Friday, November 30, 2012

Civility Watchdog: November 30, 2012, Edition

Below are some recent remarks and/or events highlighted for their relevance to civil, productive debate:
"[F]olks, here's the thing that is a hard, cold reality to me. I've been doing this 25 years. I think back to previous years, in fact, eras of this program. And we did our feminist updates, and what were the feminist updates? We chronicled and laughed at what was being done in universities. We laughed at some of the radical, cockeyed ideas that radical feminists and feminazis were doing. … While all this is being built, and while it's happening, we're pointing out the intellectual holes in the data. We're pointing out the faults in the so-called logic of the argument. In the meantime it was taking hold with a whole bunch of young people starting with Ted Turner's Captain Planet cartoon series on Saturday morning, to who knows what else was happening. … It's really been fascinating in one regard. It's disappointing in another, scary in another. But they bought and believe as fervently as anything you believe the stuff that we were laughing at, deservedly so. … But now these people all come out, these young tech bloggers, even some in the sports media, doesn't matter where you go, this young, hip, pop culture demographic, not only do they believe all the stuff we were laughing at, they have a moral superiority about their countenance. What they believe is morally superior to say what I believe, what they believe and what they live and how they live is morally superior. So they kind of look down their noses at people. They do not and will not consider opposing arguments because the people who make them have been discredited with character assassination and so forth. … Let's put it this way. When you've got a majority of people this country who can be made to believe that Mitt Romney hates dogs with a commercial of a dog in a cage on the roof of a station wagon with ostensibly the Romney family inside on the family vacation, then I would suggest we've got a problem. Take whatever other insult or mischaracterization or character assault on conservatives that you can believe and there is a moral superiority to the people who believe this stuff. It's not that they believe it, it is that there is an arrogant condescension about them. They're close-minded. There's no other possible way to explain things that are happening other than what they believe."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 30, 2012.

Comment: This is a caricature of some sort. Perhaps it's the "only my opponent" caricature. Is it really the case that liberals and progressives -- but not conservatives -- believe that their ideas are morally superior? And only liberals and progressives are condescending, arrogant, insulting and close-minded about it? And conservatives don't resort to character assassination?

***
"And one of the benefits of traveling and getting out of the White House is it gives you a chance to have a conversation with the American people about what kind of country do we want to be –- and what kind of country do we want to leave to our kids. I believe America only thrives when we have a strong and growing middle class. And I believe we’re at our best when everybody who works hard has a chance to get ahead. That's what I believe. … Now, on this last point, you’ve probably heard a lot of talk in Washington and in the media about the deadlines that we’re facing on jobs and taxes and investments. This is not some run-of-the-mill debate. This isn’t about which political party can come out on top in negotiations. We’ve got important decisions to make that are going to have a real impact on businesses and families all across the country. … Let’s keep our economy on the right track. Let’s stand up for the American belief that each of us have our own dreams and aspirations, but we’re also in this together, and we can work together in a responsible way; that we’re one people, and we’re one nation. That’s what this country is about."
-- President Barack Obama, November 30, 2012.

Comment: Much of this is platitudes, things that everyone believes, rather than beliefs that separate Obama from his opponents. Also, Obama is indulging in "unify the country" rhetoric without specifying in detail how or around what we should unify.

***
"And understand this was a central question in the election -- maybe the central question in the election. You remember. We talked about this a lot. It wasn't like this should come as a surprise to anybody. We had debates about it. There were a lot of TV commercials about it. And at the end of the day, a clear majority of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, independents -- they agreed with a balanced approach to deficit reduction and making sure that middle-class taxes don’t go up. Folks agreed to that."
-- President Barack Obama, November 30, 2012.

Comment: Obama appears to be claiming a mandate to enact certain policies due to the election. However, did everyone (or a majority) who voted for Obama and Democrats really endorse those policies? What about the people who voted for Republicans to control the House? Did they give House Republicans a mandate to block Obama? Or were both sides given a mandate to compromise? And, if so, compromise in what way, specifically?

***
"And a lot is riding on this debate. This is too important to our economy, it’s too important for our families to not get it done. And it’s not acceptable to me, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to you, for just a handful of Republicans in Congress to hold middle-class tax cuts hostage simply because they don’t want tax rates on upper-income folks to go up. All right? That doesn’t make sense."
-- President Barack Obama, November 30, 2012.

Comment: Obama is indulging in "hostage-taking" rhetoric. Would it be acceptable to say that he and Democrats are "holding middle-class tax cuts hostage" because he and Democrats do want tax rates on upper-income earners to go up?

***
"But you know who doesn't want entitlement reform? Voters. Democratic voters, independent voters, and, yes, Republican voters. The Washington Post / ABC News poll asked voters about raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 proposal that has been floated by Republicans in Congress. 67% of people oppose raising the Medicare eligibility age, including 71% of Democrats, 62% of independents, and 68% of Republicans. 68% of Republican voters oppose a Medicare reform proposal being floated by congressional Republicans."
-- TV pundit Lawrence O'Donnell, November 29, 2012.

Comment: First, this is a hasty generalization. Just because a majority of voters oppose raising the age of Medicare eligibility doesn't mean they oppose other Medicare reforms. Second, O'Donnell's use of opinion polls seems to be making an appeal to popularity. Also, by pointing out that Republicans (who O'Donnell frequently opposes), agree with him, O'Donnell seems to be making an "even my opponents agree" argument.

***
"Folks, there is an all-out assault -- forget the word "rich." There's an all-out assault on successful people. There is an all-out assault on prosperity and the future is that government will determine prosperity and will assign it, and they'll also punish it."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 29, 2012.

Comment: This is violent rhetoric, in that Limbaugh is likening the behavior of Democrats to assault. Limbaugh is also demonizing Democrats, saying that they want to punish success.

***
"Notice both TIME Magazine and The Atlantic are calling the 401(k) tax deduction now a subsidy. It's a government subsidy. That's important because that means it's the government's money. You didn't earn it, the government allowed you to have it, and calling it a "subsidy" is a dog whistle term for people. "Why are we subsidizing the rich?" is the shout from middle America and central California. "Why are we subsidizing the rich, Mabel?" So a tax deduction is now a subsidy."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 29, 2012.

Comment: This is "dog whistle" or "code words" rhetoric.

***
"There’s been a lot of talk here in Washington about the deadlines we’re facing on taxes and deficits -- these deadlines are going to be coming up very soon, in the coming weeks. But today is important because I want to make sure everybody understands this debate is not just about numbers. It's a set of major decisions that are going to affect millions of families all across this country in very significant ways."
-- President Barack Obama, November 28, 2012.

Comment: This is a platitude. Who doesn't understand that "this is about people, not just numbers on a page"?


