Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rhetoric: Guilt by Association

It's sometimes said that, "You judge people by the company they keep".

And politicians do just this. They frequently criticize opponents -- not for something their opponents have said or done -- but for their opponents' associations with someone or something.

"Birds of a Feather" Reasoning

For instance, they'll point out that their opponent has associated with some unsavory person or organization. Maybe a person with a criminal past, or an organization with controversial views.

They then reason that, if person A associates with B, and B has prominently done something bad or wrong, therefore we should also think badly of person A. A shares the guilt and culpability of B.

But this is potentially ad hominem reasoning, or perhaps hasty generalization. If you reject a position someone takes because of their (the person or the position) contingent association with something unsavory, that's ad hominem reasoning. If you take one person's unsavory qualities and attribute them to someone else, that's hasty generalization.


Sometimes, though, guilt by association rhetoric expresses something else: a concern about the obligation to defy, condemn, protest, and resist what is wrong, what is false, what is evil or unjust.

For instance, if person A associates with B, and B prominently done something bad or wrong, did A take the opportunity to criticize B? In other words, if someone associated with a person who said or did something wrong, did they take the opportunity to denounce the misbehavior? If someone associated with an organization that had offensive views, did they take the opportunity to denounce those views? Should they have to, or is that asking them to be the "speech police", or adopt an impossible or impractical role?

The issue of defiance -- when and how should we condemn or protest evil, harm, and injustice -- is a separate concern.


When someone starts pointing out unsavory associations – maybe by "comparing" one thing or person to another – we should insist that they be clear why those associations are important, and what, if anything, we should conclude from them.

"The truth of the matter is the individuals who spend their time talking about radical Islamic terrorism are individuals like Republicans in the Senate who voted against legislation that would prevent those individuals from being able to buy a gun. And those are individuals who not actually put forward their own strategy for keeping the country safe. Using the term "radical Islamic extremism" is not a counterterrorism policy. It is a political talking point plain and simple. And what the president of the United States has done has put forward a comprehensive strategy to squeeze the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to inhibit their ability to recruit and radicalize people around the globe."
-- White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, June 21, 2016.

Comment: First of all, is it true that everyone who uses the term "radical Islamic terrorism" is somehow in league with Senate Republicans? And, even if they are, so what? That doesn't prove anything about whether use of the term is appropriate. Second, this is "talking points" rhetoric. Telling us that some article of rhetoric is a talking point tells us nothing about whether the rhetoric is relevant and true. Earnest's attempt to dismiss the criticism by using the term "talking point" accomplishes nothing.

Donald Trump is a pathological liar, Ted Cruz said Tuesday in a forceful and passionate rebuke of the Republican presidential front-runner. Phoning into Fox News on Tuesday, the real-estate mogul parroted a National Enquirer report alleging that Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, was with John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, suggesting that the elder Cruz was somehow involved in JFK’s murder.

“This morning, Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father. Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK,” Cruz told reporters during a news conference in Evansville, Indiana. “Now, let’s be clear, this is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky.”

“And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard,” Cruz continued sarcastically.

Cruz defended his father, recalling the story of how came to America with just $100, and slammed the National Enquirer as “tabloid trash” that published an “idiotic story.” Cruz said the tabloid, which recently published a story alleging that the Texas senator has had multiple extramarital affairs, has become Trump’s hit piece to smear his targets.

“I’m gonna tell you what I really think of Donald Trump: This man is a pathological liar,” Cruz said. “He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.”

Trump floated the conspiracy between the Cuban immigrant and Oswald in retaliation for Rafael Cruz using his pulpit to encourage evangelicals to support Cruz. “I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?” Trump said on Fox News. “It’s horrible.”
-- Republican presidential contenders Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Donald Trump, as related in a May 3, 2016, story by Nolan D. McCaskill of Politico.

