Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rhetoric: "Politicizing" and "Exploiting"

The claim that an opponent is "politicizing" an issue is another popular accusation in politics.

But what does it mean? And is politicizing bad? If so, why?

Scoring Political Points and Exploiting

Often, the accusation that an opponent is "politicizing" something is meant to dismiss what they've said or done by characterizing it as being motivated by political considerations. The opponent, it is alleged, is just doing or saying something to score political points, gain political advantage, or win an election.

But what's wrong with that? The whole point of political debate is to argue that your policies are better than the policies of the people you're running against, so that voters put you in office, so that you then enact those policies.

Sometimes the "politicizing" accusation amounts to the accusation that someone is "exploiting" an event for political gain. For instance, if someone responds to a tragic event by calling for policies that deal with such tragedies, it's claimed that they are "politicizing" the tragedy.

But. again, what's wrong with that? It's entirely sensible to discuss policies that are relevant to current events, because that's what political policies are supposed to do: shape the world we currently live in.

Now, if you think an opponent is wrong to say that their policies are better -- that their policies are worse, or that what they're saying or doing is irrelevant to a certain political topic -- then fine, make that argument. But you can't simply dismiss what they say because it's an attempt to gain political advantage. The point of democratic political systems is for candidates to present themselves as having superior stances on the issues.

Really, it's just ad hominem reasoning to argue along the lines that, "It's in my opponent's electoral interest to do or say that, so therefore we can reject what he says or does."


Sometimes the "politicizing" accusation seems to mean something different, though. Sometimes the accusation is that someone is taking a position without sincerity.

That is, they say they support a certain cause, but they really don't. They're just saying that they do in order to get elected, and once elected they will flip-flop and take a different position.

This is a tougher claim to evaluate, because it involves mind-reading and/or predicting the future. But the burden of proof should be on the person making the accusation that someone is being insincere and hypocritical.


"Politicizing" is a very prominent example of rhetoric that deserves to be challenged. What does it mean, and what is the evidence behind the accusation?

OBAMA IS A SPECIAL KIND OF STUPID Enough is enough, Mr. President. There's no "due respect" due you after pulling this stunt. Exploiting a sick, evil, ideological-driven attack on Americans to further your twisted anti-Second Amendment mission is disgusting. Today you're demanding an "explanation" from law abiding gun owners, but not demanding the same from followers of Islam, the religion behind this terror? If the demented Orlando terrorist doesn't represent all Islamic followers, then why do you insinuate he represents all gun owners? And why, after any shooting, do you always want to take away firearms from the innocent people who didn't do it? Forget your asinine gun control, do your job and engage in Islamic terrorist control. Yes, it's a special kind of stupid to demand we explain ourselves.
-- Former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK), June 17, 2016, referring to President Barack Obama.

Comment: First, Palin is resorting to "stupid" name-calling. Second, she is accusing Obama of exploiting the shooting in Orlando, but according to what standard? Granted, Palin disagrees that gun control is a solution to mass shootings, but why is it "exploiting" to suggest gun control after a mass shooting? If, after the shooting, someone says, "this is an argument for gun rights, because if more people in the club had had guns, they could have stopped the shooter", would that count as exploiting, too? Third, where has Obama proposed taking guns away from everyone? This sounds like a distortion. Lastly, Palin is accusing Obama of hypocrisy, for making generalizations about gun owners while saying it's wrong to do the same about Muslims.

We need a President who is serious – who will identify the enemy by name and do everything necessary to defeat it. The next few days will be sadly predictable. Democrats will try to use this attack to change the subject. As a matter of rigid ideology, far too many Democrats – from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton – will refuse to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ They will claim this attack, like they claimed every previous attack, was isolated and had nothing to do with the vicious Islamist theology that is daily waging war on us across the globe. And they will try to exploit this terror attack to undermine the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms of law-abiding Americans. Enough is enough. What we need is for every American – Democrat and Republican – to come together, abandon political correctness, and unite in defeating radical Islamic terrorism.
-- Sen. Ted Cruz, June 12, 2016, referring to the Orlando nightclub shooting by Omar Mir Seddique Mateen earlier that day.

Comment: First, this is "distraction" rhetoric. Second, Cruz is accusing Democrats of exploiting the shooting, but how? What is the evidence that it is Democrats – as opposed to Cruz or Republicans – are exploiting the issue? Finally, this is "unify the country" rhetoric. What, exactly, are we to unify on? Stopping terrorism? That's a platitude. Uniting on Cruz's plan to fight terrorism is more informative, but what if some people think it's not the best plan? Are they supposed to just give up their convictions for the sake of agreeing with Cruz?

