Monday, December 31, 2012

Civility Watchdog: December 31, 2012, Edition

Below are some recent remarks and/or events highlighted for their relevance to civil, productive debate:
"the current budget deficit is overwhelmingly the result of the depressed economy … So, the whole deficit panic is fundamentally misplaced. And it’s especially galling if you look at what many of the same people now opining about the evils of deficits said back when we had a surplus. Remember, George W. Bush campaigned on the basis that the surplus of the late Clinton years meant that we needed to cut taxes -- and Alan Greenspan provided crucial support, telling Congress that the biggest danger we faced was that we might pay off our debt too fast. Now Greenspan is helping groups like Fix the Debt."
-- Columnist Paul Krugman, December 29, 2012.

Comment: Krugman is making an accusation of hypocrisy. That is, he is saying that Greenspan (and others, though he doesn't name them) are expressing concern about the debt and deficits even though they didn't previously. First, this change isn't necessarily inconsistent. One might claim that circumstances earlier were different from now, and that therefore the deficit and debt that might have been unproblematic earlier may no longer be. Second, supposing that it is inconsistent, is it a change of position that is negative -- as in a "flip-flop" -- or positive -- as in an "evolution"? If Krugman is arguing that the hypocrisy demonstrates that Greenspan's position (earlier or later) is wrong, then he's engaging in ad hominem reasoning.

"The big obstacle to comprehensive tax reform is the persistent Republican myth that spending cuts alone can achieve economic and budget goals. That notion was sounded [sic] rejected by voters during the election."
-- New York Times editorial, December 29, 2012.

Comment: First, this seems like a "silver bullet" caricature. Have Republicans really said that spending cuts alone would meet their economic and budget goals? Haven't they also called for tax reform? Second, it seems like the editorial is indulging in "Americans want" rhetoric -- as well as mandate rhetoric -- by saying that voters rejected the Republican position.

"You know, the Republicans -- the disdain that I have seen for poor people, for people who are struggling, like senior citizens on Medicare and Social Security, for low income people and the Women Infant and Children [WIC] program -- we saw the Republicans, last week, vote to [sic] spending cuts that would literally take food out of the mouths of hungry babies."
-- Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), December 28, 2012.

Comment: Schakowsky is demonizing Republicans, saying that they want to cut programs that help poor people because they have "disdain" for them. She rules out the possibility that Republicans believe these programs are poorly managed or that they are unaffordable. Would Schakowsky accept it if she was accused of supporting these programs out of a desire to make people dependent on government so that she and other Democrats could hold power over them? If she doesn't like being demonized, she should demonize others.

"[I am addressing] an enormous myth that circulates in our media culture; namely, the idea that conservatives are uniquely anti-science and progressives are uniquely pro-science. … It is certainly true that some conservatives embrace anti-scientific beliefs, most notably on evolution and climate change. But some progressives also adhere to a set of dangerous anti-scientific beliefs. … the destructive anti-vaccine movement has a long association with the progressive left. … Scientists see water fluoridation, which particularly benefits the poor, as a major public health triumph. But not progressive activists in Portland, Oregon, who fought to prevent the fluoridation of their city’s water supply. Mainstream progressive environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists also oppose genetic modification, despite its tremendous life-saving potential in areas such as preventing vitamin A deficiency … Despite the fact that thousands of deaths in the U.S. are attributable to the pollution produced by burning fossil fuels each year, progressives oppose energy policies that could reduce our dependency on coal and oil. Progressives historically have been anti-nuclear power, and today, they are opposed to natural gas, a much cleaner fossil fuel. Instead, they embrace wind and solar, neither of which are currently capable of meeting the world’s growing energy demand."
-- Columnist Alex B. Berezow, December 28, 2012.

Comment: Isn't it a hasty generalization to argue that, if somebody rejects a scientific theory, they therefore reject science as a whole? Does disputing one scientific theory support declaring that someone is stupid or that they don't care about truth?

"The American people I don't think understand, the House of Representatives is operating without the House of Representatives. It's being operated with a dictatorship of the Speaker, not allowing the vast majority of the House of Representatives to get what they want."
-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), December 27, 2012.

Comment: Though I assume Reid is using the "dictatorship" term metaphorically, this still seems like demonizing.

GREGORY: Senator Schumer, should the president make that nomination?
SCHUMER: Well, that's his choice. I think once he makes it, his record will be studied carefully. But until that point, I think we're not going to know what's going to happen.
GREGORY: Can you support him?
SCHUMER: I'd have to study his record. I'm not going to comment until the president makes a nomination.
GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there.
-- Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), December 23, 2012, regarding the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) by President Barack Obama to the position of Secretary of Defense.

Comment: Initially, Schumer seems to make a "not my decision" evasion. That is, he refuses to answer Gregory's question on the basis that it's someone else's (in this case, Obama's) authority. This would be an evasion, as the mere fact that somebody else (rather than yourself) is authorized to make a decision doesn't mean you can't express an opinion on what that decision should be. When pressed, though, Schumer says he needs to study Hagel's record, which is a far more reasonable reason for refusing to offer an opinion on whether Hagel should be nominated.

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples. Click here for previous edition.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Civility Watchdog: December 17, 2012, Edition

Below are some recent remarks and/or events highlighted for their relevance to civil, productive debate:
"Two events, each more than a century old, instruct us about how we should act in the face of what happened Friday in Newtown, Conn. On March 25, 1911, fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in lower Manhattan. Because the owners had locked the doors and stairwells, in an effort to prevent theft and unauthorized work breaks, the garment workers were trapped in the fire; 146 of them, almost all young female immigrants, died. In the wake of the disaster, New York politicians -- including future Gov. Al Smith and future Sen. Robert Wagner -- “exploited the tragedy.” How? By helping push through a series of reforms that made New York state a model of workplace safety. Little more than a year later, on April 15, 1912, the unsinkable ocean liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, taking 1,522 passengers and crew members to their deaths. After the disaster, regulators and public officials “exploited the tragedy.” How? By insisting that ships carry enough lifeboats for all passengers (the Titanic, operating under then-current rules, had barely enough for half); by insisting that ships man their radios 24 hours a day; by better designs of hulls and bulkheads. A shocking event is exactly the right time to start, or restart, an argument about public policy. … Consider a more recent example. On March 7, 1965, voting rights demonstrators on a march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery were met by a phalanx of state troopers at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. They met the marchers with fists and billy clubs. A week later, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke to a joint session of Congress. He made no apologies for “politicizing the tragedy.” Instead, he said:
“At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Ala.”
The speech -- which borrowed the famous assertion that “we shall overcome” -- propelled the Voting Rights Act into reality and effectively ended 100 years of state-sanctioned repression. … Newtown forces us to look at the consequences of decisions -- or indecision -- squarely, unflinchingly. It forces us to ask ourselves, “What do we do in the face of this new evidence?” That is as far from exploitation as you can get."
-- Columnist Jeff Greenfield, December 17, 2012, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: Greenfield argues that there is nothing wrong with "politicizing" or "exploiting" a tragedy if doing so simply means responding to that tragedy with policies that address its causes and try to prevent more of the same from happening. That's not to say, however, that Greenfield has the right idea about which policies on guns will achieve the goal of minimizing gun deaths.