Comment: First, Trump is suggesting Rafael Cruz may have conspired with Oswald to kill JFK largely based on a picture in which Oswald appears with someone resembling Cruz. Even if the person is, in fact, Cruz, this is flimsy evidence at best; many other people appeared in the picture, are they therefore ALL conspirators? Trump's accusation against Cruz is derisive, and the burden of proof is on Trump to prove that it's true. Second, even if it were true that Rafael Cruz had played a role in assassinating JFK, what bearing would that have on his son, Ted Cruz? Is Trump accusing the younger Cruz of guilt by association? Last, Ted Cruz is accusing Trump of not caring about the truth. Granted, Trump is saying (or at least, has said) things that are false; is that enough to reach the conclusion that he's a pathological liar who doesn't care about facts? If we discover that Cruz has said things that are false, can we conclude the same about him?

"My grandfather came to this land in 1920 and he landed in Jaffa, and very shortly after he landed he went to the immigration office in Jaffa. And a few months later it was burned down by marauders. These attackers, Arab attackers, murdered several Jews, including our celebrated writer Brenner. And this attack and other attacks on the Jewish community in 1920, 1921, 1929, were instigated by a call of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was later sought for war crimes in the Nuremberg trials because he had a central role in fomenting the final solution. He flew to Berlin. Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, "If you expel them, they'll all come here." "So what should I do with them?" he asked. He said, "Burn them." And he was sought in, during the Nuremberg trials for prosecution."
-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, October 20, 2015, asserting that Amin al-Husseini played a role in initiating the Holocaust.

Comment: This is demonizing: Amin al-Husseini certainly hated Jews and met with Adolf Hitler in November 1941, and may even have approved of the Holocaust. But Nazi Germany had already begun massacring Jews earlier that year. More, Netanyahu seems to be trying to demonize Palestinians with guilt by association, as al-Husseini was Palestinian.

Ben Carson is hoping to awaken black voters to his campaign with a message of economic empowerment, saying the black community has been done a disservice by heeding political power overtures from Democrats.

Speaking to a small group of black leaders and activists last week, the retired neurosurgeon, who is surging in polling in the Republican presidential race, said he believes black Americans bring more power through the size of their bank account than by putting their “fist in the air.”

Mr. Carson said he generally shies away from focusing on race: “I say that’s because I’m a neurosurgeon, because everyone’s brain looks the same and it works the same way.”

But he said black voters should step beyond their allegiance to the Democratic Party.

“The Democrat Party, of course, is the party of the KKK. Of Jim Crow laws. And perhaps just as bad right now, of servitude. ‘Now you do this, and we’ll take care of you, pat you on the head, take care of all your needs.’ Which keeps people believing that’s what they actually need,” Mr. Carson told the small group.
-- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, as related by a September 29, 2015, Washington Times story by Stephen Dinan.

Comment: Carson is demonizing the Democratic Party using guilt by association. Yes, the Democratic Party used to support racist policies, but they don't anymore. More, it is an exaggeration to compare the plight of African-Americans today to their situation under Jim Crow laws and say the two are "perhaps just as bad"; they are nowhere near as bad as one another.

BALDWIN: I applaud any kind of peaceful movement, absolutely. I have had a number of people on the show who absolutely support what you do, including people who founded Black Lives Matter. They have been on. But, again, back to the violent rhetoric, when you say pigs in a blanket, Rashad, I want you to tell me what that is supposed to me.

TURNER: I mean, it's an example of -- even with this case that we're seeing down in Houston, when people of color, black people are accused of killing a police officer, you don't see that man down there getting bail. But what we see on the flip side of that is when a police officer kills an unarmed black male, that the system still works in their favor that they are able to get bail. So, when we say fry them, we're not speaking of kill a police officer.

BALDWIN: You're not?

TURNER: But we're saying treat the police the same as you're going to treat a civilian who commits murder against a police officer.

BALDWIN: David Katz, sort of representing the law enforcement side, how do you hear that?

KATZ: It took a long time for him to answer that question. The fact of the matter is, you can't just simply say this is not representative of our movement. You have people holding that sign making those comments. You have protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge saying what do we want, dead cops, when do we want them, now. You have two dead cops in New York City. You have got Deputy Goforth shot in the head by a racist murderer because of what these guys are doing.