Of course, Republicans have known for a long time that Hillary Clinton is an unusually strong candidate, and this terrifies them. So they have seized on talking points like Benghazi (for which she bears little or no responsibility) and her email scandal.
-- Pundit Jay Parini, March 21, 2016, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: First, this is "talking points" rhetoric. There's nothing inherently wrong with people using talking points (assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is what Republicans are doing). What matters is whether the talking points are true and relevant. Second, Parini is saying the Republicans have political motives for criticizing Clinton on Benghazi and her email server. Even that's true, it tells us nothing about whether or not those criticisms are true and relevant. To dismiss the criticisms because of political motives is flawed; it's ad hominem reasoning. Should we dismiss Clinton's defense against criticism because she has political motives to defend herself? No, because that would likewise be ad hominem.

"The Biden rule reminds us that the decision the Senate announced weeks ago remains about a principle and not a person. About a principle and not a person. It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not — not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election, which is the type of thing then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Biden was concerned about".
-- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, March 16, 2016, referring to President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, which McConnell argued was at odds with remarks that Vice President Joe Biden made (opposing election-year nomination hearings) when Biden was in the Senate in 1992.

Comment: First, McConnell is accusing the Obama administration of hypocrisy – Biden opposing an election year Supreme Court nomination when a Republican was president, but now supporting it when a Democrat is president. Second, McConnell is accusing Obama of "politicizing".

"At a time when our politics are so polarized, at a time when norms and customs of political rhetoric and courtesy and comity are so often treated like they’re disposable -- this is precisely the time when we should play it straight, and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves. Because our Supreme Court really is unique. It’s supposed to be above politics. It has to be. And it should stay that way. To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise -- that would be unprecedented."
-- President Barack Obama, March 16, 2016, remarking on his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court.

Comment: Obama is accusing his opponents of "politicizing".

"What happened in Flint was a terrible thing. It was systemic breakdown at every level of government, at both the state and partially at the federal level as well. And by the way the politicizing of it, I think, is unfair, because I don't think that someone woke up one morning and said, let's figure out how to poison the water system and hurt someone."
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), March 3, 2016, referring to the water supply crisis in Flint, MI.

Comment: This is "politicizing" rhetoric.

TAPPER: You said – quote – "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e- mails." Should voters take from those comments that you think nothing was done was wrong when it comes to how Secretary Clinton handled classified information? Or is that not a fair –

SANDERS: No. No, that is not, I think, a fair assessment. I think this is a very serious issue. I think there is a legal process right now taking place. And what I have said -- and -- you know, and I get criticized. You know, Bernie, why don't you attack Hillary Clinton? There is a legal process taking place. I do not want to politicize that issue. It is not my style.
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), January 31, 2016, during an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN. The question concerned Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the investigation of her use of a private email server during her time as head of the State Department.

Comment: How would it be "politicizing" for Sanders to express an opinion on whether he thinks Clinton's use of a private email server was appropriate? How would it be incompatible with the ongoing investigation (which sounds like an evasion)?

Bill Cosby's defence lawyer has called the sexual assault charges brought against the comedian "politically motivated".

Monique Pressley told ABC's Good Morning America that the prosecutor in the case is not seeking justice, but making good on a campaign promise.
-- Attorney Monique Pressley, December 31, 2015, as related in a BBC story.

Comment: Pressley is accusing the prosecutor bringing charges against Cosby of politicizing.

As for Benghazi, she said eight or nine independent investigations have taken place. She also said that as a matter of course, the U.S. sends Americans into dangerous situations. "Reagan sent Marines to Beirut, and we lost hundreds of Marines, and we had our embassy bombed," said Clinton. "It was never made into a political issue."

"There were a lot of useful recommendations, and I accepted every one of them before I left," said Clinton. "I said 'OK let's fix this.'" Republicans have tried to politicize the attacks, and Clinton spent 11 hours testifying before Congress about them.
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from an interview with The Conway Daily Sun published December 30, 2015.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Republicans of politicizing the attack in Benghazi.

"But what I would say to my successor is that it is important not just to shoot but to aim, and it is important in this seat to make sure that you are making your best judgments based on data, intelligence, the information that's coming from your commanders and folks on the ground, and you're not being swayed by politics."
-- President Barack Obama, from an interview released December 21, 2015.