"We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults. … But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. … And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t -- that we can’t always be there for them. … It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children. This is our first task -- caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm?  I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.  We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. … We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
-- President Barack Obama, December 16, 2012, speaking at a prayer vigil held in response to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: But what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to change so as to reduce these tragedies? Different people have different beliefs about gun policy, and about the best way to stop shootings like this. What is it Obama is referring to when he talks about "politics" and how are we supposed to put it aside? How exactly are we supposed to "come together"? Are people supposed to give up on their beliefs about what amounts to good policy on guns? Is this basically a call to get rid of "ideology"?

""A pragmatic progressive" political party is the ne plus ultra of American political fantasy. It expresses unarguable values: Progress is what we all want, and all politics should be pragmatic. The question is: Why don’t we have it? Why do we have a conservative movement based on frantic spin and outright mendacity, but no true progressive movement opposing it based on facts?"
"How about a Common Sense Party? It seems it’s been a long, long time since political parties have evidenced common sense."
-- Letters to the editor of The New York Times (by David Berman and Nina Bousk, respectively), published December 16, 2012, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: Berman is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that Republicans and conservatives (but not Democrats and progressives) resort to "spin" and lies. He also indulges in "pragmatic" rhetoric. Bousk, meanwhile, indulges in "common sense" rhetoric. What positions are common sense? Does anyone decide to take a position that isn't common sense?

"[If you're a] college football fan, you're familiar with Chris Ault and Nevada. Obviously it's an offense that he has invented, basically, and it's often been termed the "pistol offense". Well, we apologize for any confusion it may cause today, but, in our small way of showing some respect to the tragedy yesterday, we're not going to be referring to it as the "pistol" offense today. It will be the "Nevada formation", and it is a good one, a well-executed offense, and tough to stop."
-- ESPN announcer Bob Wischusen, December 15, 2012, at the New Mexico Bowl, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Ault is the football head coach of the University of Nevada Wolf Pack.

Comment: In deference to an ESPN directive to show respect for the Sandy Hook tragedy, Wischusen was trying to avoid violent rhetoric. Although he avoided the term "pistol", he still wound up using the word "executed". Was this directive necessary, given that violent rhetoric in this context is clearly meant to be metaphorical? Or was such rhetoric inappropriate so close to the tragedy while people were still in shock and mourning?

"On Friday, we learned that more than two dozen people were killed when a gunman opened fire in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. … As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years. An elementary school in Newtown. A shopping mall in Oregon. A house of worship in Wisconsin. A movie theater in Colorado. Countless street corners in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. Any of these neighborhoods could be our own. So we have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics."
-- President Barack Obama, December 15, 2012, during the president's weekly address, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: This is a platitude (or maybe several platitudes). Of course, everyone wants to do something "meaningful" to prevent these tragedies. But what? Different people have different beliefs about gun policy, and about the best way to stop shootings like this. What is it Obama is referring to when he talks about "politics" and how are we supposed to put it aside? How exactly are we supposed to "come together"? Are people supposed to give up on their beliefs about what amounts to good policy on guns? Is this basically a call to get rid of "ideology"?

"A gunman whose name we do not need to memorialize took advantage of our gun control laws to slaughter some 20 children and seven adults in a Newton, Connecticut elementary school. In addition to the gunman, blood is on the hands of members of Congress and the Connecticut legislators who voted to ban guns from all schools in Connecticut (and most other states). They are the ones who made it illegal to defend oneself with a gun in a school when that is the only effective way of resisting a gunman. What a lethal, false security are the Gun Free Zone laws. All of our mass murders in the last 20 years have occurred in Gun Free Zones. The two people murdered a couple of days earlier in the shopping center in Oregon were also in a Gun Free Zone. Hopefully the Connecticut tragedy will be the tipping point after which a rising chorus of Americans will demand elimination of the Gun Free Zone laws that are in fact Criminal Safe Zones."
-- Executive Director of Gun Owners of America Larry Pratt, December 15, 2012, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: Is this politicizing or exploiting the situation? Or even rooting for failure? I don't think so. It's reasonable to respond to a mass shooting by discussing what policies could help prevent such tragedies (which is not to say that Pratt's ideas about what accomplish that goal are correct). It could, however, be argued that Pratt's discussion of gun policy was "too soon". Also, is it really the case that gun control advocates are complicit in murder? Isn't that demonizing, or at least exaggeration?

"The assault weapons ban enacted under President Clinton was deficient and has expired. Mr. Obama talked about the need for “common sense” gun control after the movie theater slaughter in Aurora, Colo., and he hinted during the campaign that he might support a new assault weapons ban, presumably if someone else introduced it. Republicans will never do that, because they are mired in an ideology that opposes any gun control."
-- New York Times editorial, December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: First, this is a distortion (or at least an exaggeration). Republicans do not oppose all gun control whatsoever. In fact, they support many gun control laws, just not as many as Democrats and the editors of The New York Times do. Second, The New York Times editorial page is indulging in "ideologues" rhetoric. Lastly, The New York Times editorial page correctly points out that President Barack Obama earlier indulged in "common sense" rhetoric.

"The sickening headline flashed across my computer screen this morning: “Multiple Deaths Reported in Connecticut School.” … Meanwhile, the gun lobby, timid politicians and the Supreme Court continue to aid and abet rampant gun violence that is nothing less than domestic terrorism, carried out with weapons of mass destruction that are too freely owned and carried."
-- Author Arnold Grossman, letter to the editor of The New York Times, published December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: This is demonizing. There are legitimate disagreements about what the best policy on guns is, and on what policies will do the best job of preventing mass killings. It is unfair to describe gun rights advocates as intentionally aiding terrorists.