BALDWIN: We don't know his [the killer of Deputy Goforth's] motivation. Let's be clear.
-- David Katz of the Global Security Group and Rashad Anthony Turner, organizer of Black Lives Matter in Saint Paul, MN, August 31, 2015, during an interview with Brook Baldwin of CNN.

Comment: This discussion concerns whether the acts of a few can be attributed to the larger group that they're a part of. In other words is it a hasty generalization to accuse the larger group of guilt by association? If a few members of Black Lives Matter engage in violent rhetoric (i.e., "pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon"), how does that reflect on the group as a whole? If a few police officers wrongfully shoot unarmed black men, how does that reflect on police (or on a particular police department) as a whole?

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz clashed with Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night over whether the Texas senator would deport immigrants who came to the United States illegally if their children were born in the country.

When Kelly pressed the Texas senator on what he would do as president, Cruz said that he’s “not playing the game” and declined to answer the question.

“What would President Cruz do? Do American citizen children of two illegal immigrants, who are born here, the children, get deported under a President Cruz?” Kelly asked.

Donald Trump, she said, “has answered that question explicitly.”

“Megyn, I get that that’s the question you want to ask,” Cruz said. “That’s also the question every mainstream media liberal journalist wants to ask.”

Asked whether it is an unfair question, Cruz said that it is “a distraction” from solving the issue.

“You know, it’s also the question that Barack Obama wants to focus on,” Cruz retorted.

“Why is it so hard? Why don’t you just say yes or no?” Kelly asked.

Cruz’s response: “Because, Megyn, we need to solve the problem. And the way you solve the problem is you focus where there’s bipartisan agreement first. Once we’ve secured the border, once we’ve proven we can do this, once we’ve stopped the Obama administration’s policy of releasing 104,000 violent criminal illegal aliens in one year. Once we’ve solved that problem, then we can have a debate, then we can have a conversation.”
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), August 25, 2015, as related in a story by Nick Gass of Politico.

Comment: Cruz is evading the question, and he never actually answers it. He insists that we should first focus on areas of "bipartisan" agreement before we decide what would happen to the children of illegal immigrants who are U.S. citizens. But that doesn't mean he can't state what his preference would be to deal with that situation, even if his preference doesn't have bipartisan support. More, Cruz engages in "distraction" rhetoric. Finally, he tries to undermine Kelly's question (using guilt by association) by noting that "liberal" journalists want to ask the same question. This is ad hominem, however: just because liberals are posing the question, too, doesn't mean it's an unfair question.

"If you look at their policies, most of the other candidates are just Trump without the pizzaz or the hair. Yes, Mr. Trump says outrageous and hateful things about immigrants, but how many of the other candidates disagree with his platform? None of the leading candidates support a real path to citizenship. When they talk about legal status, that's code for second-class status. It's the same when it comes to women's health and women's rights: Mr. Trump's words are appalling, but so are the policies of other candidates."
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, August 14, 2015.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Republicans of using "code words". It also seems like she is saying that, since the other Republican presidential candidates have the same immigration position as Trump, they are therefore guilty by association of Trump’s derisive remarks about Mexican illegal immigrants. In fact, many of the GOP candidates criticized Trump’s remarks.