(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples. Click here for previous edition.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Civility Watchdog: November 28, 2012, Edition

Below are some recent remarks and/or events highlighted for their relevance to civil, productive debate:
"Well, [Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH)] lost 11 of the Tea Party guys, but he's got then 70 guys who didn't go to Congress to limit government, they came there to stop it. So, how do you deal with guys who came to stop government, or Grover wondering the earth in his white robes, saying he wanted to drown government in the bathtub? I hope he slips in there with it. We'll put some soap in the tub. Throw it in there."
-- Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), November 27, 2012.

Comment: Simpson is referring to political advocate Grover Norquist, who said that he hoped to get government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub". Simpson is piggy-backing on Norquist's violent rhetoric to engage in the same.

***
"These Tea Bag bastards -- who by the way, I just wish they would all just go away -- or, like in Passover, I just wish there was an angel of the Lord that would pass over -- instead of killing the first born in all the households of Egypt just wipe out all the Tea Baggers. Just, you know, the terrible swift sword, just [mimics sound of sword] -- lop their heads off!"
-- Radio pundit Mike Malloy, November 26, 2012.

Comment: Malloy's slurs amount to name-calling, and his Biblical allusion is violent rhetoric.

***
SCHULTZ: Republicans are also giving off clues about an upcoming deal. Several House and Senate Republicans are openly rejecting an anti-tax pledge of Gorver Norquist. But as Sen Lindsey Graham [R-SC] says, rejecting the pledge comes with strings attached.
[AUDIO CLIP PLAYS]
GRAHAM: I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.
[AUDIO CLIP ENDS]
SCHULTZ: OK, so get out the gun and hold it to our head, right? Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers are giving the impression that a deal can be reached as long as there are cuts that are near and dear to a lot of Americans: Medicare and Medicaid.
-- TV pundit Ed Schultz, November 26, 2012, responding to comments by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Comment: Schultz is describing the situation -- in which government programs may be cut -- with violent rhetoric.

***
"Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont has spoken on this program about the need to protect programs for the middle class in debt negotiations. Sen. Sanders [I-VT] released this statement to the Ed Show tonight: "What [presidential advisor] David Plouffe has stated deeply concerns me. Despite Mr. Plouffe's assertions, the American people have been clear, both through their votes in the election and in poll after poll after poll. At a time when the middle class is disappearing and the number of people living in poverty is at an all-time high, the American people have demanded that there be no benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in this country, who are doing phenomenally well, must be asked to play a significant role in reducing the deficit." Here, here, Bernie! I'm on board with that! The public agrees with Sen. Sanders, I'm not the only one. In the latest CNN poll, 56% of Americans believe that taxes for the wealthy should be raised to help pay for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid."
-- TV pundit Ed Schultz, November 26, 2012.

Comment: Citing an opinion poll that claims 56% support for a positions indicates a majority, but does it indicate what Americans want as a whole? Plus, is Schultz making an appeal to popularity?

***
"If we do nothing, all the tax cuts expire. … [Tax rates will] go back to Clinton-era rates, which -- guess what? -- worked pretty darn well for the economy when Clinton was president."
-- Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), November 26, 2012.

Comment: Perhaps it's true that the economy did well while tax rates were at a certain level. But does that prove that it did well because tax rates were at that level? Is this false causation reasoning?

***
"We’ve been reasonable, even as we’ve remained firm on this point: no tax increases now for promised spending cuts that won’t materialize later. The American people have seen that game before. They won’t be fooled again."
-- Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), November 26, 2012, from the floor of the Senate.

Comment: This is "Americans want" rhetoric. Are the American people as a whole opposed to the same things McConnell is opposed to?

***
"[A] vocal minority on the hard-left continues to argue to the leaders of their party -- from the President on down -- that Democrats in Washington should do absolutely nothing about short-term or long-term spending problems. This is the Thelma and Louise crowd, the ones who dream about higher taxes and the bigger government it will pay for, regardless of the impact on jobs or the economy or America’s standing in the world. These are the ones who recklessly ignore the fact that we can’t keep running trillion dollar deficits every year and throw a tantrum if somebody suggests that maybe the taxpayers shouldn’t keep subsidizing every last program Washington ever dreamed up. Their reckless and ideological approach threatens our future. And anyone who’s serious about solving the problems we face should ignore it, starting with the President. … It’s time for the President to present a plan that rises above these reckless and radical voices on the hard-Left, that goes beyond the talking points of the campaign trail, and that has a realistic chance of passing the Congress. The time for campaigning is over. It’s time for the President to lead."
-- Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), November 26, 2012, from the floor of the Senate.

Comment: First, who is saying this? McConnell doesn't name who holds the "Thelma and Louise" position he describes. The danger -- which brings us to the second point -- is that McConnell is creating a straw man, a caricature of his opponents. They really don't care at all about the impact on the U.S. economy? Third, McConnell is engaging in "ideological" rhetoric, as well as "radical" rhetoric, as well as "talking points" rhetoric.


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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rhetoric: "Talking Points"

Sometimes politicians deride their opponents by mentioning how those opponents aren't speaking in their own words.

For instance, they say that their opponent is repeating "talking points", or reading from a teleprompter, or parroting what's been given to them by speechwriters, etc.

But why is that important? Just because words are recited or written by someone else doesn't mean that what's said is false or irrelevant. And that's what's important in civil, productive debate: truth and relevance.

Consider: sometimes, when we have a test in school, we cram and rehearse a large list of facts so that we can refer to them and answer the test questions correctly. What's wrong with that, so long as the things that we've memorized are accurate? Maybe we're memorizing information compiled by someone else, but if it's factual and relevant to the test, isn't it a good thing that we did so?

Maybe I am repeating talking points when I make a speech. But is what I'm saying true, and is it meaningful? That's what matters.


EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS
"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.

***
"I think I have to be who I am. I don't want to be a phony, like a Hillary Clinton, where she reads stuff that's written up by high-priced talent. I don't want to be that."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, June 20, 2016, referring to Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: This is "talking points" rhetoric. Why should it matter if Clinton's speeches are written by others? That doesn't mean she has no input on the speeches or disagrees with the points made in them.