"We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. … As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
-- President Barack Obama, December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: This is a platitude (or maybe several platitudes). Of course, everyone wants to do something "meaningful" to prevent these tragedies. But what? Different people have different beliefs about gun policy, and about the best way to stop shootings like this. What is it Obama is referring to when he talks about "politics" and how are we supposed to put it aside? How exactly are we supposed to "come together"? Are people supposed to give up on their beliefs about what amounts to good policy on guns? Is this basically a call to get rid of "ideology"?

REPORTER [unidentified]: Jay, if I could ask about -- in connection with the shootings, yesterday and today, obviously tragic events. Do these raise limiting handgun violence or other gun violence on the President's list of priorities in any way?
CARNEY: We're still waiting for more information about the incident in Connecticut. As we do, I think it's important on a day like today to view this as I know the President, as a father, does; and I, as a father, and others who are parents certainly do -- which is to feel enormous sympathy for families that were affected and to do everything we can to support state and local law enforcement and to support those who are enduring what appears to be a very tragic event. There is I'm sure -- will be, rather, a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don't think today is that day.
-- White House briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney, December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: This could be classified as an evasion, as Carney doesn't answer the question about what President Barack Obama's policy on guns is. However, as a timing issue, Carney does make a legitimate point that the discussion of gun policy -- which is a contentious debate that doesn't serve to comfort those hit by the tragedy -- is an inappropriate foray into politics that can be postponed briefly (though not indefinitely).

"Even as I was explaining and reacting to this horrible shooting in Newtown, Connecticut -- Maybe, what, 14, 16, 18 children are dead. Some are only four or five years old. Even as I was saying/predicting that the left/the media were trying to figure out how they could blame this on conservatives -- or politicize it, turn it into an event to advance their agenda. As I was saying that, a hostette at MSNBC, Alex Wagner, said, "Hopefully, this shooting will result in political capital to reform gun laws. It is hopefully -- and we say this every single time we cover one of these things. There's gotta be some kind of measurable change, some kind of reaction. One would hope there would be some political capital to reform the way in which we handle gun and gun violence in this country." So they're already calculating. That's what so peeves me about these people. You've got a horrible event here, and they're already looking to politicize it. It's not what it is. It's an opportunity! These people look at stuff like this as an opportunity -- it's sickening -- to advance their agenda or blame conservatives. … the left is already mobilized. As they always will and always do, they try to politicize the event for their advantage, mobilize down their anti-gun highway. … And even as we speak, the Drive-By Media and the Democrats are attempting to politicize the issue to advance their own agenda. In this case, probably an assault on the Second Amendment again. I guarantee you that they are overturning everything they can in their quest to be able to blame this on Republicans. This, to them, is an opportunity. At least to the Democrat media people that are tweeting and Facebooking on this, they are excited about it. Oh, yes, it's a golden opportunity. It's sick."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, December 14, 2012, referring to remarks made by MSNBC TV pundit Alex Wagner concerning the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: How are Wagner and Democrats politicizing the event? After a shooting like this, is no one allowed to advocate a way to prevent such tragedies? Is anyone who points to the shooting as an argument for more permissive gun laws -- since the shooter would more likely have face armed resistance -- also "politicizing" the tragedy?

"We're hearing reports now that up to 20 children may have been shot. It is hopefully -- we say this every single time we cover one of these things -- a line in the sand. There has got to be some kind of measurable change, some kind of reaction. One would hope that there will be some political capital to reform the way in which we handle gun and gun violence in this country."
-- TV pundit Alex Wagner, December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: Is this politicizing or exploiting the situation? Or even rooting for failure? I don't think so. It's reasonable to respond to a mass shooting by discussing what policies could help prevent such tragedies (which is not to say that Wagner's ideas about what accomplish that goal are correct). It could, however, be argued that Wagner's discussion of gun policy was "too soon".

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples. Click here for previous edition.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

When Is It "Politicizing" to Talk About Gun Laws?

In the wake of the shooting earlier today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, many people have been discussing gun control and gun rights.

And, in response, there have been accusations that such talk amounts to "politicizing" the tragedy.

What are we to make of this? Is it necessarily "politicizing" the shooting to talk about issues of gun control and gun rights?

No. It can't be that simply discussing gun policy is inappropriate in the wake of a shooting. These tragedies are horrible, and it's entirely sensible that they should prompt a discussion about what can be done to prevent them.

In fact, it would be strange to argue that, because these incidents are so devastating, it's inappropriate to discuss how to stop them.

But -- even if the content of the discussion is appropriate -- there is arguably an issue with timing and proximity.

These tragedies evoke sorrow and fear, and -- in the aftermath -- people rightly seek comfort and refuge. Discussions about gun policy may be important and necessary, but they're reliably contentious. Not only do they fail to provide comfort, they actively upset attempts by people to find solace and relief.

Probably it's best to create some space between the tragedy and the discussion about what policies we should enact in response to it. Especially for people who are strongly affected by it, either because they live near where it happened, or because they're related to those involved in it.

However, even out of respect for those affected, these discussions cannot be put off indefinitely. It's vague exactly how much of a postponement is appropriate: 24 hours? A weekend? A month? Different people cope with tragedy at different paces, and some will be prepared to shift from mourning to policy debates more quickly than others.

So, it's not inappropriate -- in the form of "politicization" or anything else -- to talk about policy in response to tragedy. After all, one of the main reasons we craft political policies is to address matters of life and death.

But it is appropriate to prioritize things in terms of timing. Unlike policy discussions, feelings of shock and the act of mourning are very difficult to put off until a later date.

A brief pause in discussing gun policy is arguably a good idea, if it provides room for those affected to recover from such a shock.

Gun Control and Gun Rights

What policies should we have when it comes to guns? And weapons more generally?

Rights Versus Consequences

At the heart of this issue is a more general debate: what is the point of making laws? What are we trying to accomplish? Are we trying to protect people's rights? Or are we trying to create good consequences for society?

With this in mind, what is the point of gun policy?

Societal Consequences

One position is to say that the point of making laws with respect to guns is to bring about good societal consequences. We should pass the laws that, for instance, lead to the fewest number of deaths.

Taking this position, the debate about gun policy becomes a heavily empirical one. That is, the debate focuses on whether allowing people to own guns or prohibiting them results in less loss of life.

Empirical issues are often complicated, and a lot of discussion and research has looked at whether states with right-to-carry laws have lower or higher rates of death by firearm (and, similarly, at whether countries that prohibit gun ownership have lower or higher rates). Does allowing people to own firearms drive murder rates up? Or does it make people safer, because people can defend themselves with guns? These are the sorts of empirical issues that are hotly debated.