"I recognize that resorting to force may be tempting in the face of the rhetoric and behavior that emanates from parts of Iran. It is offensive. It is incendiary. We do take it seriously. But superpowers should not act impulsively in response to taunts, or even provocations that can be addressed short of war. Just because Iranian hardliners chant “Death to America” does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe. (Applause.) In fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo. It’s those hardliners chanting “Death to America” who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus. (Laughter and applause.)"
-- President Barack Obama, August 5, 2015, speaking on the proposed deal on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: First, Obama is knocking over a straw man: who has ever said that all Iranians want "Death to America"? Rather, the concern is that Iran's rulers chant it, or at the very least allow and encourage others to do so. Second, Obama is demonizing Republican opponents of the Iran deal via guilt by association or "comparing" rhetoric, saying that since Republicans and Iranian hardliners both oppose the nuclear deal, they have made "common cause". (Obama made the same assertion in March of the same year.) But just because GOP senators – like hardliners in Iran – are opposed to the nuclear deal currently in the works doesn't mean they agree with hardliners in Iran on everything. It doesn't even mean the GOP senators oppose the nuclear deal for the same reasons at the hardliners in Iran. Consider the same argument being turned on Obama: he, like Iran, is in favor of fighting the Islamic State (aka, ISIS). Does that mean he agrees with Iran on all other things, and supports Iran's position on terrorism or it's killing of US troops in Iraq in 2007-2008? Of course it doesn't. Did Obama make common cause with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, given that both of them opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq? Did Obama make common cause with Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro when he agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba? Lastly, the audience seems to endorse Obama's rhetoric with their applause, though their laughter might indicate some of them think it is meant comedically.

"Lysenkoism, by the way, if you look it up... Let me spell it for you 'cause I know a number of you want to research these things on your own. L-Y-S-E-N-K-O. Lysenko. Lysenkoism is also synonymous with scientific fraud? How could it not be? It traces back to communism. It traces back to a mass murderer, Josef Stalin. So if you want to look it up on your own, you will see that."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, May 13, 2015, remarking on the theories of Soviet biologist and agronomist Trofim Lysenko.

Comment: It's ad hominem reasoning to dismiss the ideas of someone simply because they were a communist. That's not to say Lysenko's ideas are sound; many of them are not, but that's determined by scientific inquiry, not guilt by association.

"He doesn't like Congress. He's got his pen and his phone. And when Congress doesn't do what he says he's off doing his best Benito Mussolini. He doesn't like Netanyahu. Netanyahu just won in a landslide; Obama's never won in a landslide. The American people rose up in November and told Obama how they are disgusted with his programs and his policies. And what did he do? He turned around and spat in our faces. And he does the same in 2010 when they lose the House of Representatives. Obama has more ability to work with dictators and genocidal types than he does with people who are elected democratically. The fact of the matter is, Sean, I want to say this and this is important. Eric Holder said that this nation is full of cowards because we won't have a discussion about race. Well, I think this nation needs to have a discussion about what's going on in this White House and this administration about anti-Semitism. Because this White House and it's reaching out to Sharpton, the Muslim Brotherhood, CAIR, all these radical nut jobs and groups, their policies which are -- it's not just Netanyahu. They're willing to throw Israel over the side for the Islam regime in Tehran. This president's former relationships with [Rashid] Khalidi, the professor in Columbia now, with Wright the so-called reverend from Chicago. This president has a lot to answer for, and his conduct is contemptible. And I don't care how many liberal Democrat donors -- hold on now. I don't care how many liberal Democrat donors he has who are Jewish. He can hide behind them all he wants. But Mr. Holder, Mr. Obama, let's have a national discussion about the anti-Semitism that reeks from your administration."
-- Pundit Mark Levin, March 18, 2015, appearing on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News.

Comment: In what sense is Levin comparing President Barack Obama with Italian dictator Mussolini that doesn't amount to demonizing? Levin is also issuing "Americans want" rhetoric regarding the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014, insisting that Obama has no mandate for what he is doing. Calling someone anti-Semitic is basically an accusation of racism. Finally, Levin is accusing Obama of guilt by association, for Obama's links to Rev. Al Sharpton, Rashid Khalidi, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and others.