***
"For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle – have made in the fight against ISIL, is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase “radical Islam”. That’s the key, they tell us. We can’t beat ISIL unless we call them “radical Islamists”. What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is, “none of the above”. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction. Since before I was President, I’ve been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism. As President I have repeatedly called on our Muslim friends and allies at home and around the world to work with us to reject this twisted interpretation of one of the world’s great religions. There’s not been a moment in my seven-and-a-half years as President where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn’t use the label “radical Islam”. Not once has an advisor of mine said, “Man, if we really used that phrase, we’re going to turn this whole thing around.” Not once. … So there’s no magic to the phrase “radical Islam”. It’s a political talking point. It’s not a strategy. And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with actually defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and Al-Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them, by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people, that they speak for Islam. That’s their propaganda, that’s how they recruit? And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists work for them. Up until this point this argument about labels has mostly just been partisan rhetoric. Sadly, we’ve all become accustomed to that kind of partisanship even when it involves the fight against these extremist groups. And that kind of yapping has not prevented folks across government from doing their jobs, from sacrifice and working really hard to protect the American people. But we are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be. We’re starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we’re fighting, where this can lead us. We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating to America. You hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop? … Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that’s not the America we want. … We’ve gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear and we came to regret it. We’ve seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens, and it has been a shameful part of our history."
-- President Barack Obama, June 14, 2016, referring to (among other people) Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: There is a lot going on here, including "distractions", "talking points", "appealing to fear" and "Americans want" rhetoric. But the bigger issue is distortion. It's not clear who has ever said that using the term "radical Islam" is a necessary or a sufficient condition for defeating ISIS (i.e., that we can't defeat ISIS without using that term, or that using the term is all we need – a "silver bullet" – to defeat ISIS). Maybe some people have taken one or both of these positions – though, has it been their "main" contribution to the issue? – but they certainly haven't been adopted by Republicans in general. Obama needs to name who has advocated these positions, and when and where did so; otherwise it seems like he's knocking over a straw man (a position no one holds). More, if there is no "magic" in using the term "radical Islam", then why avoid it? Obama says that we shouldn't brand all Muslims as terrorists or radicals – and he's correct – but it's not at all clear that using the term does that. Lots of people refer to "Islamic terrorism" while at the same time acknowledging that not all terrorism is done by Muslims and that the vast majority of Muslims aren't terrorists. As I've argued before, you can call someone a "white supremacist" without saying all whites are supremacists, just like you can say Josef Stalin was an "violent socialist" without saying all socialists are violent. Why doesn't the same apply to "radical Islam"? If we support all of Obama's policies and actions on terrorism, but also use the term "Islamic terrorism", are we suddenly validating terrorists and helping them recruit members? Does the term have that much "magic"?

***
"They're just words. She reads off a teleprompter. You notice, she's reading off a teleprompter. She always does. She really doesn't have her own words."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, May 22, 2016, responding to criticism of him made by Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Comment: Trump is accusing Clinton of using talking points. It would be ad hominem reasoning, if he's trying to say Clinton's criticisms are false because they are read from a script.

***
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.

***
"On the Democratic side, we agree on a number of things. But I don't think we can answer that question by re-fighting battles from 20 years ago," Clinton said in a nod to the fact she backed the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal that Sanders has cited to attack the former first lady.

Clinton added, "Anyone running for president owes it to you to come up with real ideas, not an ideology, not an old set of talking points, but a credible strategy designed for the world we live in now. And that is exactly what I am here today to do."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, March 4, 2016, as related in a story by Dan Merica of CNN.

Comment: This is "rehashing old debates", "talking points", and "ideologue" rhetoric. If people disagree with the North American Free Trade Agreement, why can't they criticize Clinton for supporting it? Why should such criticism be dismissed as talking points or ideology?

***
LIMBAUGH: Let's go to the audio sound bites. I think maybe I can give you an idea of what I'm talking about. This is a montage of a bunch of analysts from Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, on Rubio somehow squandering whatever gravitas that he had going into the debate Saturday night.

GABE GUTIERREZ: Will Marco Rubio be painted now, forever, as a robotic candidate?

MARK HALPERIN: A robotic quality.

ANA MARIE COX: He's already been portrayed by a lot of us as a fairly robotic candidate.

ANA NAVARRO: It was like when a robot gets water poured in it.

PETER ALEXANDER: Rubio is simply too programmed, too robotic.

RICHARD GRENELL: He was shown to be too robotic.

CARL CAMERON: That he’s robotic.

DANIEL HALPER: This narrative that he’s robotic.

STEPHEN HAYES: Robotic and repetitive.

BEN WHITE: He looked robotic.

AB STODDARD: Robotic talking points.

JOHN BERMAN: He is some kind of over-rehearsed robot.

LIMBAUGH: Now, I don't have anything other than anecdotal. I have seen a little videotape of voters talking about Rubio, and I have gone to comments sections of websites, and I haven't seen one voter talk about how Rubio was robotic. They've had other criticisms, and they've had other praise, but I haven't seen this Rubio was robotic. The media consensus -- and by the way, that's a cross section of every network that we have, at least one person on every network, "Rubio was robotic."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, February 8, 2016, playing audio clips of media personalities commenting on Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who had been criticized by Republican presidential contender Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) for using scripted remarks while describing President Barack Obama.

Comment: Ironically (i.e., hypocritically?), these media personalities are robotically repeating the "talking point" that Rubio robotically repeats talking points.

***
RUBIO: As far as that message, I hope they keep running it, and I'm going to keep saying it because it is true. Barack Obama – yes, has he hired incompetent people to implement laws and run agencies? Absolutely. But when it comes to what he's trying to do to America, it is part of a plan. I'm gonna keep saying that, because not only is it the truth, it is part of our campaign. He has said he wanted to change the country, he's doing it in a way that is robbing us of everything that makes us special. I'm gonna keep saying that, because not only is it the truth, it is at the core of our campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But even after Chris Christie called you out for what he called, "canned speeches", "25-second canned speeches", you repeat it again, he said there you go again, that was not a good moment for you was it?

RUBIO: It is what I believe and it is what I am going to continue to say because it happens to be one of the reasons why I am running. This is the greatest country in the history of mankind because of a certain set of principles. Barack Obama wants us to abandon those principles, and he has spent seven years putting in place policies that rip them from us: undermining the Constitution, undermining free enterprise, undermining our standard in the world, weakening America, apologizing for us on the global stage. The reason why I'm running is if we elect someone like that for the next four years, I think it may be too late for America to turn around.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), February 7, 2016, being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. The discussion concerned criticism from Republican presidential contender Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), who in a GOP debate the previous day had accused Rubio of using scripted remarks while describing President Barack Obama.

Comment: Rubio is rejecting the accusation that he is using talking points by insisting (correctly) that what matters is whether the points are true, not whether they are pre-written or off-the-cuff. However, Rubio's description of Obama as someone who is intentionally trying to destroy what is good about America amounts to demonizing, and perhaps also questioning Obama's patriotism.

***
"I'm hearing a lot of talking points being repeated about “this is a bad deal” -- “this is a historically bad deal,” “this will threaten Israel and threaten the world and threaten the United States.” I mean, there’s been a lot of that. What I haven’t heard is, what is your preferred alternative?"
-- President Barack Obama, July 15, 2015, during a press conference in which he defended the deal reached on Iran's nuclear program.

Comment: What's the significance of this objection being talking points? The content of the objection is what's important, not whether it's part of someone's talking points.