Individual Rights

But, another position to take is to say that the point of gun policy is to recognize the right of people to live their lives freely (for instance, to have a gun for recreation, hunting, self-defense against crime, to guard against authoritarian government, etc.). Taking this position, it's simply a matter of having laws that leave people free to own weapons, regardless of what consequences might follow -- for instance, in terms of rates of death by firearm.

In practice, we tend to sympathize with both positions. We want our laws to have good consequences, but we're often content to recognize people's right to be free and to choose for themselves how to live, even if the consequences of doing so aren't the best possible.

At what point does the right to be free outweigh good consequences? At what point do bad consequences outweigh individual freedom? Should we prohibit all weapons? Should we permit them all, even including things like grenades and rockets? If we're going to permit some but prohibit others, where is the line drawn?

The 2nd Amendment

In the United States of America, the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution plays a pivotal role in the discussion of gun policy. It states:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

However, the 2nd Amendment is unclear about some crucial issues.

First, it mentions the right of the people to bear "arms". Does that mean any armaments whatsoever, from swords and guns to howitzers, land mines, and nuclear weapons? It seems problematic to allow people to keep and bear things like mortars and chemical weapons, but it's not clear the text rules it out, either.

Second, the amendment doesn't specify what is sufficient to respect the right to bear arms. Does it mean that the government has to allow us to own anything that counts as an armament, or just some things? If the former, then it looks like we should be allowed to own things like howitzers, etc.; if the latter, then couldn't the government prohibit the ownership of everything except, say, swords, and say that our right to bear arms has being respected?


The issue of gun policy involves a variety of thorny issues: the balance of individual rights against societal consequences, the matter of figuring out what policies yield what results, and the problem of interpreting legal texts.

It's not surprising, then, that the debate about gun control and gun rights is so contentious.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Civility Watchdog: December 12, 2012, Edition

Below are some recent remarks and/or events highlighted for their relevance to civil, productive debate:
HOFFA: This is just the first round of a battle that will divide this state. We're going to have a civil war in this state

BALDWIN: [A]s you wage this civil war, what does this mean for unionized workers moving forward in Michigan?
HOFFA: Well, it means we have got to work hard, but basically we're going to challenge this in court. We have done this in other states, and we're going to basically get this on the ballot, eventually, within the year and basically vote this thing down again.
-- Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., December 11, 2012, during interview with CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin.

Comment: Hoffa is indulging in violent rhetoric, though his response to Baldwin's question clarifies that he means it to be taken metaphorically.

REPORTER [unidentified]: Quick question on Michigan and the right-to-work debate, which has gotten a bit testy today on the House floor. There’s one Democrat, Doug Geiss, who said today that if this right-to-work initiative is signed into law, “there will be blood.” Since the President weighed in yesterday, and obviously made his feelings known, but has talked about changing the tone here in Washington and around the country, does the White House feel any obligation to tell fellow Democrats to debate this issue, but debate it in a peaceful and sort of --
CARNEY: The President believes in debate that’s civil. I haven’t seen those comments and I’m not sure that they mean what some would interpret them to mean. I just haven’t seen them. You heard the President talk about his views. He has always opposed the so-called right-to-work laws. As he said, those laws are generally political and not economic. They’re more about the right to earn less pay than they are helpful to our economy. And he presented those views yesterday in Michigan.
-- White House briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney, December 11, 2012.

Comment: Carney seems to be suggesting that Geiss' words may have been meant metaphorically, not literally. Given Geiss' reference to the Battle of the Overpass -- a violent incident between members of the United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Company security guards in the 1930's in Michigan -- is the literal interpretation of his violent, "there will be blood" rhetoric more appropriate? Notice that Carney ultimately refuses to denounce Geiss' remarks, which is consistent with the Obama administration's refusal to denounce allies for name-calling and uncivil rhetoric, and inconsistent with their claim to believe "in debate that's civil". The Obama administration tends only to denounce uncivil rhetoric from their opponents.

"[A]nd we're going to pass something that will undo a hundred years of labor relations. And there will be blood. There will be repercussions. We will relive the Battle of the Overpass".
-- State Rep. Douglas Geiss (D-Taylor and Romulus, MI), December 11, 2012, on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Comment: Geiss is indulging in violent rhetoric, and "war" rhetoric in particular. The Battle of the Overpass was a violent incident between members of the United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Company security guards in the 1930's in Michigan.

"Confronting evil. That is the subject of this evening's Talking Points Memo. We are living in a country that is rapidly changing. Rules of civility are pretty much finished. While America has always embraced robust debate, now there are elements on both the left and the right which are using disgraceful tactics to demean those with whom they disagree. Some examples: The Supreme Court's now going to hear the gay marriage issue. Some of those who support expanding the definition of marriage are accusing those who oppose it of being human rights violators, bigots, homophobes. So if you hold the belief that traditional marriage should have a special place in society, you're a hater according to the haters. Likewise in criticizing President Obama. There are fanatical left-wingers who say those who disagree with Mr. Obama are doing so because he's black. It's a racial deal. That kind of tactic should be condemned by all Americans. Let me give you a very vivid recent situation that is simply unacceptable. … Sports writer Jason Whitlock … injected race into the Kansas City Chiefs murder-suicide. Whitlock said that unnamed forces in America want guns in the black communities so that people of color could destroy each other. Whitlock went on to call the NRA, quote, "the new KKK". … Hate speech now happening all the time. There comes a point when all good people must say "enough". That point has now been reached in America. … This stuff has got to stop."
-- TV pundit Bill O'Reilly, December 10, 2012, on The O'Reilly Factor.

Comment: First, O'Reilly seems to be implying that there used to be a time when civility prevailed and people didn't demean those with whom they disagreed. Is that true? When was it? Second, while O'Reilly is correct that, as a matter of defiance, we should confront and criticize incivility, O'Reilly leaves the impression that it's only one side that is engaging in it. He mentions, in the abstract, that both sides do it, but the examples of incivility that he cites are all from the "left". Part of the problem of incivility is that people only point it out specifically and denounce it when their opponents do it, not when it's coming from their own side. In other words, O'Reilly is engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Standing up for civil debate on an impartial basis is what will keep civility from being "finished".

"So the net end of this is, that while we apparently are in an improving economy with jobs being created -- so much that the unemployment rate is down to 7.7% -- we still have going to extend unemployment benefits for two million Americans who've already been on unemployment six months. They haven't gotten to their 99 weeks yet. This is a key. These people that we're talking about haven't hit their 99 weeks because the unemployment rate in the states they live in is under 9%.That's why they have to be extended. And since the Obama administration is about Santa Claus -- since the Obama administration is about buying loyalty and votes, since the Obama administration is about providing for people so that they don't have to work -- why does anybody think that's gonna stop after Obama wins (and, to boot, four days after Christmas)? … Mitt Romney was running around campaigning for the office of president of the United States, and among the things that he was saying was, "When I'm elected, I will put Americans back to work," and 51% of the people that voted said, "To hell with that!""
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, December 10, 2012.