Comment: This is a platitude: who supports "shooting without aiming", or "being swayed by politics" (whatever that means)?

O'DONNELL: You note in your piece, Webster defines terrorism as the use of violent acts to frighten people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal, the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. And you say that definition fits what Donald Trump is doing. Explain that.

ABDUL-JABBAR: What I'm trying to say is that although Mr. Trump isn't committing the violence, when the violence happens, he exploits it. OK, so instead of offering a practical and realistic solutions, he's exploiting people's fear and he's doing ISIS's work for them. And that is something that we can't let him keep doing. We have to say something about it, at least, in order to maybe somehow impact it.
-- Athlete and pundit Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, December 10, 2015, during an interview with Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump's proposal to temporarily halt Muslims from entering the U.S.

Comment: Abdul-Jabbar is accusing Trump of exploiting terror attacks.

"But we are not well-served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don't make good decisions if it's based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks. I think the refugee debate is an example of us not being well-served by some of the commentary that’s been taking place by officials back home and in the media. … And so if there are concrete, actual suggestions to enhance this extraordinary screening process that’s already in place, we’re welcome -- we’re open to hearing actual ideas. But that’s not really what’s been going on in this debate. When candidates say, we wouldn't admit three-year-old orphans -- that’s political posturing. When individuals say that we should have a religious test and that only Christians -- proven Christians -- should be admitted -- that’s offensive and contrary to American values. I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there is a war between Islam and the West. And when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility, suggesting that Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counterproductive, and it needs to stop. And I would add, by the way, these are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there. But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me. … They’ve been playing on fear in order to try to score political points or to advance their campaigns. And it’s irresponsible. And it’s contrary to who we are. And it needs to stop, because the world is watching. I was proud, when the attacks in Boston took place, and we did not resort to fear and to panic. Boston Strong. People went to the ballgame that same week, and sang the National Anthem, and went back to the stores and went back to the streets. That’s how you defeat ISIL. Not by trying to divide the country, or suggest somehow that our tradition of compassion should stop now."
-- President Barack Obama, November 17, 2015. He was remarking on objections (frequently from Republicans) to allowing Syrian refugees into the United States, based in part on concerns that some might be terrorist infiltrators from the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq.

Comment: Perhaps Republicans are wrong to object to taking in Syrian refugees, but that doesn't mean their objections amount to politicizing and fear-mongering, as Obama says. They certainly aren't afraid of widows and three-year-old children; that's a straw man Obama has concocted to make Republicans seem ridiculous.

Before we knew all that much about what had happened, before many Americans had even caught word of it, before the ones who were aware had moved past horror and numbness, Paris wasn’t just a massacre. It was a megaphone to be used for whatever you yearned to shout. That’s how it works in this era of Internet preening, out-of-control partisanship and press-a-button punditry, when anything and everything becomes prompt for a plaint, a rant, a riff.
-- Pundit Frank Bruni, November 14, 2015, referring to the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

Comment: Bruni is accusing people of exploiting or politicizing the Paris attacks.

"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.

GUTHRIE: You mentioned your Republican rivals making hay of this.


GUTHRIE: I have to ask you, if the tables were turned and it was Dick Cheney or Karl Rove who had a private e-mail account and a private server on which they conducted all their government business, would you be as understanding?

CLINTON: I would never have done that. Look at the situation they chose to exploit to go after me for political reasons, the death of four Americans in Benghazi. I knew the ambassador. I identified him. I asked him to go there. I asked the President to nominate him. There have been seven investigations led mostly by Republicans in the Congress, and they were non-partisan and they reached conclusions that, first of all, I and nobody did anything wrong, but there were changes we could make. This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans. I would have never done that, and if I were president and there were Republicans or Democrats who were thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 5, 2015, during town hall event hosted by Savannah Guthrie of NBC News.

Comment: First, notice that Clinton is answering a hypothetical question. Second, she is accusing Republicans of being partisan and exploiting the attack in Benghazi. She is doing this on the basis of remarks by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), on September 29, 2015. But, just because McCarthy says the investigation had a certain motive doesn't mean everyone else supporting the investigation had that same motive. More, just because there are sinister reasons for a certain course of action (e.g., investigating Clinton) doesn't mean there are no legitimate reasons for performing the same action; to suggest otherwise (as Clinton seems to be doing) is ad hominem reasoning.

"We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun. And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. … And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic."
-- President Barack Obama, October 1, 2015, remarking on the Umpqua Community College shooting earlier that day.