***
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Isn't it time for Hillary Clinton to speak out? If you were advising her, should she address these issues?

JAMES CARVILLE: I wouldn't -- I don't know exactly -- it was legal. It wasn't against regulations. Colin Powell and Jeb Bush did the same thing, but oh, my God. Do you remember Whitewater? Do you remember Filegate? Do you remember Travelgate? Do you remember Pardongate? Do you remember Benghazi? All of this is just the same cockamamie stuff that we go through. The Times got something from right-wing talking points. They print the story. They've got to walk the story back. And everybody -- the chin scratchers go 'Oh, my God. The story's not right, but it says something larger about the Clintons.' This is never going to end. We've lived with this for 20 years. We'll live with it for the rest of the campaign. It's all about nothing. That's my view of the whole thing. … If I were a member of the press and I realized that right-wing talking points helped get us into a war, I would probably rethink the way I get my information.

MITCHELL: Isn't this a distraction that she does not need and that the Democrats are very concerned about?

CARVILLE: First of all, there is always going to be a distraction in Clintonland. There never is a time when there's not. I've lived through this for 20 years. Don't you think that next week there will be some other thing that they'll crop up?
-- Pundit and political strategist James Carville, March 9, 2015, being interviewed by NBC News' Andrea Mitchell regarding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a non-governmental email server while she was in office.

Comment: What is the relevance of the claim that these accusations are "talking points"? What does it mean, and what does it tell us about whether the accusations are true? Just because an accusation is scripted or comes from a person's enemies doesn't prove that the accusations are false. Mitchell suggests the issue is a "distraction", but a distraction from what? Does being a distraction imply that the accusations aren't well-founded? Finally, Carville resorts to ad hominem reasoning, saying that, because Republicans (i.e., "right-wingers") were wrong about WMDs in Iraq, therefore they shouldn't be believed on the accusations about Clinton. But being wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in no way guarantees that they are wrong about Clinton. Think: how would Carville's argument work against someone who took the same position as the "right-wingers" on Clinton but not on WMDs? Would the accusation about Clinton suddenly stop being false?

***
"[A] vocal minority on the hard-left continues to argue to the leaders of their party -- from the President on down -- that Democrats in Washington should do absolutely nothing about short-term or long-term spending problems. This is the Thelma and Louise crowd, the ones who dream about higher taxes and the bigger government it will pay for, regardless of the impact on jobs or the economy or America’s standing in the world. These are the ones who recklessly ignore the fact that we can’t keep running trillion dollar deficits every year and throw a tantrum if somebody suggests that maybe the taxpayers shouldn’t keep subsidizing every last program Washington ever dreamed up. Their reckless and ideological approach threatens our future. And anyone who’s serious about solving the problems we face should ignore it, starting with the President. … It’s time for the President to present a plan that rises above these reckless and radical voices on the hard-Left, that goes beyond the talking points of the campaign trail, and that has a realistic chance of passing the Congress. The time for campaigning is over. It’s time for the President to lead."
-- Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), November 26, 2012, from the floor of the Senate.

Comment: First, who is saying this? McConnell doesn't name who holds the "Thelma and Louise" position he describes. The danger -- which brings us to the second point -- is that McConnell is creating a straw man, a caricature of his opponents. They really don't care at all about the impact on the U.S. economy? Third, McConnell is engaging in "ideological" rhetoric, as well as "radical" rhetoric, as well as "talking points" rhetoric.

***
"Mr. Ryan, as always, refused to acknowledge the improvement in the economy, at one point throwing out a canned talking point about the increase in unemployment in the depressed industrial city of Scranton, Pa.".
-- Editorial by The New York Times, October 12, 2012, regarding GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his remarks during the vice presidential debate.

Comment: Whether Ryan's remark was a talking point says nothing about whether or not it was true.

***
"The first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, so long anticipated, quickly sunk into an unenlightening recitation of tired talking points and mendacity."
-- Editorial by The New York Times, October 4, 2012, regarding the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: What's wrong with talking points? Or tired ones?

***
"Were we all watching the same debate? Mitt Romney came across as breathless and aggressive to the point of being in your face. He repeated Republican talking points and recent accusations as often as possible (apparently as instructed over two weeks of preparation)."
-- Patricia A. Weller, letter to the editor of The New York Times, October 4, 2012.

Comment: Even if it's the case that Romney repeated talking points he was instructed to say over two weeks of preparation, it's still an open question as to whether or not what he said was true.

***
LIMBAUGH: We go to Oklahoma City. It's Duane. Duane, great to have you here, sir.

DUANE [last name unknown]: I'd like to talk with you about how I feel it's unfair that the richer folks don't pay -- uh, richer folks pay lower amounts of taxes than middle class folks. … Mitt Romney's a good example. The last two years he's made about $21 million, plus his Cayman Island accounts, and he's only paid between 13% and 15% taxes.

LIMBAUGH: Our buddy Duane in Oklahoma City: When it comes to Romney's taxes, Duane, you need to get a new talking point or newer talking points out there. The complaint today is that Romney paid too much in taxes to make himself look good. I kid you not!
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, September 24, 2012.

Comment: Perhaps Limbaugh is right that Duane is reciting talking points (maybe even old ones), but that tells us nothing about whether what Duane is saying is true.

***
LIMBAUGH: Now we have an inane media mantra. We have a montage here from Saturday and Sunday, a bunch of mainstream media people describing the race. And they're all saying the same thing, by the way. It's now a "choice." You see, it's not a referendum. It was gonna be a referendum on Obama. Romney had said that. But now he's put Paul Ryan on the ticket, and it's no longer a referendum on Obama, 'cause now that Ryan's on the ticket. It's now a "choice." Here. Listen and see if this makes any sense to you.
[AUDIO CLIPS PLAY]
MARK MURRAY: They wanted to make this a referendum on Obama; now it's a choice.
JOHN KING: Romney has tried to make it a referendum; now you have a choice.
CANDY CROWLEY: What Barack Obama wants to do is make this a the choice. Mitt Romney wanted to make this a referendum.
PERRY BACON: Is was going to be a referendum. Now it becomes much more of a choice.
CHUCK TODD: This is not a referendum election, this is a choice election.
RICHARD LUI: No longer a referendum on the president. They now had to move into a choice election.
ROGER SIMON: It makes the election not a referendum on Barack Obama.
DAVID KERLEY: This changes the storyline from a referendum on the president to a choice election.
GAVIN NEWSOM: We have a choice, and it's no longer referendum.
RON BROWNSTEIN: Shift the election more toward the choice and away from the referendum.
[AUDIO CLIPS END]
LIMBAUGH: Isn't this amazing how they all get the same fax? They get the same talking points, every one of these people. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, ten people in our montage. Remember when Bush put Cheney on the ticket, "It brings gravitas." Now it's a choice election, not a referendum election. What changed?
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, August 13, 2012.