Comment: Limbaugh is demonizing the people who voted for President Barack Obama. He is saying that the only explanation for people voting that way is that they're lazy, and they believe that Obama will enact government programs that will support them without having to do any work in return.

"However, the jobs picture really isn't improving. That's why we need to have extend unemployment, because there really aren't new jobs to be had. And the law says that state by state, as the unemployment rate goes below 9%, the extensions end. And for two million Americans, they end four days after Christmas. Did anybody think, again, that that news will be allowed to be made? That two million people lose their unemployment extension benefits four days after Christmas? That story will not be written. That headline will not appear. Now, the Democrats would love for it to. Just to confuse or complicate things a little bit here, the Democrats would love for that headline to be written. The truth is that if two million Americans lost their unemployment benefits and it could be blamed on the Republicans, the Democrats would sign onto that right now."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, December 10, 2012.

Comment: Limbaugh is arguing that Democrats would root for failure.

"And by the way, what we shouldn’t do -- I just got to say this -- what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. We shouldn’t be doing that. These so-called “right to work” laws, they don't have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics. What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money. We don't want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top. So we’ve got to get past this whole situation where we manufacture crises because of politics. That actually leads to less certainty, more conflict, and we can't all focus on coming together to grow."
-- President Barack Obama, December 10, 2012, speaking at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant in Redford, MI.

Comment: Obama is indulging in "politicizing" rhetoric. How is it "just politics" to support so-called "right to work" laws? Are there no legitimate non-"political" reasons for supporting such laws? It's not at all plausible to support them on the basis that they increase employment, or because they give people the freedom to hold an occupation without having to join a union? Maybe Obama disagrees with these arguments, but are they bad arguments to the point that the position itself can only be supported by people who are engaging in a crass version of politics? Of course not, that's a caricature. Also, it's a platitude for Obama to say that we want a race "to the top" and not the bottom. Of course we all want that, what we disagree about is which policies will yield that result. Finally, Obama indulges in "unify the country" rhetoric by calling for us to come together. How are we supposed to do that? In particular, how are we supposed to unify when so many people -- Obama included -- are engaging in name-calling?

"What do you do to a school yard bully? You punch them in the face. Do you think any of these people on talk radio, if they’re punched in the face by a Republican nominee, do you think they would push back? No, they’re cowards. They're bullies. Punch them in the face, and they back off. Bullies do that. Mitt Romney -- and we said it non-stop for two years -- he would never stand up to these bullies. And so they framed his campaign and he got his tail whipped."
-- TV pundit Joe Scarborough, December 10, 2012, on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Comment: Scarborough is criticizing talk radio (and other) pundits who say things that amount to name-calling. So, in a sense, he's advocating civility. However, he's resorting to violent rhetoric and (it seems) saying that people should resist these pundits by retaliating in kind. He is also faulting GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) for failing to police the speech of his supporters. This is a fair criticism, though it's a mistake -- of the "only my opponent" variety -- to think that only Romney was guilty of that failing (President Barack Obama also failed to police the rhetoric of his supporters, as well).

"In just a few weeks, when the calendar flips to 2013, millions of Americans will get their first taste of Obamacare -- a $2,500 cap on their flexible spending accounts. That’s down from the previous $5,000 cap -- and thus equivalent to a tax hike for any family that had been putting more into their FSAs to cover out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. But it’s also emblematic of a more troubling problem with Obamacare -- its undeclared war on consumer-directed health care. … The tragedy is that President Obama is forcing his centralized approach to health care on consumers just as they’re demanding more autonomy -- and as the tools that empower them to do so are coming online. As the federal government tries to appropriate ever-more of people’s healthcare decisions for itself under the auspices of Obamacare, perhaps patients will fight back."
-- Columnist Sally Pipes, December 10, 2012.

Comment: Pipes is indulging in "war" rhetoric.

"Instead of smallpox, plagues, drought and Conquistadors, the Republican decline will be traced to a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count."
-- Columnist Maureen Dowd, December 9, 2012.

Comment: Dowd is demonizing Republicans, saying that they don't care about the poor or the sick, and that they are racists, misogynists, and homophobes.

"Personalities matter. This president has a chance as he did in ‘09 to come in and say 'I’m going to sit down and work with you. We’re going to be bipartisan, we’re going to put the country first', or he has a chance to do what he did in ’09, which is say, 'I’m going to write a stimulus package with only Democrats and ram it through unread'. He can continue down the road he’s on right now. He -- he guarantees a permanent war because everybody on the right at every level sooner or later is going to get sick of it."
-- Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA), December 9, 2012, on NBC's "Meet the Press".

Comment: Gingrich is indulging in many kinds of rhetoric here: "bipartisan" rhetoric, patriotism rhetoric (how is Obama not putting the country first?), and "war" rhetoric.

"But if we’re serious about reducing our deficit while still investing in things like education and research that are important to growing our economy -- and if we’re serious about protecting middle-class families -- then we’re also going to have to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay higher tax rates. That’s one principle I won’t compromise on. After all, this was a central question in the election. A clear majority of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans and Independents -- agreed with a balanced approach that asks something from everyone, but a little more from those who can most afford it. It’s the only way to put our economy on a sustainable path without asking even more from the middle class. And it’s the only kind of plan I’m willing to sign."
-- President Barack Obama, December 8, 2012, during the president's weekly address.

Comment: Obama is claiming a mandate to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans on the basis of a "clear majority" of Americans supporting that proposal. Is a clear majority of support sufficient to justify a mandate on any matter?

"Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about deadlines we’re facing on jobs and taxes and investments. But with so much noise and so many opinions flying around, it can be easy to lose sight of what this debate is really about. It’s not about which political party comes out on top, or who wins or loses in Washington. It’s about making smart decisions that will have a real impact on your lives and the lives of Americans all across the country."
-- President Barack Obama, December 8, 2012, during the president's weekly address.

Comment: This is a platitude. Of course, everyone understands that the debate about the so-called "fiscal cliff" concerns matters that will affect many or all Americans.

"You know, Penny, we're not going to save the country, we're not going to balance the budget until your side cuts it out, and if people like you, I think you're a reasonable person, but you feel a compulsion to come on this program and defend this. Treasonous, treacherous, let the bodies pile up on the beach."
-- Commentator Sean Hannity, December 7, 2012, speaking to Democratic strategist Penny Lee on his TV show. Hannity is referring to remarks made by former Special Advisor to the White House Van Jones on December 5, 2012.

