Monday, December 31, 2012

Civility Watchdog: December 31, 2012, Edition

Below are some recent remarks and/or events highlighted for their relevance to civil, productive debate:
"the current budget deficit is overwhelmingly the result of the depressed economy … So, the whole deficit panic is fundamentally misplaced. And it’s especially galling if you look at what many of the same people now opining about the evils of deficits said back when we had a surplus. Remember, George W. Bush campaigned on the basis that the surplus of the late Clinton years meant that we needed to cut taxes -- and Alan Greenspan provided crucial support, telling Congress that the biggest danger we faced was that we might pay off our debt too fast. Now Greenspan is helping groups like Fix the Debt."
-- Columnist Paul Krugman, December 29, 2012.

Comment: Krugman is making an accusation of hypocrisy. That is, he is saying that Greenspan (and others, though he doesn't name them) are expressing concern about the debt and deficits even though they didn't previously. First, this change isn't necessarily inconsistent. One might claim that circumstances earlier were different from now, and that therefore the deficit and debt that might have been unproblematic earlier may no longer be. Second, supposing that it is inconsistent, is it a change of position that is negative -- as in a "flip-flop" -- or positive -- as in an "evolution"? If Krugman is arguing that the hypocrisy demonstrates that Greenspan's position (earlier or later) is wrong, then he's engaging in ad hominem reasoning.

"The big obstacle to comprehensive tax reform is the persistent Republican myth that spending cuts alone can achieve economic and budget goals. That notion was sounded [sic] rejected by voters during the election."
-- New York Times editorial, December 29, 2012.

Comment: First, this seems like a "silver bullet" caricature. Have Republicans really said that spending cuts alone would meet their economic and budget goals? Haven't they also called for tax reform? Second, it seems like the editorial is indulging in "Americans want" rhetoric -- as well as mandate rhetoric -- by saying that voters rejected the Republican position.

"You know, the Republicans -- the disdain that I have seen for poor people, for people who are struggling, like senior citizens on Medicare and Social Security, for low income people and the Women Infant and Children [WIC] program -- we saw the Republicans, last week, vote to [sic] spending cuts that would literally take food out of the mouths of hungry babies."
-- Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), December 28, 2012.

Comment: Schakowsky is demonizing Republicans, saying that they want to cut programs that help poor people because they have "disdain" for them. She rules out the possibility that Republicans believe these programs are poorly managed or that they are unaffordable. Would Schakowsky accept it if she was accused of supporting these programs out of a desire to make people dependent on government so that she and other Democrats could hold power over them? If she doesn't like being demonized, she should demonize others.

"[I am addressing] an enormous myth that circulates in our media culture; namely, the idea that conservatives are uniquely anti-science and progressives are uniquely pro-science. … It is certainly true that some conservatives embrace anti-scientific beliefs, most notably on evolution and climate change. But some progressives also adhere to a set of dangerous anti-scientific beliefs. … the destructive anti-vaccine movement has a long association with the progressive left. … Scientists see water fluoridation, which particularly benefits the poor, as a major public health triumph. But not progressive activists in Portland, Oregon, who fought to prevent the fluoridation of their city’s water supply. Mainstream progressive environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists also oppose genetic modification, despite its tremendous life-saving potential in areas such as preventing vitamin A deficiency … Despite the fact that thousands of deaths in the U.S. are attributable to the pollution produced by burning fossil fuels each year, progressives oppose energy policies that could reduce our dependency on coal and oil. Progressives historically have been anti-nuclear power, and today, they are opposed to natural gas, a much cleaner fossil fuel. Instead, they embrace wind and solar, neither of which are currently capable of meeting the world’s growing energy demand."
-- Columnist Alex B. Berezow, December 28, 2012.

Comment: Isn't it a hasty generalization to argue that, if somebody rejects a scientific theory, they therefore reject science as a whole? Does disputing one scientific theory support declaring that someone is stupid or that they don't care about truth?

"The American people I don't think understand, the House of Representatives is operating without the House of Representatives. It's being operated with a dictatorship of the Speaker, not allowing the vast majority of the House of Representatives to get what they want."
-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), December 27, 2012.

Comment: Though I assume Reid is using the "dictatorship" term metaphorically, this still seems like demonizing.

GREGORY: Senator Schumer, should the president make that nomination?
SCHUMER: Well, that's his choice. I think once he makes it, his record will be studied carefully. But until that point, I think we're not going to know what's going to happen.
GREGORY: Can you support him?
SCHUMER: I'd have to study his record. I'm not going to comment until the president makes a nomination.
GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there.
-- Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), December 23, 2012, regarding the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) by President Barack Obama to the position of Secretary of Defense.

Comment: Initially, Schumer seems to make a "not my decision" evasion. That is, he refuses to answer Gregory's question on the basis that it's someone else's (in this case, Obama's) authority. This would be an evasion, as the mere fact that somebody else (rather than yourself) is authorized to make a decision doesn't mean you can't express an opinion on what that decision should be. When pressed, though, Schumer says he needs to study Hagel's record, which is a far more reasonable reason for refusing to offer an opinion on whether Hagel should be nominated.

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

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