Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rhetoric: "Rooting for Failure"

One of the ways that politicians and pundits demonize their opponents is by saying that their opponents are "rooting for failure".

If one party is in power -- say, it holds the Presidency or the Congress -- they respond to criticism of their policies by saying that their critics want those policies to fail so that they can gain power in the next election. They claim that their opponents would "rather have the country fail so they can succeed politically". Or they say that "good news for the country is bad news for them".

But this is just name-calling. People reasonably disagree about which policies are best for the country. The fact that I don't want you implementing policies that I believe are bad doesn't mean I'm rooting for failure. It just means you and I disagree -- again, reasonably, given how complicated morality and the empirical world are -- about which policies will serve the country and its people best.

This is the flip side of the "failed policies" accusation. I become president and implement a bunch of policies. You quickly declare them to be "failed policies" before they've really had a chance to work, and so I accuse you of "rooting for failure".

"America’s workforce is growing at the fastest pace since the year 2000. It is showing the kind of strength and durability that makes America’s economy right now the envy of the world despite the enormous headwinds that it’s receiving because of weaknesses in other parts of the world. In other words, the numbers, the facts don’t lie. And I think it’s useful, given that there seems to be an alternative reality out there from some of the political folks that America is down in the dumps. It’s not. America is pretty darn great right now, and making strides right now. … And I don’t expect that these facts and this evidence will convince some of the politicians out there to change their doomsday rhetoric, talking about how terrible America is. … The fact of the matter is, is that the plans that we have put in place to grow the economy have worked. They would work even faster if we did not have the kind of obstruction that we’ve seen in this town to prevent additional policies that would make a difference. … That’s what we should be debating. That’s the debate that is worthy of the American people. Not fantasy. Not name-calling. Not trying to talk down the American economy, but looking at the facts, understanding that we’ve made extraordinary progress in job growth; how can we continue to advance that, how can we make sure that people are successful in climbing the ladder of wage and income growth over the coming years; how do we make sure that we make this economy grow even faster. … The notion that we would reverse the very policies that helped dig us out of a recession, reinstitute those that got us into a hole -- plans that are being currently proposed by Republicans in Congress and by some of the candidates for President -- that’s not the conversation we should be having."
-- President Barack Obama, March 4, 2016.

Comment: There are several things going on here. First, Obama is accusing opponents (in particular, Republicans) of being "out of touch with reality", or perhaps of not caring about facts. Second, it sounds like he's also accusing Republicans of rooting for failure on the economy. Third, he is accusing them of obstruction. Fourth, he is calling for a higher standard of debate. Finally, he is making claims about what caused the Financial Crisis – he says it was Republican policies – and the reversal of that crisis – he says it was his own economic policies. But his support for these claims seems to be flimsy post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.

"Did you ever notice that a global warming catastrophe is never predicted for next year or next month? Have you noticed that ever since Hurricane Katrina, they've been hoping for more of them, so that they can use that to prove it, and there haven't been any more? We haven't had a major hurricane strike the country in 10 years, and yet they claim that Katrina was evidence galore of global warming? I go through all of these things that you've heard for years, just the common-sensical ways of rejecting this premise."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 3, 2015.

Comment: Limbaugh seems to be accusing people who believe in global warming – though he doesn’t name anyone in particular – of rooting for failure. He's also claiming that it's common sense to disbelieve global warming.

"Overall, though, we’re making enormous progress, and it does make you wonder, why is it that Republican politicians are so down on America. Have you noticed that? I mean, they are gloomy. They’re like Grumpy Cat. Everything is terrible according to them. We’re doomed. I mean, I know it’s political season, but you listen to them and they’ve constructed this entire separate reality. It’s like the Twilight Zone. And according to their story, their narrative, everything was terrific back in 2008 when unemployment was skyrocketing and uninsured rates were rising and folks were losing their homes and their jobs, we were engaged in two wars, bin Laden was still at large. If you were listening to them, those were like the good old days. The golden years. And then I came in and the Democrats came in, but according to them that’s when everything all went to heck. Which is strange. I mean, it’s a hard argument to make. There was an article, I think, in The New York Times today, or maybe it was yesterday, where they pointed out that it’s very hard for them to make the arguments they make about tax cuts for the wealthy and doing the same stuff that they’ve been promoting, and trying to eliminate regulations on the big banks and all that, when the empirical evidence shows that when Democrats control the White House and we’ve got a Democratic Congress the economy does better and when they’re in charge, it does worse. Just look at the facts. Don’t take my word for it, go back, take a look at – all right, here’s Bill Clinton’s presidency, and then there’s Bush presidency and then there’s my presidency and, take a look. And you’ve gotta feel bad for the fact-checkers, for the Republicans, because they’ve gotta spend hours trying to keep up with some of the crazy stuff that their candidates are claiming. And the reason they have to make up stuff is because they don’t have a record to run on. They’re offering the same policies that caused so many problems in the first place. They ran on them in 2008, they ran on them in 2012, they’re running on them now. … And it's a shame when politicians spend all their time trying to make people feel bad, or more typically, trying to make them feel scared. Talking down the country all the time because it serves your politics. … We [Democrats] have got an optimistic vision about where this country can go if the politics of obstruction and fear-mongering are set aside and we start working together as a country."
-- President Barack Obama, October 23, 2015.