Comment: Hannity is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Certainly, Democrats, liberals, and progressives need to do more to maintain a standard of civil debate and to criticize those on their side who resort to name-calling and incivility. But so do Republicans and conservatives (and Hannity himself). Hannity is misrepresenting the situation to make it seem like only one side is at fault.

"Lt. Gov. Brian Calley repeatedly gaveled for order during the Senate debate as Democrats attacked the legislation to applause from protesters in the galley. At one point, a man shouted, "Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That's what you people are." He was quickly escorted out."
-- Tribune wire report, December 7, 2012, "Michigan GOP approves right to work amid union protests".

Comment: The man referred to by the report is demonizing Republicans, saying they are as bad as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

"A March Gallup poll found that Republicans were much less likely than Democrats or independents to say that they worried about global warming. Only 16 percent of Republicans said that they worried a great deal about it, while 42 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents did. This as the National Climatic Data Center reported that “the January-November period was the warmest first 11 months of any year on record for the contiguous United States, and for the entire year, 2012 will most likely surpass the current record (1998, 54.3°F) as the warmest year for the nation.” Surely some of this is because of party isolationism and extremism and what David Frum, the conservative columnist, called the “conservative entertainment complex.” But there is also willful ignorance at play in some quarters, and Republicans mustn’t simply brush it aside. They must beat it back."
-- Columnist Charles Blow, December 7, 2012.

Comment: Blow is indulging in "extremism" rhetoric. "Willful ignorance" amounts to accusing people of not caring about facts. Is this a fair appraisal of people who disagree with the claims of global warming and climate change?

"According to a June Gallup report, most Republicans (58 percent) believed that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Most Democrats and independents did not agree. This anti-intellectualism is antediluvian. No wonder a 2009 Pew Research Center report found that only 6 percent of scientists identified as Republican and 9 percent identified as conservative. Furthermore, a 2005 study found that just 11 percent of college professors identified as Republican and 15 percent identified as conservative. Some argue that this simply represents a liberal bias in academia. But just as strong a case could be made that people who absorb facts easily don’t suffer fools gladly."
-- Columnist Charles Blow, December 7, 2012.

Comment: Blow is appealing to polling data to argue that Republicans are "anti-intellectual", which amounts to caricaturing them as "stupid" or perhaps as not caring about facts. Blow also considers a causal connection between political affiliation and scientific occupation, though isn't this a case of false causation?

"It’s easy to get confused about the fiscal thing, since everyone’s talking about the “fiscal cliff.” … The danger is that the deficit will come down too much, too fast. And the reasons that might happen are purely political; we may be about to slash spending and raise taxes not because markets demand it, but because Republicans have been using blackmail as a bargaining strategy, and the president seems ready to call their bluff."
-- Columnist Paul Krugman, December 6, 2012.

Comment: Krugman is indulging in "hostage-taking" rhetoric with his use of the term "blackmail". Also, he's claiming that Republicans are "politicizing" the issue of the so-called "fiscal cliff". How is that so? Republicans can't have any good policy reasons for the position they're taking?

"I think Senator DeMint clearly sees that the Tea Party is not a growth industry. I mean, he had an election that just passed that did not see the ranks of Tea Party members expand. The Senate candidates that he expected to be very likely to join him in the Senate were rejected in red states by the voters who simply know that extremism is just not the way that we need to go forward in getting our economy turned around, in reducing our deficit and creating jobs."
-- Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, December 6, 2012.

Comment: Wasserman Schultz is indulging in "extremism" rhetoric.

"The good news first: the percentage of Republicans who think ACORN stole the election is down by three percent from 2009 when 52 percent thought ACORN prevented John McCain and Sarah Palin from winning the election. Here's the bad/hilarious news: ACORN ceased to exist years ago following a conspiracy of videotaped lies by Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe; a scam that was picked up by Republican leadership in Congress where the organization, which didn't break any laws, was stripped of federal funding. After it was too late, the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined that the Breitbart/O'Keefe videos were heavily edited and that no federal funds were misused and no laws were broken. But ACORN was killed by a conspiracy of lies and slander anyway. And now, years following its wrongful death sentence, ACORN is still being unjustly and inexplicably accused of stealing elections, and it's all because the base is entirely disconnected with facts and reality -- a disconnection that's reinforced in almost every sphere of right-wing influence. Anyone who thinks the Republicans are capable changing is just as delusional as the secessionists and conspiracy theorists who compose the GOP's base. The far-right entertainment complex is so deeply and inextricably woven into the life-support system of the Republican Party, it's nearly impossible to extract the crazy-cells without killing the host."
-- Columnist Bob Cesca, December 6, 2012.

Comment: The polling data Cesca cites from Public Policy Polling demonstrates that the opinion of some Republicans on a particular issue is based on false information. Does this prove that Republicans are somehow divorced from reality beyond redemption? If it is shown that the opinion of some Democrats on a particular issue is also based on false information, does that prove that Democrats as a party are somehow delusional beyond redemption?

"In the wake of the election, there's no doubt the Republican Party is capable of making some adjustments to rebrand itself. If nothing else, the party has demonstrated its proclivity for sloganeering and marketing and there are plenty of ways it can adjust its messaging. But it's obvious to anyone paying attention that the base simply won't allow the party to change in any meaningful way. The base is deeply encased within the twisted, alternate-reality looking glass that the GOP has been constructing throughout the last three decades: a realm of anger, racial resentment, distrust of government, hatred of immigrants and violently anti-choice misogynists and demagogues. The party has deliberately incited these tendencies via the conservative entertainment complex, as David Frum called it on Morning Joe -- AM talk radio, Fox News Channel and the like -- and augmented it with the generous contributions of wealthy financiers who bankroll everything from astroturf campaigns to the bulk-purchasing of every book-length screed by Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck. The problem this creates, of course, is that the Republican Party has been consumed by misinformed idiots with no substantial connection to the real world, and the first post-election PPP poll only serves to amplify this conclusion."
-- Columnist Bob Cesca, December 6, 2012.

Comment: Cesca is indulging in name-calling, against Republicans, demonizing them and saying that they are stupid, and that they are racists and bigots. Are there no moral considerations animating Republicans, only racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc.? Cesca also indulges in "demagogue" rhetoric.

