Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rhetoric: "Civility is Bogus"

Frequently, a politician or a pundit will dismiss civility. They'll say that it's bogus, or that it's a scam, or that it's a dodge. Usually, they're saying this because they've noticed that -- while their opponents call for civility -- they don't live up to it themselves.

People who are dismissive of civility usually say something like: "My opponent keeps calling for me to be civil, but they never denounce the name-calling coming from their own side. It's just a standard they want to impose on us without following it themselves. Civility is bogus. It's just asking us to unilaterally disarm."

There is, of course, an awful lot of hypocrisy when it comes to calls for civil debate. It's true that, often times, the people who advocate civility don't follow the rules of civil debate themselves.

But this isn't a flaw with civil debate, it's a fault on behalf of (some of) the people who advocate civil debate. Just because someone isn't practicing what they preach doesn't mean that what they preach is false.

If someone is preaching the right course of action but not following it, point out that they're not following it. Don't reject the right course of action just because someone else is being hypocritical in their support of it.

"Everything’s political correct. I mean, you watch what you say, you say something a little bit off, you end up with headlines. It’s like a bunch of babies. Like a bunch of dumb babies. And, believe me, folks: the world is laughing at us."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, June 11, 2016.

Comment: Trump is dismissing the idea of political correctness, which is perhaps the same as dismissing civility. And he is resorting to name-calling, belittling people who advocate being politically correct. Does this mean that we don't have to be politically correct in criticizing Trump himself? What sorts of things does that allow us to say about him? If Trump is called names, and he complains about it, does that mean he's being a "baby"?

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

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

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

"So they do this poll. And in the poll, I score really high marks on almost anything. Other than they thought I wasn't a nice person. They said who's the nicest, and I was like pretty low on that part. And I'm a nice person. But who cares. A woman came up to me, she said "I'm not sure that you're nice enough to be president." And I said, "You know what, this is not going to be an election based on a nice person. It's going to be based on a competent person. We're tired of the nice people.""
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, August 21, 2015.

Comment: It's not clear precisely what Trump means by being "nice", but this could be either "get tough and hit back" rhetoric, or an assertion that civility is bogus.

"Civility in the face of terrorism is a vice."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, July 30, 2015, during the 2nd hour of his radio show. His remarks came in response to an article by Craig Shirley, entitled "In Defense of Incivility".

Comment: Levin is dismissing civility, but in doing so he's merely knocking over a straw man. Who has ever said that civility is the same as pacifism, or that we should be civil to terrorists?

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

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

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

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

"You know, Obama is really standing in quicksand. He wants to attach virtue to himself. He's the leader in this new wave of civility. He's going to lead by example. He's the guy that's gonna sit around and police all this incivility, like when he sat there and laughed at the White House Correspondents Dinner when the comedian Wanda Sykes said she hoped my kidneys failed and I died. The president of the United States sat there and laughed, the guy who wants now to attach himself to the virtue of civility. And, of course, you remember all of the offended audience members at the White House Correspondents Dinner who walked out on Wanda Sykes. Well, of course you don't, because none of them did."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, March 6, 2012.

Comment: Limbaugh doesn't dismiss civility, here, but he cites the hypocrisy in his opponents' advocacy of civil debate.

"Both the Politico and the Huffing and Puffington Post are dusting off a preposterous, long-since-discredited rumor that Rick Perry is gay and that his wife is leaving him. These rumors are seven years old, and the Politico's doing a story about the rumor be seven years old. And that's the left wing civility that we're supposed to emulate. Right."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, June 21, 2011.

"the commentariat was in raptures over the Serious, Courageous, Game-Changing Ryan plan. But now that the plan has been exposed as the cruel nonsense it is, what we're hearing a lot about is the need for more civility in the discourse. President Obama did a bad thing by calling cruel nonsense cruel nonsense; he hurt Republican feelings ... The easy, and perfectly fair, shot is to talk about the hypocrisy here; where were all the demands for civility when Republicans were denouncing Obama as a socialist, accusing him of creating death panels, etc..? ... But the main point is, what are we supposed to have a civil discussion about? The truth is that the two parties have both utterly different goals and utterly different views about how the world works."
-- Columnist Paul Krugman, "Civility is the Last Refuge of Scoundrels", April 16, 2011.

"here's Obama setting up one of his themes tonight, which is civility and moving to the center and we've all gotta get along and his guys are already out trashing Paul Ryan, who hasn't said anything yet. He's gonna be delivering the Republican response. … Eric Cantor has invited Pelosi to sit next to him at this thing tonight. … Where'd this idea of sitting together come from? Whose idea was it? Was it Coburn's? Whoever it was, it's all a reaction to Tucson, is it not? … and in the meantime, "The GOP's War Against the Poor and Sick." This is a story by Andrew Leonard,, Republicans want the poor to die on the street like they used to. … So we get all these calls for civility which we've nailed here as just intimidation tactics to get Republicans to shut up. It's working. Now, listen to this last paragraph from this Leonard guy at "I'm sure there are plenty of conservatives who want to get rid of Medicaid altogether. If poor old people can't pay for nursing home care then let them die in the street, like they used to." … So Obama gets to occupy this lofty new perch of Mr. Civil, while his minions are out there doing what he is essentially instructing them to do. … But I see this desire to appear to want to get along with Obama, to want to get along with the Democrats. … Meanwhile, as I said, while all this is going on, the Democrat Party which Obama leads is trashing Paul Ryan in advance of his reply to Obama's speech. And this is what the leftists do. Obama goes out there, he takes the high road, he pretends to be something he isn't and the hacks and the thugs smear and attack. … Somebody out there in the Twitterati just tweeted: "This State of the Union bipartisan seating thing is the political equivalent of a comb-over: Looks odd and fools nobody." I wonder if Eric Cantor will buy Nancy Pelosi a corsage. "What's so bad about this, Mr. Limbaugh? Are you against civility? Are you against people getting along?" No. No. I just -- You Democrats don't mean any of this. This is just a show. (groans) Jeez! … It's not that I have anything intrinsically against people sitting next to each other, although in this case I know what it is. It is a trick, as we all know, to get the Republicans to go along with hiding their majority."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, January 25, 2011.

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

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