Comment: Obama is saying that his views on gun policy are "common sense", while those of his opponents are not. He's correct, however, to say that discussing gun policy after a shooting is appropriate, and not "politicizing" in any illegitimate sense.

SHARPTON: Let me raise another issue. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, he said this week, quote -- I'm quoting him -- "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers Friday? What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping." That's the quote.

CLINTON: Um-hmm.

SHARPTON: You're expected to testify before the Benghazi Committee on October 22. What's your response to McCarthy's comments?

CLINTON: I have to tell you, I find them deeply distressing. I knew the ambassador that we lost in Benghazi. Along with him, we lost three other brave Americans who were representing us in a very dangerous part of the world. There have already been eight investigations in the Congress. One independent investigation. We have learned all we can learn about what we need to do to protect our diplomats and our other civilians and we need to be enforcing and implementing those changes, which is what I started and what Secretary Kerry has continued. So when I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country. We've had lots of different situations, as you know so well. We've had embassies run over. We've had them blown up under Ronald Reagan, under Bill Clinton. We've had lots of attacks where we lost Americans or foreigners working for America, under George W. Bush. We can go back and there's a wall in the State Department, there's a wall in the CIA where we lost those civilians we lost. It's never been turned into a partisan political battle by the majority in Congress the way the Republicans in this Congress have done. And I just wish that they would really start tending to the people's business, deal with the many problems that we face and figure out how we're going to move our country forward. You know, I -- I really regret the way that they have treated this serious matter.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, September 30, 2015, during an interview with Al Sharpton of MSNBC, concerning remarks made earlier by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Comment: Just because McCarthy says the investigation into Benghazi hurt Clinton's poll numbers doesn't mean that was the reason he supported the investigation. Even if it was the reason he supported the investigation, that doesn't mean other Republicans supported it for that reason. Finally, even if every Republican supported it for "political" reasons, that doesn't mean there are no good reasons for the investigation. Just because someone has bad reasons for performing a certain action doesn't prove there are no good reasons to perform that same action; it's ad hominem reasoning to conclude otherwise. McCarthy's remarks in no way dismiss the investigation as "partisanship" or "politicizing" or "negative politics".

RUSH: Bob in Pensacola, Florida, up next on the phones. Hi, Bob. How are you, sir?

CALLER: Hey, Rush. When you had that first segment and you were talking about the news about the events on Mars --

RUSH: Yeah?

CALLER: -- it struck me right off the bat: When a scientist is describing what happened to make the water disappear as "catastrophic," I don't know. To me the word "catastrophic" implies some sort of qualitative judgment, good or bad. In my opinion, in the absence of any human activity or man at all on the planet out in the middle of nowhere, geologic events are neither good nor bad. They just are.

RUSH: That's exactly right. It's a great point. How can something be "catastrophic" when there aren't any people around to feel the catastrophe?

CALLER: Exactly. That tells me that science is corrupted when they're using terms like that about just a purely scientific observation, about something that happened who knows when.

RUSH: Exactly. Not just corrupted, but politicized.

CALLER: Well, it seems that way.
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, September 28, 2015.

Comment: This is “politicizing” rhetoric. The caller has a point that the word “catastrophic” often involves a judgment about good or bad, but does it always? Is the term ambiguous in that sense? For instance, couldn’t a supernova – the explosion of a star – be described as catastrophic simply as a way of emphasizing how gigantic the event is, even if it doesn’t affect us negatively?

U.S. foreign policy, once defined by a bipartisan spirit, has devolved into a game whose rules are plagued with loopholes and asterisks and the mistaken idea that political parties can "win" it. Today, on the anniversary of 9/11, Congress continues to play this winner-less game, more concerned with the political consequences of their Thursday vote (or non-vote, as it may be) than with national security itself. And this is where Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1947 and creator of the now famous phrase that "party politics must stop at the water's edge," would be so severely disappointed. The Iran nuclear deal is being used as a divisive political tool instead of grounds to unite these bitterly divided political parties.
-- Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R-UT) and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), September 11, 2015, from an article they co-wrote together.

Comment: Huntsman and Lieberman are faulting people for being partisan, divisive, and for politicizing foreign policy, suggesting they don't care about national security (a suggestion which amounts to demonizing). The quote from Vandenberg is often noted, but why shouldn't people disagree about foreign policy? How is everyone supposed to unite on foreign policy if they legitimately have different ideas about how to secure the country's security and interests?