"Yet there is an even deeper problem with Boehner's arithmetic. The Republicans are fighting to extend all the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest two percent along with everyone else -- but their alternative proposals are utterly inadequate to compensate for the $1.3 trillion in revenues lost by continuing those cuts for the rich. To "offer" $800 billion in new "revenues" obtained by eliminating deductions rather than raising rates simply doesn't work, as a matter of basic math. It isn't nearly enough money. If Republican leaders cannot do the arithmetic, then it is impossible to negotiate with them. If they can do the arithmetic but insist on falsifying the answers, then it is both unwise and impossible to negotiate with them. Unless and until the Republicans start talking about real numbers that can actually add up, there is nothing to be gained from pretending to negotiate. Nor should the president start negotiating with himself, as he has sometimes done in the past. Instead, he ought to make sure that the opposition understands what will happen when they fail to act responsibly. After Jan. 1, he will bring them an offer they cannot refuse to restore cuts for the 98 percent -- and they will be held accountable for any consequences caused in the meantime by their stalling."
-- Columnist Joe Conason, December 6, 2012.

Comment: Conason is indulging in name-calling, saying Republicans are too stupid to do basic math. There's a legitimate argument to be had about raising tax rates versus closing loopholes, but it's significantly an empirical one, not simply mathematical. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), for instance, estimates that $12 trillion in revenue can be raised over ten years by closing major loopholes. It may be unpopular or bad economic policy to close those loopholes, but it is not mathematically incoherent to expect that $800 billion could be raised by doing so.

"Senator Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican and chief torch-and-pitchfork-carrier for the Tea Party, is resigning only two years into his second term to cash in on his public service with a high-paying job at that quintessential bastion of Washington establishment, the Heritage Foundation. Does this represent the institutional co-opting of the Tea Party by the Republican base? Or are we watching the Tea Party snap up the last scraps of Republicanism that linger within any sort of proximity to the mainstream of American political thought? I’m hoping for Option A, as that would neutralize the highly damaging threat that the Tea Party poses to American civil discourse."
-- Editorial page editor and columnist Andrew Rosenthal, December 6, 2012.

Comment: How is the Tea Party movement particularly bad for civil discourse? Aren't other groups also a threat? Such as unions? Or even columnists for The New York Times? Rosenthal is singling out the Tea Party movement in a way that indulges in the "only my opponent" caricature.

"[Imagine that you are] at the beach and a tsunami or some disaster happens, and there are people who are drowning on that beach. People who are struggling. People who are barely hanging on. And you had a lifeguard trying to save them. Now, maybe not the best lifeguard in the world. Maybe a lifeguard that's made some mistakes. Maybe a lifeguard with big ears and a funny name, but a lifeguard that shows up and at least honestly is trying to help. And imagine you have another set of people who could help but won't. Who stand back and say, "No, no, don't throw a rope. In fact, when he throws a rope, cut the rope. Let the bodies pile up on the beach. Let the pain accumulate. Because our view is this -- if enough dead bodies pile up on this beach, they're going to fire the lifeguard and we can get the lifeguard's job." That was the strategy of the President's opponents from the very first day. Let the students drown in debt, don't help them. Let millions of Americans be thrown out in the street by banks that they just bailed out. Don't help them. Let 20 million Americans fall out of the middle-class into poverty on top of the existing poor, and don't do one thing to help them. Vote against our own bills. The President puts forward tax cuts for 98% of Americans, Republicans vote against tax cuts. The President puts forward tax cuts for small businesses, the Republican Party votes against tax cuts for small businesses. Let the bodies pile up on the beach. The president put forward help for veterans. The Republican Party votes against help for veterans. Let the bodies pile up on the beach. We don't care how much these kids suffered overseas. When they come home let them suffer, they'll vote against this president. Let the bodies pile up on the beach. And you were faced with the prospect of that kind of treachery, treasonous activity prevailing in America and we beat 'em. We beat 'em, we beat 'em, we stopped 'em. It did not work."
-- Former Special Advisor to the White House Van Jones, December 5, 2012, speaking at the 16th annual Mario Savio Memorial Lecture.

Comment: Jones is demonizing Republicans, saying that they don't care about human suffering. He argues that this must be true, as it's the only way to explain how Republicans changed position on issues such as tax cuts, so that they are now obstructing things that they previously supported. But whether Republicans have actually flip-flopped in their positions is debatable: it might be, for instance, that the tax cuts they previously supported are different from the ones proposed by Obama, or that the economic conditions in which they're being introduced are different. It's not hypocritical to support some tax cuts and not others, or to support a tax cut during some economic circumstances but not others. But, even if Republicans have flip-flopped, does the only possible explanation for that behavior have to be that they have malicious, sinister intentions? What about when President Barack Obama or Democrats flip-flop (as they certainly have in the past): is the only possible explanation for that sinister? Jones is also suggesting that Republicans are unpatriotic by calling their behavior "treasonous".

"Dot 1. Obama tells Joe the Plumber that we need to raise taxes not to decrease our deficit, but because we “need to spread the wealth around.” Dot 2. Obama admits to Charlie Gibson that raising capital gains may well result in reduced revenues to the government, but he wants those taxes to go up anyway “out of fairness.” In other words, It’s not “fair” that these people earn all that money on their investment income. Dot 3. Obama tells the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (evil capitalists) “at some point you have to admit you’ve made enough money.” Dot 4. Obama submits a “fiscal cliff” plan to the congress (and the media) that not only calls for tax increases on the rich, but also for more spending! Here he shows that he wants the higher taxes so that he’ll have more money to spend, not for deficit reduction. If you connect these dots you will see that Obama’s insistence on a tax increase on the rich has absolutely nothing in the world to do with reducing our deficit. His primary motive is that he believes the wealthy in this country do not deserve the money they have. That money is ill-gotten games --- earned by oppressing the middle class. And Obama is going to correct this problem by seizing the money from those evil exploitive rich people and spend it on his constituency. Remember … Obama also said that America is great because of government spending. Money spent by government is good. Money spent by rich people is bad. This is ALL class warfare. Every bit of it."
-- Radio pundit Neal Boortz, December 4, 2012.

Comment: Boortz is demonizing Obama, accusing him of believing that rich people are evil. Boortz is also indulging in "war" rhetoric by saying Obama is engaging in "class warfare".

