instead focuses on making it affordable for anyone who needs it - but these are differences about the best means to the same end. If Clinton believes that Obama's plan won't achieve that goal - and that mandating universal health care is the only way of doing so - then she should say so and defend her claim. But, for Clinton to suggest that Obama doesn't believe "passionately that we must have universal health care" is a distortion.

Obama on Republican Hypocrisy
Doyle McManus, L.A. Times Washington bureau chief: [To Obama] You know what's going to happen this fall in the general election campaign: The Republicans are going to call you [and Clinton] tax-and-spend liberal Democrats, and that's a charge that's been effective in the past. How are you going to counter that charge?
Obama: Well, first of all, I don't think the Republicans are going to be in a real strong position to argue fiscal responsibility when they've added 4 or $5 trillion worth of national debt. You know, I am happy to have that argument.
Comment: Obama is arguing that, because Republicans have been hypocritical about fiscal responsibility, any allegations they make about him being fiscally irresponsible should be dismissed. This argument, however, is ad hominem reasoning (in particular, an ad hominem appeal to hypocrisy). Just because Republicans aren't practicing what they preach doesn't mean Obama is practicing what Republicans - or Obama himself, for that matter - preaches. To put it another way, just because Republicans are being fiscally irresponsible doesn't mean it's false that Obama is being fiscally irresponsible.

Obama on Republican Immigration Policy
Obama: And this is where we do have a very real difference with the other party [i.e., Republicans]. I believe that we can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
Comment: Obama is caricaturing Republican opposition to immigration reform in two ways. First, not all Republicans are opposed to the kinds of immigration reforms that Obama favors. Second, the ones who do oppose those proposals aren't saying that we have to make a choice between obeying the law and having immigrants in the country. They are saying that people who are in the U.S. in violation of the law should be punished according to the laws currently on the books, rather than having their punishment reduced by immigration reform. This is different from calling for all immigrants - both legal and illegal - to be booted out of the country.

McCain on Immigration Vote
Janet Hook, staff writer for the L.A. Times: [To Senator John McCain (AZ)] At this point, if your original [2006 immigration] proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, would you vote for it?
McCain: It won't. It won't. That's why we went through the debate...
Hook: But if it did?
McCain: No, it would not, because we know what the situation is today...
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper: So I just want to confirm that you would not vote for your bill as it originally was?
McCain: My bill will not be voted on; it will not be voted on.
Comment: This is an evasion. McCain might be correct that his original immigration proposal will not come up for a vote again, but that doesn't prevent him from saying what he would do if it did. Hook is asking a hypothetical question, but there's nothing preventing anyone - in principle - from answering hypothetical questions. If McCain wants to avoid answering this particular hypothetical question, he must provide a reason why.

All Republican Candidates on Sandra Day O'Connor
Responses made by the GOP candidates at the January 30, 2008 California GOP Debate when asked whether President Ronald Reagan made the right choice in nominating Sandra Day O'Connor for the Supreme Court:

Former Governor (AK) Mike Huckabee: History will have to determine that, and I'm not going to come to the Reagan Library and say anything about Ronald Reagan's decisions. I'm not that stupid. If I was, I'd have no business being president.
Comment: This is an evasion. People down the road may or may not come to a firm conclusion as to whether O'Connor was a good choice for the Supreme Court, but that's irrelevant to whether or not Huckabee can express an opinion on the matter. Certainly, Reagan made a decision about whether O'Connor would be a good choice without the benefit of history's judgment; why can't Huckabee?
Rep. Ron Paul (TX): I wouldn't have appointed her, because I would have looked for somebody that I would have seen as a much stricter constitutionalist.
Comment: Of the four candidates, Paul is the only one to give a straightforward answer to this question.
McCain: The judges I would appoint are along the lines of Justices Roberts and Alito, who have a proven record of strict interpretation of the Constitution of the United States of America. I'm not going to second-guess President Reagan.
Comment: McCain fails to answer the question. Although he provides a standard for who he would pick - like Paul, strict constitutionalists - he refuses to say whether O'Connor fit that standard, on the grounds that he is unwilling to "second-guess" Reagan. Having a standard for making choices is meaningless if you can't come to a judgment about which option - e.g., O'Connor - fits that standard and which doesn't. McCain should have given his opinion on whether O'Connor was a strict constitutionalist.
Romney: I would approve justices -- I would have favored justices like Roberts and Alito, Scalia and Thomas. I like justices that follow the Constitution, do not make law from the bench. I would have much rather had a justice of that nature.
Comment: It's not quite clear whether Romney has answered the question. Like Paul and McCain, he says he wants strict constitutionalists. Although he seems to say that O'Connor doesn't fit that bill, he doesn't clearly say that Reagan made the wrong choice, either.