Comment: Limbaugh gives a good amount of evidence for the claim that people in the media adopt the same verbiage. But what does that prove? In particular, does the fact that they use the same vocabulary (or that they've recently changed their opinion) prove that what they're saying is false?



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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rhetoric: "Common-Sense"

People in politics often depict their positions as being obviously correct. They say, for instance, that they are offering "common-sense" policies or solutions.

But are they? Political and moral issues are often complicated. They involve setting moral priorities (that is, choosing between two different morally good things when they're in conflict) and understanding complicated empirical issues (that is, figuring out how the world works and trying to predict what will happen in the future).

Common-sense -- that is, self-evident truths that we all agree on -- is often hard to come by in political controversies. If certain positions really were common-sense, then why would we be arguing about them so much?

This "common-sense" rhetoric often involves the implication that the people who disagree with the "common-sense" position are devoid of common-sense. In other words, some form of name-calling is often implied in this sort of rhetoric, as the people who don't embrace the "common-sense" position are too stupid to accept the obvious, or are perhaps intentionally doing what they know is wrong (i.e., they're evil).

When someone resorts to this kind of rhetoric, we should demand that they show how their position is really obvious and self-evident, and how the people who disagree are rejecting the obvious.


EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS
"For more than two decades now, our immigration system, everybody acknowledges, has been broken. And the fact that the Supreme Court wasn’t able to issue a decision today doesn’t just set the system back even further, it takes us further from the country that we aspire to be. … Nearly 70 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came together to pass a smart, common-sense bill that would have doubled the border patrol, and offered undocumented immigrants a pathway to earn citizenship if they paid a fine, paid their taxes, and played by the rules. Unfortunately, Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to allow a simple yes or no vote on that bill. So I was left with little choice but to take steps within my existing authority to make our immigration system smarter, fairer, and more just. … But today’s decision is frustrating to those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality to our immigration system, and to allow people to come out of the shadows and lift this perpetual cloud on them. … So where do we go from here? Most Americans -- including business leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement, Democrats and Republicans and independents -- still agree that the single best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass common-sense, bipartisan immigration reform. … This is an election year. And during election years, politicians tend to use the immigration issue to scare people with words like “amnesty” in hopes that it will whip up votes. Keep in mind that millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking effort to become citizens. And we don’t like the notion that anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship. But here’s the thing. Millions of people who have come forward and worked to get right with the law under this policy, they’ve been living here for years, too -- in some cases, even decades. So leaving the broken system the way it is, that’s not a solution. In fact, that's the real amnesty. Pretending we can deport 11 million people, or build a wall without spending tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money is abetting what is really just factually incorrect. It's not going to work. It's not good for this country. It's a fantasy that offers nothing to help the middle class, and demeans our tradition of being both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. In the end, it is my firm belief that immigration is not something to fear. We don’t have to wall ourselves off from those who may not look like us right now, or pray like we do, or have a different last name. Because being an American is about something more than that. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal that all of us are created equal, all of us have a chance to make of our lives what we will. And every study shows that whether it was the Irish or the Poles, or the Germans, or the Italians, or the Chinese, or the Japanese, or the Mexicans, or the Kenyans -- whoever showed up, over time, by a second generation, third generation, those kids are Americans. They do look like us -- because we don't look one way. We don't all have the same last names, but we all share a creed and we all share a commitment to the values that founded this nation. That's who we are. And that is what I believe most Americans recognize. … And now we've got a choice about who we’re going to be as a country, what we want to teach our kids, and how we want to be represented in Congress and in the White House. … We get these spasms of politics around immigration and fear-mongering, and then our traditions and our history and our better impulses kick in. That's how we all ended up here. Because I guarantee you, at some point, every one of us has somebody in our background who people didn’t want coming here, and yet here we are."
-- President Barack Obama, June 23, 2016, referring to the Supreme Court decision that day on Obama's executive actions on immigration enforcement.

Comment: Much of this is demonizing and distortion, as Obama's speech doesn't recognize that different people have different reasons for opposing his actions on immigration, and propose different paths for dealing with the current state of immigration policy. First, Obama's remarks leave the impression that, if we don't support his executive actions on immigration enforcement, we therefore are opposed to immigration in itself – likely for reasons of bigotry (i.e., wanting to keep out people who "look different") – which is demonizing. Some people oppose Obama's actions on procedural grounds (i.e., that they're not consistent with the presidential powers laid out in the Constitution); some object to the actions because they believe it is unfair to reduce the penalties on immigrants who broke the law, even to the point of giving them an advantage over immigrants who are obeying immigration law; some object to that the reduced immigration enforcement encourages further illegal immigration, and so on. It's false and derisive to treat opponents to his executive actions as being motivated by "fear-mongering" against immigrants. Second, those who oppose Obama's proposed immigration reforms (legislative or executive) don't necessarily support leaving the system as is, or deporting the 11 million immigrants who are here illegally, or building a wall to keep out those who "don't look like us". That's just a distortion. Finally, Obama's opponents on immigration policy aren't somehow standing in opposition to "rationality" and "common sense" – is he saying they're stupid? – and they aren't necessarily out of step with America's traditions; that's just more demonizing.

***
"Now we have to overcome some big challenges, I will admit that. First, too many of our representatives in Washington are in the grips of a failed economic theory called trickle down economics. Now, I do not doubt their sincerity. But it has been proven wrong again and again. But there still are people in Congress who insist on cutting taxes for the wealthy instead of investing in our future. They careen from one self- inflicted crisis to another. Shutting down the government, threatening to default on our national debt, refusing to make the common-sense investments that used to have broad bipartisan support, like rebuilding our roads and our bridges, our tunnels, our highways, our airports. Or investing in better education from zero through high school and college. … And if the evidence were there to support this ideology, I would have to acknowledge that. But we have seen the results. Twice now in the past 30 years, a Republican president has caused an economic mess and a Democratic president has had to come in and clean it up."
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, June 22, 2016.

Comment: There are lots of things going on here. Where has it been proven that so-called "trickle-down economics" is a failed policy? Where has this policy been tested rigorously – that is, against an otherwise-identical control group? Such experiments are difficult to craft, and almost never occur on a large scale. It may be true that there have been cases where trickle-down economics has been implemented and bad economic news has followed, but it's propter hoc reasoning to jump to the conclusion that the former caused the latter. Correlation isn't necessarily causation. (Perhaps the bad economic news would have been even worse without the trickle-down policies, it's impossible to know unless you set up a control group for comparison.) Also, who has proposed not investing in our future? Perhaps people have proposed tax cuts for the wealthy along with spending less on investment than Clinton supports, but is there anyone who has said we shouldn't spend any money on education or infrastructure? This sounds like a straw man she's setting up to knock over. Finally, Clinton also resorts to "common sense" rhetoric, as well as "bipartisan" rhetoric (if the Republicans aren't supporting common-sense investments, then how can they have bipartisan support?).