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples. Click here for previous edition.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Civility Watchdog: December 6, 2012, Edition

Below are some recent remarks and/or events highlighted for their relevance to civil, productive debate:
LIMBAUGH: I think the low-information voters we talk about, in their own way, are very sophisticated. I think we're gonna have to grow up. We're gonna have to admit to ourselves that they do indeed understand the power to tax is the power to destroy, and that's what they're supporting. That's what they're voting for. They are voting to raise taxes on the rich because they want them punished.
STEVE [last name unknown]: Yes.
LIMBAUGH: Therefore they believe they can be punished by raising taxes.
LIMBAUGH: So it's safe to say that they do want the power to destroy.
STEVE: Exactly. And I think they fully realize, the Democrats fully understand that the taxing power is a power to destroy, if they want to use it as such, which they do.
LIMBAUGH: Yes. And by the way, this is not new to Obama.
LIMBAUGH: Bill Clinton, every Democrat since FDR has been running against tax cuts, has been running on class envy against the rich. You and I just happen to be alive at that moment in time where it has finally broken through and a majority of people who vote, will vote for that and agree with it.
STEVE: I mean, it's something that people obviously need to be reeducated about. The Founding Fathers certainly understood that. They were so fearful of the taxing power. I mean, if you look at the arguments that went on before the Civil War over tariffs, whether we should raise tariffs or lower tariffs.
LIMBAUGH: Never before, though, never before in American history has an elected government sought to impoverish its citizens for the advancement of its political objectives. We now live in a moment in time where that's happened.
LIMBAUGH: An elected administration has, via policies, sought to impoverish millions of citizens and then support them.
STEVE: Absolutely.
LIMBAUGH: For the express purpose --
STEVE: Of maintaining their base.
LIMBAUGH: Exactly.
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, December 6, 2012, speaking with a caller to his show.

Comment: Limbaugh and the caller are demonizing President Barack Obama and Democrats. It's arguable whether raising taxes on the wealthy is a good idea, but it's not an argument between people who want to punish the rich and to have "the power to destroy" so that they can maintain their power versus those who don't.

"Then he [Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)] added: “I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever it is we believe. And that means teaching them science, they have to know the science, but also parents have the right to teach them the theology and to reconcile the two things.” It’s certainly a relief to know that Mr. Rubio thinks children should learn science. Perhaps he could bear a couple of things in mind as he joins the rest of us in the 21st century. (He might also want to check out some of the latest advances in horseless carriages and those little handheld computing thingies.)"
-- Editorial page editor and columnist Andrew Rosenthal, December 5, 2012. Rosenthal is referring to Rubio's earlier comments about the age of the Earth, in which Rubio declined to say whether the Earth was billions of years or merely thousands of years old.

Comment: Rosenthal is engaging in name-calling, caricaturing Rubio as stupid. Perhaps Rubio was wrong not to advocate the scientifically-determined age of the Earth (roughly 4.5 billion years), but is the age of the planet really as obvious as the existence of automobiles and iPads? No. It's a derisive caricature for Rosenthal to describe Rubio as being unaware of cars and computer tablets.

SCHULTZ: The Boehner proposal on its merit, characterize it for us.
PELOSI: Well, I think it is an assault on the middle class, on our seniors, on our investments in the future.
-- House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), December 4, 2012, during an interview with TV pundit Ed Schultz. Pelosi is referring to a fiscal proposal by Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH).

Comment: Pelosi is indulging in violent rhetoric.

"Everybody agrees in the country and in the Congress that we should have a middle income tax cut. The -- what is holding it up is the Republicans are holding it hostage for tax cuts for the wealthy. But left to it on its own, to stand alone, we think it would get a unanimous vote in the Congress."
-- House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), December 4, 2012, during an interview with TV pundit Ed Schultz.

Comment: First, this is "Americans want" rhetoric. Does literally everyone in the country believe there should be a middle-class tax cut? What's the evidence for that? Second, Pelosi is engaging in "hostage-taking" rhetoric. Perhaps the tax cut Pelosi describes would pass if it were considered on its own. Should nothing ever be attached to legislation that would pass on its own?

"The stimulus, which was almost a trillion dollars, that's one huge amount spent within a couple of years. It left not a trace. This is money that went to entitlements, this is money that went to food stamps. At the extreme and the trivial, it went to giving Sandra Fluke free contraceptives that she can't afford at $165,000 a year. She can't shell out $15 a month. … At the other extreme is what you've talked about, the huge increase of people on food stamps. … That's where they want to spend the money and they have to borrow it because we don't have it. … I think it's pretty easy to win elections when you give away candy that you borrow from the Chinese."
-- Commentator Charles Krauthammer, December 4, 2012.

Comment: Krauthammer is claiming that Obama's spending decisions were made on a political basis -- to buy votes -- rather because he thought it was good policy. Couldn't it instead be that he thought helping people was good policy, and people voted for him because they agreed with his judgment?

"After the election of Jimmy Carter, the honorable Coleman Alexander Young, he went to Washington, DC, he came back home with some bacon. That's what you do. That's what you do. This is a -- our people in an overwhelming way supported the re-election of this president and there ought to be a quid pro quo and you ought to exercise leadership on that. Of course, not just that, but why not?"
-- Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson, December 4, 2012. Young was mayor of Detroit, and had supported the presidential campaign of Carter in 1976. The city of Detroit received millions in federal funds after Carter's election.

Comment: Is Watson claiming that a policy choice -- sending federal funds to the city of Detroit -- should be made on a political basis? That is, as payback -- a quid pro quo -- for the voters in Detroit supporting President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election?

CARNEY: It's not good government for one party in Congress to refuse to acknowledge what a compromise has to include, a compromised position that is not just the President's position, is not just the Democratic Party's position, but it's the position of the majority of the American people. I mean, I think we've seen data again today that reinforced that fundamental fact. And it's certainly not good government -- the reference you made to our debt ceiling debacle -- to even hint at the possibility of holding the American economy hostage again to the ideological whims of one wing of one party in Congress. That’s unacceptable.

REPORTER [unidentified]: Jay, speaking of the debt ceiling, does an agreement to raise the debt ceiling have to be part of an agreement to avert the fiscal cliff?
CARNEY: We're not going to negotiate over what is a fundamental responsibility of Congress, which is to pay the bills that Congress incurred. It should be part of the deal. It should be done and it should be done without drama. We cannot allow our economy to be held hostage again to the whims of an ideological agenda.
-- White House briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney, December 4, 2012.

Comment: Carney is making a claim about what Americans want (he seems to cite polling data to back up his assertion). Also, Carney is indulging in "hostage-taking" rhetoric. Related to that, why can't Republicans in Congress bargain in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling? If they asked for spending reductions in return for raising the debt ceiling, why couldn't that be cast as "comprehensive" legislation? Why must the two be unrelated? Hasn't unrelated legislation been attached to defense spending bills in the past? Was that "hostage-taking"?

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples. Click here for previous edition.)