McCain-Romney on Timetables
McCain and Romney got into a long exchange about whether Romney, in a statement made in April 2007 on ABC News' "Good Morning America" show, had suggested that the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. McCain insisted that Romney had endorsed such a timetable, which McCain said was a flawed strategy. Romney, in response, insisted that he had never endorsed a timetable for withdrawal, and had in fact explicitly rejected withdrawal timetables. Romney accused McCain of misrepresenting his words.

Which of them is right? McCain is correct that Romney's April 2007 comment on "Good Morning America" does endorse a timetable for withdrawal:

Robin Roberts, ABC News: Do you believe that there should be a timetable in withdrawing the troops?
Romney: Well, there's no question but that the president and [Iraqi] Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about. But those shouldn't be for public pronouncement. You don't want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you're going to be gone. You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police and the leadership of the, of the Iraqi government.

So, Romney says there should be timetables, and adds that the timetables should be kept secret because, if terrorists and insurgents knew about them, they would know how long they had to lie low before U.S. troops would leave.

However, Romney is also correct that McCain was ignoring comments that Romney made in the same "Good Morning America" interview that explicitly denounced setting a timetable for withdrawal. When asked whether he agreed with President George W. Bush's pledge to veto any congressional bill that called for a withdrawal timetable, Romney said:

Of course. Can you imagine a setting where during the second World War we said to the Germans, 'Gee, if we haven't reached the Rhine by this date, why we'll go home,' or 'If we haven't gotten this accomplished we'll pull up and leave?'

Romney here says - again, this is in the very same interview - that he'd veto any withdrawal timetable, contrary to McCain's criticism.

So, who's right and who's wrong? McCain or Romney?

Actually, both of them are wrong. (In heated political debates, never underestimate the possibility that both participants are wrong.)

Romney made contradictory statements about withdrawal timetables. To be charitable, I think Romney really is opposed to withdrawal timetables, but just misspoke when he made the "waiting in the weeds" comment. However, he didn't correct his mistake or acknowledge that he misspoke, which left it open for McCain to bring up Romney's statement in favor of withdrawal timetables.

Which is where McCain added misbehavior of his own. McCain could have brought up both of these contradictory statements and said, "Governor Romney, you've made statements both in favor of and against withdrawal timetables: which is your real position?" That would have been entirely legitimate for him to do, and he had every right to criticize Romney for being inconsistent. But, instead, he only brought up one of the statements, implying that Romney had a consistent, non-contradictory position in favor of timetables. McCain just ignored Romney's anti-timetable statement. That omission was a distortion on McCain's part.

So, Romney is wrong for being inconsistent and not admitting or correcting it, and McCain is wrong for misrepresenting Romney's statements.

McCain-Romney on Dirty Politics
McCain and Romney also traded charges of 'negative politics' against one another. Romney said McCain's Iraq withdrawal timetable allegation was an example of:

Washington-style old politics, which is lay a charge out there, regardless of whether it's true or not, don't check it, don't talk to the other candidate, just throw it out there, get it in the media and the stream.

As I've explained above, both McCain and Romney are in the wrong on this issue. McCain did distort Romney's words, but Romney's statements on the matter were also contradictory.

McCain responded to Romney's accusation by accusing Romney of 'negative politics':

As far as Washington politics is concerned, I think my friend Governor Huckabee, sir, will attest the millions of dollars of attack ads and negative ads you leveled against him in Iowa, the millions of dollars of attack ads you have attacked against me in New Hampshire, and have ever since. A lot of it is your own money. You're free to do with it what you want to. You can spend it all. But the fact is that your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign.