"I think the fact that a majority of Republicans came out against the deal before it was even done, says something about the partisanship here that’s really at play. Look, we’re in an election year. We’re all well aware of that. But if you look at the undecided members of congress, the more they study it, the more they talk to experts, and scientists, secretary of energy Ernie Moniz, the more overwhelming support we get for this deal. So, look, the rally that’s about to take place on the Capitol speaks to the level of partisanship. They’re trying to score political points. What we’re focused on is implementing this deal, and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."
-- State Department Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications Marie Harf, September 9, 2015. Harf was referring to a rally being held by opponents (many of them Republicans) to the Iranian nuclear deal.

Comment: Harf is accusing Republicans of being partisan. But there's nothing wrong, necessarily, about opposing the Iranian nuclear deal, even before all the details have been finalized (for instance, on the belief that Iran will not abide by the deal). By mentioning the upcoming presidential election, and saying that Republicans are trying to "score political points", Harf is accusing them of politicizing the issue as opposed to being concerned about whether Iran gets a nuclear weapon. In saying this, she is demonizing opponents of the deal.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Has the email issue damaged your campaign? For example, in terms of morale among staff or in fundraising or getting your message to voters.

CLINTON: No. Not at all. It's a distraction, certainly. But it hasn't in any way affected the plan for our campaign, the efforts we're making to organize here in Iowa and elsewhere in the country. And I still feel very confident about the organization and the message that my campaign is putting out.

QUESTIONER: What has this distraction meant for you this summer?

CLINTON: As the person who has been at the center of it, not very much. I have worked really hard this summer, sticking to my game plan about how I wanted to sort of reintroduce myself to the American people. How I wanted to listen and learn what was on the minds of Iowans. And I feel very good.

QUESTIONER: You have been critical in the past of politically motivated investigations. Has the Select Committee on Benghazi devolved in such a way?

CLINTON: Well, the American public will have to determine that. There have been seven previous investigations that were conducted by congressional committees. Of course, there was the independent accountability review board that was conducted by leading Americans with expertise in intelligence, diplomacy (and) the military. They all said that there were changes that needed to be made, which I fully embraced as the outgoing secretary of state. And I testified before both the Senate and the House. This committee has now gone longer and spent, I'm told, more money than the Warren Commission on President Kennedy's assassination and many other investigations. I'll let the American people draw their own conclusion.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY), September 7, 2015, during an interview with the Associated Press.

Comment: First, this is "distractions" rhetoric. Second, Clinton avoids the question about whether the Benghazi investigation is “politicized” by using the “not my decision” evasion.

"With respect to the appearance before the committee [the Congressional Committee to Investigate Benghazi], I think this will be by my count the eighth committee in the Congress that has looked into the tragic events in Benghazi. I have been saying for nearly a year I am ready to go up and testify. I offered dates in the spring and summer. And when they came back with alternative dates, I immediately said I'll be there, and I will be there. I hope this will be the last effort by some in the Congress to politicize the tragic events of Benghazi and that we do what all the other investigations, both the Congressional ones and the independent one and press and others who have examined this, we do what we can to make sure it doesn't happen again. That's always been my focus."
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State August 28, 2015.

Comment: This is "politicizing" rhetoric.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has rankled some Virginia Republicans by repeatedly calling for greater gun control after Wednesday’s deadly shootings in Southwest Virginia.

“Clearly, that gentleman should not have owned a gun,” McAuliffe said of Vester L. Flanagan II, who killed a two-person news crew on live television early Wednesday. “That’s plain and simple. That was a tragedy. Now, I have no idea if any new gun laws would have changed that, we don’t know, but my job as governor is to do everything I humanly possibly can do to make our communities safe.”

Several Republican legislators took to Twitter to blast McAuliffe for what one called his “shameless politicization of tragedy” — particularly because closing the gun show loophole, a gun control measure McAuliffe mentioned, wouldn’t have kept the gun out of Flanagan’s hands.
-- Gov. Terry McAuliffe, as related by an August 27, 2015, story in the Washington Post by Laura Vozzella and Jenna Portnoy. McAullife had spoken in favor of gun control in the wake of a deadly shooting August 26, 2015, near Roanoke, VA.

Comment: McAuliffe is being accused of "politicizing" and "exploiting a tragedy".