Comment: First, Obama seems to be accusing Republicans of rooting for failure, obstruction, divisiveness and fear-mongering, and saying they are doing so for "political" motives. This is unfair. Obama, when he ran for office in 2004 and 2008, was frequently critical of the country's state of affairs; does this mean he was "down on America"? Second, Obama is distorting Republicans' position: what Republican has ever said that everything was terrific back in 2008? Third, Obama is making a "correlation is causation" argument when it comes to the economy and Democrats, which is additionally flawed because Democrats and Republicans aren't monolithic when it comes to policies (some Republicans have raised taxes, like Ronald Reagan, and some Democrats have lowered them, like JFK), and because Republicans were in control of Congress during the boom years of Clinton's presidency, Democrats were in control of Congress when the Great Recession happened, and Congress is in control of Republicans now that we're making "enormous progress". Of course, sometimes good or bad things happen when a party is in power that were set in motion earlier by a different party, or that are out of anyone's political control altogether.

"Why are all these Republicans so down on America?" Obama said. "Listening to them is really depressing and it doesn't match up with the truth."

Obama urged those attending a fundraiser for Washington Sen. Patty Murray to get involved in local, state and national politics.

"Our system is only as good as what we put into it," he said, criticizing the "false prophets who spout things that under examination don't really make any sense, but feed your biases and your fears."

"I'm proud of the fact that we are not just the party that is against everything," Obama said.
-- President Barack Obama, October 9, 2015, as related by a Politico story by Jennifer Shutt.

Comment: Obama is demonizing Republicans, saying they are fear-mongering and simply being obstructionists. Obama may also be accusing them of rooting for failure.

"Over the past five and a half years, our businesses have created more than 13 million new jobs. The unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in over seven years. Manufacturing is growing. Housing is bouncing back. We’ve reduced our deficits by two-thirds. And 16 million more Americans now know the security of health insurance. This is your progress. It’s because of your hard work and sacrifice that America has come back from crisis faster than almost every other advanced nation on Earth. We remain the safest, strongest bet in the world. Of course, you might not know all that if you only listened to the bluster of political season, when it’s in the interest of some politicians to paint America as dark and depressing as possible. … There’s nothing patriotic about denying the progress you’ve worked so hard to make."
-- President Barack Obama, September 19, 2015.

Comment: In saying that it's "the interest of some politicians to paint America as dark and depressing as possible", Obama sounds like he's accusing his critics (Republicans) of rooting for failure. If Obama is trying to dismiss the criticism on the basis of the motive he says the critics have, then he's also engaging in ad hominem reasoning. Last, Obama suggests his critics are unpatriotic.

It’s true that too many of the poorest of the poor in New Orleans are still slipping through the cracks and have not been properly accounted for when they drop out. Critics like Andrea Gabor in The New York Times are right to ask tough questions about every aspect of the RSD’s efforts. But Gabor, like many other critics, cites the prestigious Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) when it serves her arguments only to try to poke holes in CREDO research confirming huge improvements in inner-city education spearheaded by experienced charter operators. For these critics to call the successes in New Orleans “a myth,” as Gabor does, is preposterous.

“Some people seem to be rooting for us to fail,” says Mary Landrieu, a Democrat who lost her Senate seat last year and now devotes much of her time to pushing education reform in her hometown and beyond. (Her brother, Mitch, is the mayor of New Orleans.)

Those rooting for charters to fail certainly aren’t the African-American parents who in cities across the country enter charter school lotteries in disproportionate numbers.
-- From an article by pundit Jonathan Alter, September 1, 2015, concerning charter schools in New Orleans and the Recovery School District (RSD).

Comment: These are examples of "rooting for failure" rhetoric.

Gerrard obviously intended for this to be a provocative piece, but he doesn’t offer any particular new affirmations of science and he ignores some obvious problems with his argument. For instance, if global warming has the impact he wants it to suggests it could, won’t the United States also have climate change refugees? … Those on the left who make these kind of bizarre assertions are feeding the fears of some, but the doubts of many others.
-- Pundit Ed Rogers, June 29, 2015. Rogers' remarks concern an article by pundit Michael B. Gerrard entitled, “America is the worst polluter in the history of the world. We should let climate change refugees resettle here.”

Comment: In his strikethrough, Rogers seems to suggest that Gerrard wants global warming to have a negative impact, which is demonizing, perhaps even "rooting for failure" rhetoric. Also, Rogers uses "scare tactics" rhetoric.

