In particular, they often take one of their opponent's policy proposals and say it -- in isolation -- is not sufficient to solve a certain problem. They do this even though their opponent offered the proposal as part of a larger program, as just one among a group of proposals relevant to that problem.
As such they're just knocking down a straw man, a caricature.
EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS
"For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle – have made in the fight against ISIL, is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase “radical Islam”. That’s the key, they tell us. We can’t beat ISIL unless we call them “radical Islamists”. What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is, “none of the above”. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction. Since before I was President, I’ve been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism. As President I have repeatedly called on our Muslim friends and allies at home and around the world to work with us to reject this twisted interpretation of one of the world’s great religions. There’s not been a moment in my seven-and-a-half years as President where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn’t use the label “radical Islam”. Not once has an advisor of mine said, “Man, if we really used that phrase, we’re going to turn this whole thing around.” Not once. … So there’s no magic to the phrase “radical Islam”. It’s a political talking point. It’s not a strategy. And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and Al-Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them, by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people, that they speak for Islam. That’s their propaganda, that’s how they recruit? And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists work for them. Up until this point this argument about labels has mostly just been partisan rhetoric. Sadly, we’ve all become accustomed to that kind of partisanship even when it involves the fight against these extremist groups. And that kind of yapping has not prevented folks across government from doing their jobs, from sacrifice and working really hard to protect the American people. But we are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be. We’re starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we’re fighting, where this can lead us. We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating to America. You hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop? … Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that’s not the America we want. … We’ve gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear and we came to regret it. We’ve seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens, and it has been a shameful part of our history."-- President Barack Obama, June 14, 2016, referring to (among other people) Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Comment: There is a lot going on here, including "distractions", "talking points", "appealing to fear" and "Americans want" rhetoric. But the bigger issue is distortion. It's not clear who has ever said that using the term "radical Islam" is a necessary or a sufficient condition for defeating ISIS (i.e., that we can't defeat ISIS without using that term, or that using the term is all we need – a "silver bullet" – to defeat ISIS). Maybe some people have taken one or both of these positions – though, has it been their "main" contribution to the issue? – but they certainly haven't been adopted by Republicans in general. Obama needs to name who has advocated these positions, and when and where did so; otherwise it seems like he's knocking over a straw man (a position no one holds). More, if there is no "magic" in using the term "radical Islam", then why avoid it? Obama says that we shouldn't brand all Muslims as terrorists or radicals – and he's correct – but it's not at all clear that using the term does that. Lots of people refer to "Islamic terrorism" while at the same time acknowledging that not all terrorism is done by Muslims and that the vast majority of Muslims aren't terrorists. As I've argued before, you can call someone a "white supremacist" without saying all whites are supremacists, just like you can say Josef Stalin was an "violent socialist" without saying all socialists are violent. Why doesn't the same apply to "radical Islam"? If we support all of Obama's policies and actions on terrorism, but also use the term "Islamic terrorism", are we suddenly validating terrorists and helping them recruit members? Does the term have that much "magic"?
"Obama hasn't tamed the world's tyrants. Obama makes excuses for them! That's another big contrast in this speech out there today. Netanyahu was like fearless in speaking up for his own country and explaining why his own country was worth saving. He promised and had no equivocation about the value of his own country and no equivocation about how he would go to save it and defend it. Contrast that to Obama, who, when he tells us about our enemies, we have to understand them. He tells us we need to understand them, he tells us we need to understand and we need -- like Marie Harf (impression), "Well, no, you just have to understand, they're not really militant Islamists. They just don't have jobs, and they have bad economy and so we need a jobs program for ISIS!" So we get from our administration excuses made for our enemies. It's worse than that. Our administration tells us how or country is responsible for our enemies!"-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, March 3, 2015.
Comment: This is distortion and demonizing. President Barack Obama has not tried to excuse the enemies of the United States, and no one in his administration (including State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf) has ever said that ISIS could be defeated simply with a jobs program (an example of the "silver bullet" caricature).
"And imagine if we had a commander-in-chief that understood that the way to defeat ISIS is not to find them a job."-- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), February 27, 2015.
Comment: This is a distortion – in particular, the "silver bullet" caricature – of the words of State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. Harf never said jobs were all that was needed to defeat ISIS, in fact she clearly spelled out that military force (among other things) would be used as well.
Liberals know they are full of it; they just think the rest of us are as foolish as the welfare-guzzling mouth-breathers who vote for them. It’s time for the lies to stop. Liberals, stop lying about the weather. There is no climate change crisis. Whatever changes our climate is undergoing are part and parcel of the natural processes that have been going on since the Earth was formed. … Liberals, stop lying about our war with radical Muslims. This bloodshed isn’t “random.” This isn’t about “violent extremism.” Mass enslavement, mutilation and murder isn’t “workplace violence,” and these semi-human freaks aren’t going to stop if someone hands them a mop, bucket and paycheck. We are at war – war – with radical Islam, and we need to end the lies, the equivocation and dissembling and speak the truth. Our enemies think they are Muslims, and they think the Koran commands their actions. This isn’t about theology – whether their version of Islam is a misunderstanding or misinterpretation is utterly irrelevant. They think they’re pious Muslims even if we, as well as most of the world’s Muslims, disagree. … Well, here’s a conservative who says it’s critical to understand the radical Muslims. We need to fully appreciate how they think, their goals, their ideas, their feelings. Understanding them will help us more effectively hunt down and kill them. … Liberals, stop lying about illegal aliens. They aren’t all hardworking and they aren’t all here because they love America and have dreams and stuff. Some are criminals. Some are bums. None were invited. Their problems are a result of their choices. We owe them nothing. Want out of the shadows? Go home. … Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton. Lena Dunham. Jon Gruber. That woman with the glasses who thinks we should carpet bomb ISIS with want ads. All liberals. All liars. Liberals, stop lying about everything.-- Pundit Kurt Schlichter, February 23, 2015.