Q [unidentified]: Can you comment on the Republican letter to Iran? Can you comment on that?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it's somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran. It's an unusual coalition. I think what we’re going to focus on right now is actually seeing whether we can get a deal or not. And once we do -- if we do -- then we’ll be able to make the case to the American people, and I'm confident we’ll be able to implement it. All right. Thank you very much.
-- President Barack Obama, March 9, 2015. His remarks concern a letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran's leaders, declaring that the US Senate might not support an agreement made by Obama regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: This is guilt by association rhetoric. Just because GOP senators – like hardliners in Iran – are opposed to the nuclear deal currently in the works doesn't mean they agree with hardliners in Iran on everything. It doesn't even mean the GOP senators oppose the nuclear deal for the same reasons at the hardliners in Iran. Consider the same argument being turned on Obama: he, like Iran, is in favor of fighting the Islamic State (aka, ISIS). Does that mean he agrees with Iran on all other things, and supports Iran's position on terrorism or it's killing of US troops in Iraq in 2007-2008? Of course it doesn't.

"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 not to repudiate name-calling and invective.

"I'm right about this. I have no doubt about it. I do not withdraw my words. … We haven't even mentioned some of the other communists and leftists who educated him as a young man. But all we need is Reverend Wright. Seventeen years in that church and that man condemned America over and over and over again, and he remained a member of that church."
-- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), February 19, 2015, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: Giuliani is using guilt by association rhetoric.

Politicians talk about the minimum wage because voters heart the minimum wage. … why is this administration obsessed with raising the wages of a fraction of 1% of the country that is already living above the poverty line? … Labor unions, like Trumka’s AFL-CIO, universally throw their support behind proposals to hike the minimum wage. … A hike in the minimum wage isn’t just a hike in the minimum wage. It’s a hike in the union wage. But, the progressive union slush fund giveaway act has a terrible ring to it- so minimum wage it is. … What was their goal? Unemployment and of course, eugenics. Sidney Webb, English economist and Co-Founder of the Fabian Society in the early 1900s, believed that establishing a minimum wage above the value of “the unemployables” as he called them, would lock them out of the market thus eliminating them as a class. “Of all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites the most ruinous to the community is to allow them unrestrainedly to compete as wage earners.” [attributed to] Sidney Webb … Many in America shared this belief as well. Around the same time, a Princeton economist said this: “It is much better to enact a minimum-wage law even if it deprives these unfortunates of work, better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.” Who was that Princeton economist? Royal Meeker, U.S. Commissioner of Labor, under Woodrow Wilson.
-- Pundit Stu Burguiere, February 13, 2015.

Comment: Burguiere is making an ad hominem argument – using guilt by association – against the supporters of the minimum wage. Just because people have had self-serving or vicious reasons for supporting the minimum wage – for instance, to pad union paychecks, or to eliminate the lower class – doesn't mean there are no respectable reasons for supporting the same position. Even if the minimum wage is bad policy, is it really the case that everyone who is in favor of it is simply trying to fund unions or engage in eugenics? That's just demonizing.

CALLER: Anyway. I have been trying to understand the endgame that Obama has for the Middle East, and I believe he has one. I don't think he's just going at it haphazardly. You know as well as I do, even better, I'm sure, everything that this president has done over the past six years and hasn't done in the Middle East, from pulling out of Iraq, dropping sanctions, negotiating with Iran, what he did Egypt, Libya, and now Afghanistan, surrendered and left three embassies, and now what he's doing with Israel as well. I ask myself a question: Who is the ultimate benefactor in all of this? I only come up with one answer, and that's a nuclear powered Iran. When that happens, they control that entire region, and then he can pull completely out of the Middle East, no US soldiers, no embassies, complete evacuation and leave it under the control of Iran. And I think the Democrats would love that.

RUSH: Okay. It's a fascinating concept. I can't deny what the guy said. … And the negotiations that are taking place with Iran, I hate to say, our caller is right. … The last significant story I saw on nuclear Iran, the Iranians were begging the US to finally get back to the table to get a deal. They're begging us to come back, they're so close to a deal. Begging us to come back. You couple that with, Obama has said many times, echoing Ron Paul, by the way, "Who are we to say a country can't have nuclear weapons?" … if it's been admitted that Obama lied to us about gay marriage, then when Obama says who are we to say that Iran can't have a nuclear weapon, and this is the guy in charge of negotiating with them? … I know Valerie Jarrett was born in Iran. I'm not saying anything else. I'm just saying she was born in Iran.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 12, 2015. Limbaugh's comments were in response to a caller from Southwest Oklahoma named "Larry". Limbaugh referenced David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, who Axelrod claims misled Americans regarding his position on gay marriage. Jarrett is also a senior advisor to Obama.