***
"The notion that the answer to this tragedy would be to make sure that more people in a nightclub are similarly armed to the killer defies common sense."
-- President Barack Obama, June 16, 2016, referring to the Orlando nightclub shooting by Omar Mir Seddique Mateen.

Comment: Perhaps having other people similarly armed isn't the right solution – that point is certainly arguable – but how does it defy common-sense? If it does go against common-sense, are the people who support this position stupid?

***
We need common-sense gun laws, common-sense gender equality and religious pluralism and common-sense privacy laws.
-- Pundit Thomas Friedman, June 15, 2016.

Comment: This is "common-sense" rhetoric. What counts as common sense on all these issues? And, if someone disagrees with the "common-sense" position, does that mean they're stupid?

***
"Three years ago, a bipartisan, commonsense bill would have required background checks for virtually everyone who buys a gun. Keep in mind, this policy was supported by some 90% of the American people. It was supported by a majority of NRA households. But the gun lobby mobilized against it. And the Senate blocked it."
-- President Barack Obama, January 1, 2016, during the president's weekly address.

Comment: Obama is arguing for this legislation on the basis that it is bipartisan, common-sense, and has popular support.

***
"John, if there’s one or two more of these attacks, Lord forbid, between now and the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. I mean, I know his proposal is very controversial, but what we’ve got in the United States and we know it now from the FBI are ISIS cells and ISIS personnel and ISIS sympathizers. We don’t know how many exactly they are. We have no way apparently of really vetting them. That woman got in this country and was a terrorist hell-bent on murder when she arrived with her new husband, or the husband-to-be. So, I think the problem, and what Trump is touching in onto, is that Americans want to know basically are the folks coming into the country, are they coming here to kill us, do we have any way to know that, and if we don’t, maybe we ought to have a moratorium on immigration from the Islamic world. And to a lot of folks, I know, that’s fascism or Mussolini, to other folks, it makes common sense."
-- Pundit Pat Buchanan, December 12, 2015.

Comment: Buchanan is using "common sense" rhetoric.

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

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

***
Fresh on the heels of the House’s vote Tuesday to revive the Export-Import Bank, Hillary Clinton urged the Senate to follow suit, calling the decision a “no-brainer."

“It became a political football. Whether for ideological or political reasons, there are people in Washington against it, and that makes absolutely no sense,” she said Wednesday at a “Politics & Eggs” lunch at Saint Anselm College, criticizing opponents of the bank — like her primary rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“For the life of me, I don’t understand the arguments,” she said, pointing out how the bank helps New Hampshire businesses. “The Export-Import Bank’s sole purpose is to support United States business abroad."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, October 28, 2015, as related in a Politico story by Gabriel DeBenedetti.

Comment: Clinton is saying that it is common-sense to support the Export-Import Bank, and deriding opponents of it as stupid.

***
"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.

***
"Despite the best efforts of who knows how many people, the inexplicable has happened. On the day before the 14th anniversary of 9/11, the United States Senate sustained the Iranian Nuclear Deal, freeing Barack Hussein Obama to lift sanctions on the Iranian regime, which will for the most part immediately provide them with between $100 billion and $150 billion. … The whole thing is inexplicable. There is so much that doesn't make any sense anymore. So much in our politics that's happening every day doesn't make sense to people anymore. And no matter how artful you are at explaining it, it still doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense because it appears that we've lost patriots. It appears our government is not filled with patriots anymore. That's what's inexplicable. … Okay, so why would Obama want the Iranians to have a nuke? Well, you can answer the question in a number of ways, which I have. But it's not going to satisfy anybody. Because at the end of the day, they're still going to get nukes, and it doesn't make sense! It doesn't make any kind of common sense whatsoever if you come from a position where the United States has the moral authority to be the good guys. If you believe that, this doesn't make any sense."
-- Pundit Rush Limbaugh, September 11, 2015.

Comment: Limbaugh is demonizing those who support the Iran deal as not being patriots. he's also saying that it's "common sense" to oppose the deal.

***
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.

***
On immigration, Hillary Clinton is a work in progress – and has been since she entered politics more than a dozen years ago. Depending on which audience she is trying to please, she assumes one of two conflicting personas: Restrictionist Hillary or Reform Hillary. In 2003, Restrictionist Hillary told conservative radio host John Grambling that she was “adamantly against illegal immigrants” and that “we’ve got to do more at our borders.” … Then there is Reform Hillary, who has emerged recently now that Clinton is once again running for president and needs the support of Latino voters who favor a more honest and more common-sense approach to the problem. … Reform Hillary celebrated Cinco de Mayo by speaking at a mostly Latino high school in Las Vegas, where she called for illegal immigrants to be given “a path to full and equal citizenship.” She also accused Republicans who support legal status for the undocumented but not citizenship of pushing “second-class status.” But what was Clinton pushing? A poison pill. “Full and equal citizenship” will never get through Congress. So by setting the bar impossibly high, Reform Hillary all but ensures nothing will be done. This suits her fine because she doesn’t want to be known as a pro-amnesty Democrat any more than Obama did, and she’d rather have a wedge issue than a workable solution.
-- Pundit Ruben Navarrette, May 24, 2015.

Comment: First, Navarrette is accusing Clinton of flip-flopping. Second, he is engaging in "common sense" rhetoric. Third, he seems to be demonizing those who are "restrictionists" as not being in favor of honesty and common sense. Lastly, he resorts to "wedge issue" rhetoric.

***
"Now, it’s pretty commonsense that an education bill should actually improve education. But as we speak, there’s a Republican bill in Congress that would frankly do the opposite."
-- President Barack Obama, weekly address, February 14, 2015.

Comment: Obama is indulging in "common sense" rhetoric. Naturally, Obama and Republicans disagree about which policies will improve education, though Obama's remarks make it sound as if Republicans are trying to do the opposite.

***
"In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan."
-- President Barack Obama, January 20, 2015, during the 2015 State of the Union address.

Comment: This remark is along the lines of "ideological" or "common sense" or "bipartisan" rhetoric. Partisanship is a result of disagreements about what ideas are practical or not. Does anyone support ideas that they think are impractical?

***

Examples from 2014.

***

Examples from 2012.



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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Evasion: "Not My Job to Police Civility"

When politicians are confronted with an instance of uncivil or offensive remarks, they often refuse to condemn those remarks. Frequently, they say that it's not their job to police civility or be the "speech police".

It might be true that they don't have an obligation to repudiate every last instance of incivility. That would take an enormous amount of time and effort.

But that doesn't mean that we don't have the ability (or even more, an obligation) to speak out against specific instances of incivility from time to time when they're presented. And, of course, we do. We have an obligation to defy injustice at least sometimes, if not every last instance of it on the planet.