"With this case behind us, we’re going to keep working to make health care in America even better and more affordable, and to get more people covered. But it is time to stop refighting battles that have been settled again and again. It’s time to move on. Because as Americans, we don’t go backwards, we move forwards. We take care of each other. We root for one another’s success. We strive to do better, to be better, than the generation before us, and we try to build something better for the generation coming behind us. With this behind us, let’s come together and keep building something better right now."
-- President Barack Obama, June 27, 2015, during the weekly presidential address.

Comment: First, this is "rehashing old battles" rhetoric. Why should opponents of the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") stop fighting to reverse a law they disagree with? When Democrat-proposed health care reform (known as "Hillarycare") was blocked in 1994, Democrats didn't consider the battle settled. They kept pushing for reform, and it was passed in 2010. Why should Republicans consider the passage of that reform to "settle" the issue? Second, it sounds like Obama is saying that his opponents are rooting for failure, and that his opponents are somehow not real Americans.

Pundit Glenn Beck worries that some critics of the Republican decision to defund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration will "revel" if a terrorist gets across the border, saying, "they will enjoy a jihadist getting through".
-- Glenn Beck Radio Program, February 9, 2015, during an interview with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

Comment: This is "rooting for failure" rhetoric, albeit hypothetical or speculative.

"Now, like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the signup process along the way that we will fix. … For example, we found out that there have been times this morning where the site has been running more slowly than it normally will. The reason is because more than one million people visited before 7:00 in the morning. … And we're going to be speeding things up in the next few hours to handle all this demand that exceeds anything that we had expected. Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system. And within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it. I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads -- or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t. That’s not how we do things in America. We don’t actively root for failure. We get to work, we make things happen, we make them better, we keep going."
-- President Barack Obama, October 1, 2013.

Comment: Obama is accusing critics of the Affordable Care Act (AKA "Obamacare") – in particular, critics of the associated website,, which had a host of problems on its rollout on October 1, 2013 – of rooting for failure. More, he is suggesting that the critics are somehow not true Americans.


Examples from 2012.

Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL): And we need Republicans and Democrats to work together. You know, where is the leadership on the Republican side? You want to talk about sitting on the sidelines? They're the ones that have just been crossing their arms and hoping for failure. I mean, how could -- it's so irresponsible for them to allow the economy to just remain stagnant, you know, so that they can get a political --
Candy Crowley: I think they would disagree.

Wasserman Schultz: -- victory in the election next year.
Crowley: Right. I think they would say they don't want the economy to stay stagnant but they have different ideas.
-- CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley", October 16, 2011.

Comment: Crowley is rightly objecting to Wasserman Schultz's claim that Republicans want the economy to fail, rather that they don't believe that Democratic policies are effective.

"And look, when the economy is tough and people are anxious, I think contributes maybe to a little more polarization. But what I know is that when I leave Washington, and I talk to folks out here. You know, I have had a number of conversations with people who come up and say you know what, I'm a Republican. I don't agree with everything you are doing, but I know you are trying to do your best for the country and I'm rooting for you. I'm praying for you. That kind of attitude that says, we are more concerned about the country winning that we are about winning the next election. If that kind of spirit is infused in Washington, I think we are going to be just fine."
-- President Barack Obama, CNN's "The Situation Room", August 16, 2011.

Comment: Obama is implying that some people are more concerned about winning the next election than about the country winning.

"And I warn them [Republicans], once again, that this country has no place and no patience for those who root for failure".
-- Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), March 5, 2010.

"On every one of these issues my door remains open to good ideas from both parties. I want the Republicans off the sidelines. I want them working with us to solve problems facing working families -- not to score points. I want a partnership. What we can't do, though -- here's what I'm not open to. I don't want gridlock on issue after issue after issue when there's so many urgent problems to solve. And I don't want an attitude, "If Obama loses, then we win." I mean, that can't be a platform. Even if you disagree with me on some specific issues, all of us should be rooting for each other. All of us should be working for America moving forward and solving problems."
-- President Barack Obama, January 28, 2010.

Comment: Republicans aren't rooting for America? Or is it that they just believe that they have different ideas that Obama's about how to help America?


Examples from 2009.


Examples from 2007.

"Regardless of how you voted in the presidential election, would you say you want President Bush to succeed or not?"
-- FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, August 10, 2006.

Comment: Seven percent of Republicans, 34 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Democrats answered "No, do not want him to succeed" to this poll question. Does this mean they didn't want Bush to make the country successful, or did it just mean they didn't want Bush to succeed in implementing his policies, because they believe those policies are bad ones?

"Bill Kristol, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, said Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) are "crazy” if they believe that Americans don’t want to win in Iraq. Kristol, appearing Wednesday on Fox News Channel, made his comments in response to a press conference called by the Democrats prior to President Bush’s speech Wednesday on the progress in Iraq and the war on terrorism."
-- Newsmax's Carl Limbacher, December 14, 2005.

Comment: Seven percent of Republicans, 34 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Democrats answered "No, do not want him to succeed" to this poll question. Does this mean they didn't want Bush to make the country successful, or did it just mean they didn't want Bush to succeed in implementing his policies, because they believe those policies are bad ones?

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

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