Comment: The caller is demonizing Obama and Democrats, accusing them of actively wanting Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and dominate the Middle East, and Limbaugh is joining in on the demonization (at the very least, Limbaugh does nothing to protest it). Limbaugh uses guilt by association to demonize Jarrett, as well.

OBAMA: Governor Romney says he wasn’t referring to Arizona as a model for the nation. His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the entirety of it -- not E-Verify, the whole thing. That’s his policy, and it’s a bad policy.
-- President Barack Obama, October 16, 2012, during the second presidential debate in Hempstead, NY, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: This is guilt by association rhetoric. Just because the designer of the Arizona immigration law is an adviser to Romney doesn't mean Romney accepts all of that adviser's positions. Does Obama accept all the policy positions of all his advisers?

WILSON: "But we have to get to something that our listeners have been commenting about over the last couple of days, and it had to do with that Labor Day event. The President takes the stage, but a few minutes before he did that, Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., was on the stage, and said that he had an army ready to do the President's bidding, and to -- "
HOFFA: "Let's take these son of a bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong."
WILSON: "Now yesterday, Dan, there were many opportunities for the White House to say that was language that was over the top, to say that perhaps that the rhetoric had gone too far. Jay Carney had time and time and time again was given the opportunity to do that, and refused to do it. Does it mean then that there is tacit approval at the White House at the things that Mr. Hoffa has said?"
PFEIFFER: "No. Look, I think that this is a bit of a parlor game in Washington, which is, let's try to take anything that anyone who supports a politician or the President or [inaudible] Republican candidate says, and pin it on them and make the, you know, President have to serve as the speech police for the Democratic party. And someone from the Republicans do the same thing -- "
WILSON: "But, Dan, it was -- he said that he had an army ready to do the President's bidding, and that it was time to take the S.O.B.s out. That's a sort of a harsh thing that you should say before the President of the United States speaks. The President has called for you know, a greater and higher political discourse in this country, this doesn't seem to meet the standard."
PFEIFFER: "Well, look, that's a judgment for you guys to make, it's a judgment for others to make. It's -- I don't think -- what the President went there to talk about what he was going to do to create jobs and grow the economy, that's what he's going to do on Thursday night. And, I can promise you that I would do nothing else with my day if it was only to serve as the person to approve or disapprove of what every person in the Democratic Party or who supports the President said -- "
WILSON: "So I just have to ask you, do you think this is appropriate language in that event?"
PFEIFFER: "Look, I wasn't at that event, I wasn't there -- "
NEHMAN: "But you heard it. You've heard the tape . Come on, you know all about it."
PFEIFFER: "What's that?"
WILSON: "You've heard it, you've listened to it no doubt. It's been out -- you know what was said. I'm asking you now, in retrospect, was that appropriate language to be used at a presidential event?"
PFEIFFER: "Look, I think playing the sort of gotcha game where you get the White House to -- "
WILSON: "So you're not going to disavow these comments, either."
PFEIFFER: "We are focused on what the President's saying, what the President wants to do and how we move forward and we're not going to get caught into distractions like this."
NEHMAN: "OK, so then we won't hear anybody from the White House then ask a Republican to take back a comment that somebody may make in the future if it may go possibly over the line."
PFEIFFER: "If you're asking me whether we're going to ask someone to be responsible for everything that was said at every event, I don't know that you've ever heard us do that -- "
NEHMAN: "Well, 2008, actually, there was calls for John McCain when Bill Cunningham made reference before a speech to take back what he said."
PFEIFFER: "I was on that campaign. I have zero recollection of that. But that's not surprising, considering that whole two-year period of my life is sort of a blur. But -- so I don't remember what that was, I don't know whether we called for that. I don't remember certainly doing that myself. I don't remember the President doing that."
NEHMAN: "OK, so civility, then is just up to each individual. It has nothing to do with John Boehner, has nothing to do with Barack Obama. It has nothing to do with other leaders of certain parties."
PFEIFFER: "No, what everyone should do is -- is -- is -- is make their best judgment of how they be civil. What I don't think makes sense is to distract from the major issues at hand to try to get everyone to go back and approve and disapprove of every single thing that every single person has said. I don't think -- "
HAM: "But it seems fair to me, given that the tone and the rhetoric and that entire message has been a central part of who Barack Obama is as a President and as a leader, that this makes me wonder, did he really mean it, or was he just using it in the wake of other people saying things that -- the party he didn't particularly agree with."
PFEIFFER: "No, I think he, I think -- you mean, you have -- the President has carried himself in a certain way, and he'll continue to carry himself in a way that is -- where he is civil, respectful, is someone who is willing -- and gets much guff from his own party for doing it, for being willing to look for agreement with even people he has vehement disagreement with. Look at some of his people he worked closely with on, like Senator Tom Coburn, who agrees on almost nothing with the President, but where they can find small areas of agreement, they'll work together. And so, that's who the President is, that's the campaign he ran in 2008, that's the campaign he's going to run in 2012. What I don't think makes sense is to say, OK -- is to then try to get off the major issues at hand by taking everything that anyone says at an event that the President attends as a guest and ask them to -- and ask the President to approve or disapprove."
HAM:"I look forward to the new standard."
-- White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, September 7, 2011, appearing on WMAL "Morning Majority" show with hosts Brian Wilson, Bryan Nehman, and Mary Katharine Ham. The discussion concerned comments by Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., at a Labor Day rally (at which President Barack Obama also spoke, after Hoffa), on September 5, 2011.