McCain, in other words, is attempting to parry Romney's accusations of dirty tricks by saying that Romney himself engages in dirty tricks. He's saying that Romney is being hypocritical about negative politics, and implying that this hypocrisy undermines Romney's accusation of negative politics against McCain. But this is another ad hominem appeal to hypocrisy. Maybe Romney is being hypocritical, accusing McCain of dirty tricks while using dirty tricks against Huckabee. (I say "maybe" only because I haven't been able to track down which ads Romney aired against Huckabee that McCain is referring to.) But that doesn't mean Romney is wrong when he says McCain is using dirty tricks. It only means that he isn't being consistent about condemning dirty tricks across the board, regardless of who uses them. Just because Romney isn't practicing what he preaches doesn't mean that what he preaches is false. Nor does it mean that McCain is avoiding the use of "dirty tricks".

Romney's Comments on the Surge
McCain also criticized Romney for not supporting the surge - the addition of roughly 30,000 U.S. troops to forces already in Iraq in early 2007. Prior to the end of his term as governor (January 4, 2007), Romney had said he wouldn't take a position on the surge, and Cooper questioned him about it at the debate.

Cooper: This was in January -- excuse me -- December of 2006. Two months later, you announced you were running for president. Why two months before you were running for president were you not willing to take a position on supporting or not supporting a surge?
Romney: Look, as governor of the state, there are a lot of issues of a federal nature that I didn't take a position on. I was running a state. My responsibility was for running a state. When I became a governor, I took a whole series of positions on national issues. That's normal and natural … I supported it as a candidate for president.

First, there's some confusion here. Romney says that, as a governor, there were many FEDERAL issues he refused to take a position on, but that he did take positions on NATIONAL issues while he was governor. I don't see what the distinction is that he's making between federal vs national issues, or why a governor should allow himself to take positions on the latter but not the former. Plus, Romney doesn't say he never took a position on a federal issue, just that there were "a lot" of federal issues that he avoided.

But, more to the point, what's to stop a governor from taking a position on an issue that concerns the country as a whole, such as the Iraq war? I don't see any reason in principle for governors to be silent on such issues. Romney evaded the question of whether or not the surge was a good idea, without providing any legitimate reason for his evasion.

McCain-Romney on Leadership
Hook: [To McCain] There's been a lot of discussion lately about the importance of leadership and management experience. What makes you more qualified than Mitt Romney, a successful CEO and businessman, to manage our economy?
McCain: Because I know how to lead. I know how to lead. I led the largest squadron in the United States Navy. And I did it out of patriotism, not for profit.
Comment: McCain seems to think that the only reason someone would become a businessman is because they're in search of profit, and that the only reason someone would serve in the army is out of a sense of patriotic duty. In fact, there are any number of motivations - some honorable, some dishonorable - why someone might adopt either path. Some people get into business only to make money; some people get into business because there is a product that they are excited about, and they are eager to share it because they believe it will add value to the lives of others. Some people serve in the armed forces out of a sense of patriotic duty; some people serve in the armed forces hoping to make a name for themselves. It's unfair for McCain to be cynical about Romney's motivations for being a businessman, but then ask us to assume only good motivations when it comes to his own career path.

McCain on Romney's Military Leadership
Cooper: [To McCain] Is Governor Romney ready to be a military commander?
McCain: Oh, I'm sure that, as I say, he's a fine man. And I think he managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs. That's the nature of that business. But the fact is - but the fact is we're at a time in our history - we're in a time in our history where you can't afford any on-the-job training. And I believe that my experience and background qualifies me to lead. And that's why I've gotten the support of four former secretaries of state, two of them in the Reagan administration. That's why I've gotten the support of General Norman Schwarzkopf. That's why I've gotten the support of over 100 retired Army generals and admirals. Literally every national security expert from the Reagan and other administrations are supporting my candidacy, including the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, my friend, Governor Tom Ridge, who believe that I have the qualities necessary to lead.
Comment: This looks like an evasion. McCain seems to say that Romney would require "on-the-job training" and therefore isn't ready to lead the military. But he doesn't answer the question clearly - which could be done with a simple "yes" or "no" - and instead goes on to insist that he, himself, is qualified to lead the military.

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