During Iowa’s famous Wing Ding dinner here, the 2016 Democratic front-runner dismissed Republican concerns about the transparency of her email arrangement as secretary of state, and said she’s been exonerated by earlier investigations into the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

“Benghazi was a tragedy where four Americans died … but let’s be clear: Seven exhaustive investigations … have already debunked all of the conspiracy theories,” she said. “It’s not about email servers either. It’s about politics.”
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, August 14, 2015, as related by a Politico story by Rachael Bade.

Comment: Clinton is accusing Republicans of "playing politics" or "politicizing".

But just as shocking as the decision to actually agree to such a flawed deal are the lengths to which the administration is going today to tar and feather those who dare speak out against it. By playing politics with a critical national security issue, President Obama is cementing his well-earned legacy as the Divider in Chief. In a speech at American University defending the deal Obama stooped to new lows far beneath the dignity of the office of the presidency, savaging deal opponents as warmongers and saying that “those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’” in Iran were “making common cause with the Republican caucus.” Shockingly, his diatribe also was replete with coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes involving implied disloyalty and nefarious influences related to money and power. One can only imagine the sting of his words on members of his own Democratic party, especially those Jewish Members of Congress who have publicly stated their opposition to this deal based on its merits or lack thereof. … It is clear that the president and his team are in full campaign mode, demonstrating a steely resolve to jam through this misguided Iran deal at all costs. They are smearing those who dare to raise questions and employing a take no prisoners approach complete with bigoted dog whistles and malicious whisper campaigns that cynically divide our country.
-- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, August 13, 2015.

Comment: Carson is accusing Obama of using “code words” to express bigotry. He is also accusing Obama of “playing politics” and “dividing the country”.

Bills are being rushed to the floor in the House and Senate in response to a woman’s senseless killing in San Francisco by an unauthorized immigrant with a long criminal record. That single crime has energized hard-line Republican lawmakers who have long peddled the false argument that all illegal immigrants are a criminal menace, and that the best way to erase their threat is by new layers of inflexible policing. … Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina mused about the need to find and swiftly rid the country of criminal “aliens”: “How are we going to identify that universe, however small it may be?” he said, adding, “What is our plan to identify that universe before they reoffend?” Representative Steve King of Iowa likened crimes by unauthorized immigrants to the 9/11 attacks, “a tragedy that causes my hard heart to cry.” Representative Lamar Smith of Texas said “someone in this administration probably should be arrested for negligent homicide.” Language like that is hard to distinguish from the rantings of Donald Trump, who brought his racist road show to Laredo, Tex., on Thursday. But there is room — even in immigration — for sane, sound policy. … That would be a serious solution, one that gives deserving immigrants a foothold in this country and makes it easier to uncover those who come here to do harm. It is called comprehensive reform, which Mr. Smith, Mr. Gowdy and others in their anti-immigrant caucus, now consumed with exploitive fury over the San Francisco tragedy, have fought at every turn.
-- New York Times editorial, July 24, 2015.

Comment: First, the editorial board is knocking over a straw man: many Republicans have said some illegal immigrants are involved in criminal behavior, but few if any have said all illegal immigrants are criminals (apart, of course, from breaking immigration law). The editorial board is demonizing the Republicans mentioned as being racists and bigoted xenophobes (despite the fact that their comments aren't on par with presidential candidate Donald Trump's), and is also accusing them of exploiting a tragedy.

"Now, with respect to Congress, my hope -- I won’t prejudge this -- my hope is, is that everyone in Congress also evaluates this agreement based on the facts -- not on politics, not on posturing, not on the fact that this is a deal I bring to Congress as opposed to a Republican President, not based on lobbying, but based on what’s in the national interest of the United States of America."
-- President Barack Obama, July 15, 2015, during a press conference in which he defended the deal reached on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: Obama is suggesting that Congress (and Republicans in particular) might "politicize" the Iranian deal. How is their behavior, as opposed to his own, "politicizing"?

Kathryn Steinle was killed on a pier in San Francisco on July 1, allegedly by a troubled immigrant who had a stolen gun and a long criminal history and had been deported five times. The shooting was inexplicable, yet Ms. Steinle’s family and friends have been shunning talk of politics and vengeance, while expressing the hope that some good might emerge from this tragedy. The shooting has turned the usual American tensions over immigration into a frenzy. The accused, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, has become the dark-skinned face of the Mexican killers that Donald Trump — in a racist speech announcing his presidential campaign, and numerous interviews thereafter — has been warning the nation about. Others in the race and in Congress have eagerly joined him in exploiting the crime, proposing bills to punish “sanctuary cities,” like San Francisco, that discourage local involvement in immigration enforcement, and to force them to cooperate with the federal government in an ever-wider, harsher deportation dragnet.
-- The editorial board of The New York Times, July 13, 2015.