Comment: First, it's not a "parlor game" or "gotcha game" or a "distraction" or some sort of "guilt by association" rhetoric to ask people to criticize incivility (and Hoffa's comments clearly were just that). And asking Obama to criticize one instance of incivility isn't asking him to "police" the speech of everything said by everyone in his party. Is that what Democrats were asking Republicans to do when they demanded that Republicans rebuke Rush Limbaugh for his name-calling of Sandra Fluke? No, of course not. (Note that, days after this interview on WMAL, the Obama campaign introduced AttackWatch.com, a website policing the speech of many people, so long as they had said something critical of Obama.) Obama has called for a higher standard of political dialogue and that involves defying and rebuking incivility even-handedly, not just in your opponents. Second, Pfeiffer is evading the question when he says he wasn't and the event that Hoffa spoke at (he doesn't need to be to at the event to evaluate what Hoffa said at it), and again evading the question when he says civility is "a judgment for others to make". Lastly, contrary to what Pfeiffer says, Obama is not a good example of civility. Civility isn't about working with opponents, it's about not distorting them and calling them names. Obama often resorts to these behaviors, and says nothing while his allies do the same. Obama has worked with Republicans, and also demonized them. Civility says he should stop the latter; it says nothing about the former. Again, it's the responsibility of all of us to protest incivility, particularly if -- like Obama -- we've prominently advocated civil debate. Not just in the opponent's party, but in your own as well.