After all, we don't have the ability to help every person in need in the world, but that doesn't mean we have no duty to help out the needy from time to time. That is, the perfect need not be the enemy of the good.

And, how else are we to set a higher standard of political debate if we don't point out examples of failures of civil debate?

In particular, people should point out incivility even-handedly, and not just when it gives them a chance to criticize their opponents. (It's this cynical, selective, self-serving commitment to civil debate -- where people only enforce it on their opponents and not their allies -- that leads many people to conclude that civility is bogus.)

Plus, if someone in a position of prominence -- a president, congressional leader, or party chair, for instance -- were to start publicly criticizing people (even members of their own party) for engaging in name-calling, etc., there'd probably be a lot less of it to police.


EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS
QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Talking about the comments that came up last night, the statements by this questioner talking about President Obama being a Muslim, talking about Muslims being a problem in this country. You just said that question is offensive to the press, is it not also perhaps offensive to the millions of Muslims in America?

SANTORUM: Here's what I have to say about that. People are entitled to their opinions. We have a First Amendment for a reason. People can just stand up and say what they want. You don't have to agree with it, you don't have to like it. I have a lot of events where people get up and say things that I don't like. I have a lot people say things about me that I don't like. Read my Twitter feed. But I'm going to defend your right to say it. Whether I disagree with it or agree with it really isn't the point. The point is, do they have the right to say it, and do we have an obligation to correct it? And my answer is yes, they have a right to say it, and no, we don't have an obligation at a town hall meeting to correct everything that someone says that we disagree with. … I'm not playing this game that you guys want to play. The President can defend himself, he doesn't need Rick Santorum to defend him. He's got you doing that very, very well. So cut it out. … It’s not my job, it’s not Donald Trump’s job, it’s not anybody’s job to police a question. The questioner can say whatever he wants, it’s a free country.
-- Republican presidential candidate former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), September 18, 2015, responding to a question concerning remarks made at a campaign event for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. At Trump's event, an attendee said Muslims were the problem with the country, and Trump did not challenge the remarks.

Comment: Santorum is knocking over a straw man: no one has suggested that the remarks made at the Trump event should be illegal. Freedom of speech – as enshrined in the First Amendment – allows people to make remarks like the attendee at Trump's event, but it also allows people to criticize those remarks. Santorum (like Trump) is free to do so, but declines. We are free to think less of Trump for not criticizing bigoted remarks (which they were), and to think less of Santorum for not criticizing Trump's silence. The point of debate is to arrive at the truth, so of course people should challenge falsehoods. Santorum is evading the question of whether the remarks in question were offensive to American Muslims, using "right to their opinion" and "not my job to police civility" rhetoric.

***
"This is the first time in my life that I have caused controversy by not saying something. I didn't say anything. By not saying something. … So I started by saying, am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don't think so! … Then I said, if someone made nasty statements or controversial statements about me to the president, do you think he would come to my rescue? I say, no chance."
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, September 19, 2015. Days before, Trump had not corrected a town hall questioner who claimed that President Barack Obama was not American and was Muslim rather than Christian.

Comment: Trump is saying that it’s not his job to police civility, on the grounds that others would not police civility for his sake.

***
LAUER: Does a candidate for president, in this case the Republican front-runner, have a responsibility to shut down a supporter when the supporter erroneously says that the President's not an American, that he's Muslim, and then goes on to say, “We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims.” Does Mr. Trump need to apologize to the President and to Muslims?

CHRISTIE: He's got to decide what he wants to do for himself but I would just tell you that if somebody at one of my town hall meetings said something like that I would correct them and say, “No, the President’s a Christian and he was born in this country.” I mean, I think those two things are self-evident.

LAUER: Do you think it would be right for Mr. Trump to apologize to Muslims this morning?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think it's – Donald Trump's got to decide, as we've seen – and I’ve said this all along – he's got to decide how serious a candidate he wants to be and how he handles different problems like this are going to determine that in the eyes of the American people. I'm not going to lecture him about what to do, I'll just tell you what I would do. And I wouldn’t have permitted that. If someone brought that up at a town hall meeting of mine, I would said, “No, listen, before we answer, let's clear some things up for the rest of the audience.” And I think you have an obligation as a leader to do that.
-- Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), September 18, 2015, during an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer. Christie was referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who the day before had not corrected a town hall questioner who claimed that President Barack Obama was not American and was Muslim rather than Christian.

Comment: Christie is evading the question, perhaps with “not my decision” or “not my job to police civility” rhetoric. On the one hand, he’s saying that a leader has an obligation to correct false assertions, but he’s also saying he’s not going to lecture Trump about it. But, if Trump has an obligation that he’s failing to fulfill, then why not say so, and detail how he should live up to the obligation? If there’s a good reason for Christie to correct the record, why isn’t there a good reason for Trump to do the same?

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

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

***
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: In his remarks at the Ted Kennedy the other day, the president lamented that our politics today are not more purposeful and elevated. He also lamented that too often ideology gets in the way of basic respect. Those remarks struck me because this week we saw my CNN colleague Dana Bash do an interview with the Senate minority leader Harry Reid in which he asked him about his decision in the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign to take to the Senate floor and accuse Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes, and when Dana Bash mentioned this to him, she mentioned how it seemed to some people McCarthyite. And of course no evidence has ever been produced that Mitt Romney failed to pay his taxes, and I wonder if President Obama, who has lamented this lack of civility in our politics, this disrespect in our politics, has any view of Harry Reid telling Dana Bash, "Well Romney didn't get elected did he?"

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Well I haven't had the opportunity to talk to the president about Sen. Reid's interview. Obviously, Sen. Reid is somebody who is going to decide for himself about what he says on the Senate floor. He obviously is a vocal supporter of the president, and they have had a partnership that will go down in history as very productive. But ultimately, it is up to Sen. Reid to decide, what he is going to say on the House floor. There are a number of things Sen. Reid, over his career that, he has said pretty proudly were independent of the view of anyone else.

JAMES ROSEN: But it is the president's choice and his spokesman's choice to call out conduct unbecoming of our highest elected officials, when it is in fact unbecoming. Are you going to take this opportunity now?

JOSH EARNEST: Not when it is three years old.
-- White House press briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest April 1, 2015. The quote in question comes from a March 31, 2015, interview of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) by CNN's Dana Bash.

Comment: First, this is the "not my decision" evasion. Yes, Reid is in charge of what Reid says, but that's true of most everybody, right? How does that prevent us from criticizing Reid's remarks (or anyone else's remarks, for that matter)? Second, there's no good reason that President Barack Obama can't police civility on remarks that are three years old. Obama recently criticized remarks made by Republicans about the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") back when it was passed in 2010, why can't he comment on remarks made in 2012?