Comment: Schlichter references a lot of different "liberal" words and deeds, too many for me to cover all of what he's said, but here are a few points: first, "welfare-guzzling mouth-breathers" is simply name-calling. It's a slur. Second, is it really true that ALL liberals believe these things? Isn't that a hasty generalization (along the same lines as "all illegal aliens are hard-working"), one that means Schlichter himself is lying? Third, Schlichter gives no evidence for the claim that global warming is natural, and – even if it is – is it really unreasonable to the point of being a lie for someone to believe global warming is man-made? Fourth, notice that Schlichter points out that we need to understand (though not justify) terrorism, and that noting the Islamic affiliation of many terrorists is a key part of understanding them (which will in turn help us stop them). Finally, Schlichter is distorting the words of State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf ("That woman with the glasses who thinks we should carpet bomb ISIS with want ads."), using the "silver bullet" caricature. Harf never said jobs were all that was needed to defeat ISIS, in fact she clearly spelled out that military force (among other things) would be used as well.
GLENN BECK: You're not going to win by bombing them, you're not going to win from the air.-- Pundits Glenn Beck, Pat Gray, and Stu Burguiere, the week of February 23-27, 2015, on the Glenn Beck Radio Program.
PAT GRAY: No, we're going to win by giving them jobs.
STU BURGUIERE: And a three-day summit.
BECK: You cannot fight an enemy like World War Two, or an enemy like we have in ISIS, by saying, "We're gonna hug it out. We're gonna give you a job."
Comment: This is a distortion – in particular, the "silver bullet" caricature – of the words of State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. Harf never said jobs were all that was needed to defeat ISIS, nor did President Barack Obama's administration say that the three-day summit on terrorism would be sufficient. Harf and Obama have clearly stated that military force (among other things) would be used as well. The idea that the Obama administration has suggested "hugging it out" is just another caricature.
RUSH: … It's getting dangerous out there. She said, "We're killing a lot of 'em, and we're gonna keep killing more of them, and so are the Egyptians, and so are the Jordanians. They're in this fight with us. We can't win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need -- in the medium to longer term -- to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups." … the left thinks that everybody should love them. They love themselves, and they think they can make everybody love them. They think with doctors, nurses, clean water, and good speeches, that they can turn the most vicious hatemonger into somebody that loves them. And that's what the seminar is about.-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 17, 2015, and February 18, 2015. Limbaugh was referring the comments made by State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf in two separate interviews on February 16, 2015, and February 17, 2015.
RUSH: … I mean, Marie Harf and Obama think getting ISIS people jobs is the best way to counter extremism. Maybe, in addition to doing that, you could bring in the Chamber of Commerce. Maybe bring in the Chamber of Commerce as a weapon of mass destruction against ISIS. I mean, the Chamber of Commerce, vast networking and fundraising ability to recruit all sorts of franchisable businesses. You could have the Chamber working with the State Department to teach ISIS how to set up Starbucks, McDonald's, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Uber, Domino's, AutoZone, even Walmart could be all funded, and look what we could do. We could establish American economic beachheads right in the middle of the ISIS encampments using Obama's White House jobs summit and the Chamber of Commerce to help get it done, all based on Marie Harf's contention that all we need to do to defeat ISIS is get them jobs.
RUSH: Let's go to the audio sound bites. This is Marie Harf, last night The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, who said, "Some of the best-known terrorists out there came from wealth and privilege, Marie. Osama Bin Laden, a lot of these, Ayman al-Zawahiri is a doctor from Egypt. These people have a lot of money, Marie. They have higher education. They have degrees. Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, 9/11, had all kinds of money, all kinds of college degrees, bin Laden himself. What do you say about that?"
HARF: We cannot kill every terrorist around the world, nor should we try. How do you get at the root causes of this? Look, it might be too nuanced an argument for some, like I've seen over the past 24 hours, some of the commentary out there, but it's really the smart way. The Democrats, Republicans, military commanders, our partners in the Arab world think we need to combat this.
RUSH: So she doubles down on it and blames us for not having the smarts to understand her brilliance. You can't kill every terrorist around the world, nor should we try. So we should use no deterrents whatsoever. We should make no effort, doesn't matter, it's a losing effort, it's a losing cause, and we can't appreciate the nuance in this. But it's the smart foreign policy now that's identified as the Obama foreign policy. And it's a smart way Democrats, Republicans, military commanders, our partners in the Arab world think we need to combat this by finding ISIS jobs, an unemployment program or a jobs program for ISIS.
Comment: Limbaugh is knocking over a straw man, distorting Harf's comments. In particular, he is using the "silver bullet" caricature. At no point did Harf say all that was needed to defeat ISIS and other terror groups is jobs. In fact, President Barack Obama's administration has frequently used military action, which Harf referred to with her remarks that "we're gonna keep killing more of them" -- remarks which Limbaugh himself directly quoted. Obama's anti-terror policy may include things other than military action, but it is simply false for Limbaugh to say Obama wants "no deterrents whatsoever". Maybe Obama's policies on terrorism aren't good enough, but it's not acceptable to misrepresent them, as Limbaugh and many other pundits have done. (Also, recall that President George W. Bush paid Sunni militants fighting alongside US troops against Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007.) Harf's rebuttal is also flawed: people don't believe economic aid will be as effective as military action, a position that shouldn't be dismissed as an intolerance for "nuance".
Examples from 2012.
Examples from 2008.
(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)