TAPPER: And lastly, Jay, in January, President Obama said after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all the ails of the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment, make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” Did he mean that?
CARNEY: Of course he did.
TAPPER: How does the comments -- how did the comments by the Teamsters’ president fit in with that?
CARNEY: Well, first of all, those weren’t comments by the President. Secondly, and as I think it’s been reported by --
TAPPER: Comments by a union leader at an event that President Obama spoke at.
CARNEY: I understand that there is a ritual in Washington that somebody says something and you link the associations, and then everybody who has an association with him or her somehow has to avow or disavow it. The President wasn’t there -- I mean, he wasn’t on stage. He didn’t speak for another 20 minutes. He didn’t hear it. I really don’t have any comment beyond that, Jake.
TAPPER: Okay. Well, some of us covered the campaign and recall a time when somebody made some harsh comments about then-Senator Obama while -- during the introduction of a McCain rally and the Obama campaign was offended and expected an apology, and Senator McCain came out and did so.
CARNEY: Mr. Hoffa speaks for himself. He speaks for the labor movement, the AFL-CIO. The President speaks for himself. I speak for the President. What the President was glad to do yesterday was have the opportunity to present his views on the importance of working Americans and on the importance of taking measures to help working Americans --
TAPPER: Okay, so the precedent --
CARNEY: -- to create jobs and grow the economy.
TAPPER: So the precedent you’re setting right now for the 2012 election is, the candidate -- the Republican candidates are the ones that we need to pay attention to, and those who introduce them at rallies, their surrogates -- you don’t have to pay attention to anything that they say.
CARNEY: Jake, I really -- I think I’ve said what I can say about this.
TAPPER: I just -- is that the standard now?
CARNEY: You can report it as you --
TAPPER: I’d rather not have to do this Washington Kabuki every time something happens --
CARNEY: It’s up to you to do the Kabuki --
TAPPER: -- but if that’s the standard -- if that’s the standard, then --
CARNEY: The standard is, we should focus on the actions we can take to grow the economy and create jobs, instead of focusing on Kabuki theater.
TAPPER: Did the President find the comments appropriate?
CARNEY: Can we move on?
-- White House briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney, September 6, 2011, responding to a question from Jake Tapper of ABC News. The discussion concerned comments by Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., at a Labor Day rally (at which President Barack Obama also spoke, after Hoffa), on September 5, 2011.

Comment: Tapper references Obama's calls for civility in January 2011, and then asks Carney if Obama will live up to that standard by condemning Hoffa's name-calling. Carney -- along with the Obama administration as a whole -- refused to criticize this specific instance of incivility (even though they've condemned name-calling in the past, when it's come from their opponents). Carney is correct that Hoffa's comments weren't the Obama's, but that doesn't mean asking Obama to protest and rebuke Hoffa's remarks is somehow guilt by association. People have an obligation to stand up to and defy deeds that are wrong (name-calling, in this case). Asking Obama to do so is not "kabuki" or anything approaching a frivolous request.


Examples from 2008.

"Gov. George W. Bush expressed regret today for not speaking out against racial and religious intolerance during a visit to Bob Jones University in South Carolina, an appearance that has come to haunt his campaign and challenge his claim to being a new kind of conservative eager to expand the Republican Party's appeal to all voters. In a letter to Cardinal John O'Connor, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, and in a news conference this afternoon in Austin, Tex., Mr. Bush said that he had erred by not clearly separating himself from some of the anti-Catholic and racially discriminatory sentiments that have been associated with the university, a conservative Christian institution. Although he did not apologize for making the visit to Bob Jones, his remarks were a striking about-face for the Texas governor, who in recent weeks had brushed off suggestions that his appearance there was a mistake, and it reflected the depth of concern in the Bush campaign that the tenacious after-life of the episode was doing Mr. Bush political damage. "On reflection, I should have been more clear in disassociating myself from anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice," Mr. Bush said in the letter to Cardinal O'Connor, which was dated Friday, the Bush campaign said. "It was a missed opportunity, causing needless offense, which I deeply regret.""
-- Article in The New York Times, February 27, 2000.

Comment: Republicans -- such as Pat Buchanan, Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, Alan Keyes, Dan Quayle, and Ronald Reagan -- have frequently faced criticism for speaking at Bob Jones University, which was founded and run by a family that excoriated Catholicism and for many years did not allow black students to attend the school (and, after allowing their attendance, prohibited interracial dating). Did these Republicans have an obligation to rebuke these policies while they were speaking at Bob Jones University?

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

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