***
WALLACE: You have taken some heat recently, I do have to tell you, for refusing to say whether or not President Obama loves this country and whether or not he's a Christian. And the conventional wisdom is either you're pandering to the Obama haters or you're not ready for prime time. Which is it?

WALKER: The answer is neither. I am not going to take a manufactured media crisis and take and follow that path instead of going to the path that I think Americans want, which is leaders who will stand up and tell them where they stand on the issues that matter to them and talk about how you're going to ensure that that family that's been out of work for the last six months can find a way to be a part of this recovery, talk about how we're going to take the power out of Washington and put it in the hands of the hardworking taxpayers. Those are the things people care about. And as I, after last week's visits to Wisconsin and to Michigan, when I heard from people talk about what happened in Washington, they said you need to push back and say that's what the American people want to talk about, not this nonsense.

WALLACE: I agree with you, the question about whether or not Obama is a Christian was nonsense, was stupid. On the other hand, the question about whether or not he loves the country, Rudy Giuliani said that at a dinner for you. It seems to me, it's fair game to say to you after the dinner, what do you think of it? Marco Rubio, one of your potential contenders, said I don't think there's any doubt he loves the country. I just think his policies are wrong. Isn't that a better, smarter way to handle that?

WALKER: Yes. But let's be clear on the point with the mayor. The mayor wasn't speaking on my behalf. He happened to show up half-way through an event that we had that night and he can speak on his own. That's what I've said repeatedly since that time, as the president can. I don't question that. I think any person who's going to put their name on the ballot has to have a love for their country and their state and their jurisdiction no matter where they were. So, I -- I don't contest that against anyone who's running for office out there. My point wasn't to get in the middle of that, but rather to say I want to lift the debate up, to talk about issues that people really care about. I'm not going down that path. I'm not making those arguments. I'm going to talk about the things that matter to everyday Americans.

WALLACE: Just to be clear, because you seem to -- to indicate you think the president, President Obama, loves this country?

WALKER: I think, in the end, he and anybody else who is willing to put their name on the ballot certainly has to have the love for country to do that.
-- Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), March 1, 2015, during an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday. The conversation concerned remarks made by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) on February 18, 2015, at an event Walker also spoke at.

Comment: First, Walker is using "Americans want" rhetoric. More, Walker is saying he doesn't have an obligation to police Giuliani's remarks disparaging President Barack Obama. Is that true? By comparison, did Obama have an obligation to police the remarks Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa made disparaging the Tea Party at an event they both spoke at on September 5, 2011? Given that Walker is insisting we should talk about substantive issues and "lift up the debate", isn't it fair to ask him if he will denounce Giuliani's remarks, remarks which don't seem to live up to the standard of debate that Walker is advocating?

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

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

***
EZRA KLEIN: To turn a bit towards politics, at this point, according to the polls, you are the most polarizing president really since we began polling. … In your State of the Union, you struck back at critics who say that the idea of healing some of these divisions is na├»ve or impossible. So when you welcome your successor into office, what would you tell them is worth trying that you think can still work, that would reduce the polarization?
BARACK OBAMA: Well, there are a couple of things that in my mind, at least, contribute to our politics being more polarized than people actually are. And I think most people just sense this in their daily lives. Everybody's got a family member or a really good friend from high school who is on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum. And yet, we still love them, right? … But a lot of it has to do with the fact that a) the balkanization of the media means that we just don't have a common place where we get common facts and a common worldview the way we did 20, 30 years ago. And that just keeps on accelerating, you know. … Gerrymandering contributes to it. There's no incentive for most members of Congress, on the House side at least, in congressional districts, to even bother trying to appeal. And a lot of it has to do with just unlimited money. … So my advice to a future president is increasingly try to bypass the traditional venues that create divisions and try to find new venues within this new media that are quirkier, less predictable.
-- President Barack Obama, during domestic policy Vox interview, released February 9, 2015, with Ezra Klein.

Comment: At no point during the discussion of polarization does Obama offer the straightforward suggestion that there needs to be less name-calling and incivility in politics, let alone that he himself needs to do more to improve his record on civil debate. This omission seems to be along the lines of either the "only my opponent" caricature, or the "not my job to police civility" evasion.

***
REPORTER [unidentified]: Quick question on Michigan and the right-to-work debate, which has gotten a bit testy today on the House floor. There’s one Democrat, Doug Geiss, who said today that if this right-to-work initiative is signed into law, “there will be blood.” Since the President weighed in yesterday, and obviously made his feelings known, but has talked about changing the tone here in Washington and around the country, does the White House feel any obligation to tell fellow Democrats to debate this issue, but debate it in a peaceful and sort of --
CARNEY: The President believes in debate that’s civil. I haven’t seen those comments and I’m not sure that they mean what some would interpret them to mean. I just haven’t seen them. You heard the President talk about his views. He has always opposed the so-called right-to-work laws. As he said, those laws are generally political and not economic. They’re more about the right to earn less pay than they are helpful to our economy. And he presented those views yesterday in Michigan.
-- White House briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney, December 11, 2012.

Comment: Carney seems to be suggesting that Geiss' words may have been meant metaphorically, not literally. Given Geiss' reference to the Battle of the Overpass -- a violent incident between members of the United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Company security guards in the 1930's in Michigan -- is the literal interpretation of his violent, "there will be blood" rhetoric more appropriate? Notice that Carney ultimately refuses to denounce Geiss' remarks, which is consistent with the Obama administration's refusal to denounce allies for name-calling and uncivil rhetoric, and inconsistent with their claim to believe "in debate that's civil". The Obama administration tends only to denounce uncivil rhetoric from their opponents.

***
"What do you do to a school yard bully? You punch them in the face. Do you think any of these people on talk radio, if they’re punched in the face by a Republican nominee, do you think they would push back? No, they’re cowards. They're bullies. Punch them in the face, and they back off. Bullies do that. Mitt Romney -- and we said it non-stop for two years -- he would never stand up to these bullies. And so they framed his campaign and he got his tail whipped."
-- TV pundit Joe Scarborough, December 10, 2012, on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Comment: Scarborough is criticizing talk radio (and other) pundits who say things that amount to name-calling. So, in a sense, he's advocating civility. However, he's resorting to violent rhetoric and (it seems) saying that people should resist these pundits by retaliating in kind. He is also faulting GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) for failing to police the speech of his supporters. This is a fair criticism, though it's a mistake -- of the "only my opponent" variety -- to think that only Romney was guilty of that failing (President Barack Obama also failed to police the rhetoric of his supporters, as well).

***
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 -- "
[AUDIO CLIP OF HOFFA PLAYS]
HOFFA: "Let's take these son of a bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong."
[AUDIO CLIP OF HOFFA ENDS]
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 -- "
[CROSSTALK]
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.



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