Comment: This is "exploiting" rhetoric.

AVILA: And briefly, just on another subject, out in San Francisco, on the shooting that happened there. The administration has been focused on prioritizing criminals as far as deporting those who have violated our immigration laws. Is this a failure in this case where this man apparently -- a criminal -- came over time after time and still was able to keep coming and was not deported? Is there a problem between the cooperation between some cities in this country and the United States government? Where do you see the problem?

EARNEST: Well, Jim, for this particular case, I’d refer you to DHS. I can’t speak to the details of this particular case. … I would say -- and it bears repeating in this case -- that these efforts would be significantly augmented had Republicans not blocked common-sense immigration reform. You’ll recall that the piece of legislation that was blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives actually included the biggest-ever increase in border security. And that’s why it’s particularly disappointing that congressional action -- or congressional inaction, in this case -- has blocked efforts to put in place common-sense reforms that would be good for our country, good for our economy, and good for public safety.

AVILA: I hear your reluctance to comment on this case, but this case is being used by opponents of the administration to say that your policy is not working and that repeat criminals are coming across the border.

EARNEST: And what I’m saying is that those critics are individuals who oppose legislation that would have actually made a historic investment in border security. So I recognize that people want to play politics with this, but if you take a simple look at the facts, the fact is the President has done everything within his power to make sure that we’re focusing our law enforcement resources on criminals and those who pose a threat to public safety. And it’s because of the political efforts of Republicans that we have not been able to make the kind of investment that we would like to make in securing our border and keeping our communities safe.
-- White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, July 6, 2015, being questioned by ABC News’ Jim Avila regarding the July 1, 2015, killing of Kathryn Steinle by Francisco Sanchez.

Comment: Earnest engages in “common-sense”, “politicizing”, and “obstruction” rhetoric. There is a legitimate debate about what immigration reform should look like, and whether it needs to include all thing things that President Barack Obama would like it to include. Opposing Obama’s views on immigration does not amount to opposing common-sense. More, it is not “politicizing” Steinle’s death to mention it in or claim it to be relevant to the debate about immigration.

"I know I'm getting all preachy, or religious, but our country has no choice. We can either look to man, and I'll tell you who is going to be there. Al Sharpton is going to be there. He's on a plane now. He's landing and he'll be at a prayer vigil today at noon. And do you think he is going to say 'let's all come together.' Do you think all the people who went into political mode last night when thy first heard about this shooting. Do you think they are going to bring us together? Or do you think they are going to use this community to drive a wedge? Let's hold the arms up of this community and let them show us how to heal."
-- Pundit Glenn Beck, June 19, 2015.

Comment: This is "politicizing" and "unify the country" rhetoric.

President Barack Obama is in a "race to politicize" the shooting in Charleston, SC.
-- Pundit Sean Hannity, June 18, 2015, during the 1st hour of his radio show.

Comment: This is "politicizing" rhetoric.

On his increasingly popular radio show, Mark “The Great One” Levin lashed out at liberals yesterday for trying to politicize the Amtrak disaster. He played several audio files of Democratic politicians and pretend-journalists who didn’t even wait until the victims’ bodies were cold before they started playing their usual political games, and rightfully responded with great outrage:
Almost since last night, but since early this morning — while emergency personnel are at the crash scene trying to find bodies, trying to save people, trying to get them to the hospital — early this morning, within hours of the accident, the media, the Democrats, the liberals … in front of the microphones … all of a sudden it’s a spending issue. It’s a spending issue!
-- From a May 14, 2015, PJ Media story by Michael van der Galien, entitled "Mark Levin Lashes Out at Libs Politicizing Amtrak Disaster While Bodies Aren’t Even Cold Yet", with the subtitle "Liberals exploit victims to make the case for more government spending". The article concerns the the 2015 Philadelphia derailment.

Comment: This is "politicizing" rhetoric. There's nothing wrong with discussing how to make train travel safer after a train accident (though that doesn't mean that the solutions being offered are good ones, or that they would have stopped the 2015 Philadelphia derailment).

“What is deeply concerning is that 47 Republican members decided to play politics with this because they don’t like this president. He is our president. He was elected twice by a majority of people in this country. They may not like that, but it’s a fact.”
-- Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), reported March 11, 2015, concerning a letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran's leaders, declaring that the US Senate might not support an agreement made by President Barack Obama regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: This is "politicizing" rhetoric and demonizing, accusing the Republicans of opposing Obama's negotiations with Iran simply because they don't like Obama.

"When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, we should put partisanship aside. Sadly, though, the judgment of my Republican colleagues seems to be clouded by their abhorrence of President Obama. Today Republican senators sent a letter to the Iranian regime’s leaders aimed at sabotaging these negotiations. Let’s be clear – Republicans are undermining our Commander-in-Chief while empowering the Ayatollahs. … But it is unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation, with the sole goal of embarrassing the President. … This is a hard slap in the face of not only the United States and the world. This is not a time to undermine our Commander-in-Chief purely out of spite. … So I say to my Republican colleagues, do you so dislike President Obama that you would take this extraordinary step? Barack Obama is the President. I have agreed with him on certain things and I have disagreed with him on certain things, but he is my President and he is your President. It is time for Republicans to accept that the citizens of our country have twice elected President Obama by large margins. … Today’s unprecedented letter, originated by a United States Senator who took his oath of office merely 62 days ago, is the kind of pettiness that diminishes us as a country in the eyes of the world. Republicans need to find a way to get over their animosity of President Obama. I can only hope they do it sooner rather than later."
-- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), 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 President Barack Obama regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: Reid is accusing the GOP senators of having crass political, "partisan" motives for their actions. This is unfair, because there are legitimate reasons to at least question the deal being considered with Iran. As to the action being "unprecedented", there have been cases of members of Congress holding discussions with foreign heads of state in the past (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2007 during the Iraq Surge (when Syria was aiding – or at least abetting – the Sunni insurgency in Iraq), and Reps. David Bonior (D-MI), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Nick Rahall (D-WV), and Mike Thompson (D-CA) went to Iraq in 2002 months prior to the US invasion of that country). Reid offers no evidence that the GOP's letter was motivated by hatred of Obama; is there any reason to think the actions of Pelosi et al were motivated by hatred of President George W. Bush?

"The broader point, though, is not one specific law. It's, do we have a structure in place that allows enforcement of laws that, not only does the overwhelming number of Americans already agree with, but for which a lot of blood and sweat and tears was shed for us to secure. This is not a partisan issue. Historically, Republicans were at least as important as Democrats in achieving. Back then, there were a lot of Democrats who were the ones who were opposed to it. And Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush signed reauthorizations of this. This is something that should transcend party. This has to do with whether or not we believe in the basic notions of self-government upon which so much of our other rights and freedoms depend."
-- President Barack Obama, during interview with CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante, posted March 8, 2015. The remarks concern Obama's support for the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Comment: This is "politicizing" or perhaps "bipartisan" rhetoric. Just because there has been bipartisan support from something in the past doesn't mean there has to be now. There is a legitimate debate about how the VRA should apply to southern states 50 years after the end of segregation. It's demonizing to suggest that opponents of reauthorizing the VRA could only have crassly political motives, or are somehow opposed to the basic notions of self-government.


Examples from 2013.


Examples from 2012.

"If you're like me, you're watching these fires; you're watching a million people evacuated; these are homes. … This is worse than any hurricane and what are we getting? We're getting the Democrats politicizing it. They're blaming Bush. They're blaming the war in Iraq. They're blaming global warming, for a natural disaster. … Now, I maintain that the country is fed up with this kind of action, fed up with the politicizing of these things, and if you're feeling like everything's out of control and nothing's making any sense and everything's going wrong, this may be one of the reasons. You may not be feeling that way, after today's show you might, depends."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, October 24, 2007, discussing the California wildfires.

Comment: Limbaugh is responding to remarks made a day earlier by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) -- "One reason that we have the fires burning in Southern California is global warming. One reason the Colorado basin is going dry is because of global warming." -- and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) -- "Right now we are down 50% in terms of our National Guard equipment because they're all in Iraq, the equipment, half of the equipment. So we really will need help. I think all of our states are down in terms of equipment.". If Limbaugh believes Reid is wrong that global warming is the cause of the fires, then he should say so and defend the claim. And if he believes that Boxer is wrong that the Iraq War hamstrung firefighting efforts in California, then he should say so and defend that claim as well. But he can't just dismiss what they say as "politicizing". Limbaugh is also engaging in "Americans want" rhetoric, by saying that the country is "fed up" with remarks like Reid and Boxer's.

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

No comments: