Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Civility Watchdog: December 4, 2012, Edition

Below are some recent remarks and/or events highlighted for their relevance to civil, productive debate:
OBAMA: It's not me being stubborn. It's not me being partisan. It's just a matter of math. You know, there's been a lot of talk, that somehow we can raise $800 billion or a trillion dollars worth of revenue just by closing loopholes and deductions. But a lot of your viewers understand that the only way to do that would be if you completely eliminated, for example, charitable deductions. Well, if you eliminate charitable deductions that means every hospital and university and non-for-profit agency across the country, would suddenly find themselves on the verge of collapse. So that's not a realistic option.
LIMBAUGH: Yeah, right on. That's BS. You're not gonna let 'em collapse. You'll become the sole benefactor. That's the plan.
-- Rush Limbaugh, December 4, 2012, commenting on remarks made by President Barack Obama earlier that day.

Comment: Limbaugh is demonizing Obama by saying that Obama would like it if hospitals, universities, and non-for-profit agencies became dependent on government (presumably because it would increase Obama's power).

"The issue right now that's relevant is the acknowledgment that if we're going to raise revenues that are sufficient to balance with the very tough cuts that we've already made and the further reforms in entitlements that I'm prepared to make, that we're going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up. And we're not going to be able to get a deal without it. And understand, Julianna, the reason for that. It's not me being stubborn. It's not me being partisan. It's just a matter of math. You know, there's been a lot of talk that somehow we can raise $800 billion or $1 trillion worth of revenue just by closing loopholes and deductions, but a lot of your viewers understand that the only way to do that would be if you completely eliminated, for example, charitable deductions. Well, if you eliminated charitable deductions, that means every hospital and university and not-for-profit agency across the country would suddenly find themselves on the verge of collapse. So that's not a realistic option. When you look at how much revenue you can actually raise by closing loopholes and deductions, it's probably in the range of $300 billion to $400 billion."
-- President Barack Obama, December 4, 2012, during interview with Julianna Goldman on Bloomberg TV.

Comment: This is exaggeration and derisive caricature. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that major tax expenditures -- "loopholes and deductions" in Obama's words -- amount to $12 trillion in revenue over 10 years and $800 billion in just the year 2012. It's open to discussion how accurate their predictions are, but the CBO numbers indicate that raising $800 billion over 10 years -- without raising tax rates -- simply by closing loopholes and deductions (as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) proposes) is entirely plausible. There may be good policy reasons not to close those loopholes, and closing them may be very unpopular with voters, and Obama is entirely within his rights to demand that Republicans specify which exemptions and deductions they would end. But that's different from saying that raising $800 billion is wrong just as a "matter of math". Doing what's unpopular isn't comparable to doing something mathematically impossible or logically contradictory, as Obama describes. Obama is exaggerating, and derisively implying that Republicans are unable to do basic math.

"Here’s what we know about the political context of our fiscal challenges: … The American people, whose trust in government has plunged to near-historic lows, want the parties to resolve their differences through an approach that requires compromise on both sides. … The American people are sick of delay. They are sick of pretend solutions that address the politics of our problems rather than the problems themselves. … Getting this done will require a rebirth of leadership. Specifically: Tell the people the full truth. … Tell us how big the problem is … And once and for all, agree on the facts, so that we can spend our time on the real issues. Govern for the future. … Put the country first. … Finally: work together. … there are only two options: bipartisan compromise and success, or partisan gridlock and failure. There is no third choice, and it’s time for our leaders -- all of them -- to stop pretending that there is. … It’s time for real leadership. And that means it’s time for truth."
-- Political advisor Mark McKinnon and political advisor William Galston, December 4, 2012, in jointly-written article, "With the Fiscal Cliff Looming, It’s Time to Take Politics Off the Table".

Comment: First, McKinnon and Galston are indulging in "Americans want" rhetoric. What is their evidence for their claims about what the American people want or are sick of? Second, what do they mean about "pretend solutions that address the politics" of the situation? They don't specify, though it sounds like "politicizing" rhetoric. What do they believe that politicians are doing that isn't responsive to legitimate aspects of the problems we face? Third, the demand that we should agree on the facts is difficult to follow. The world isn't an open book, we have legitimate disagreements about what's happened in the past (and why it happened) as well as what's likely to happen in the future. This is especially true in social sciences, such as economics. Finally, McKinnon and Galston are indulging in platitudes -- "govern for the future", "put the country first", and "work together" -- without giving much in the way of specifics about how to do so. Are politicians really not putting country first in their disagreements on these issues? Again, how are they supposed to "take politics off the table"?

"Mr. Speaker, as we all know, in the course of the election, the President made it very clear that he was supporting the extension of the middle income tax cuts and everyone, 100 percent of the American people, would benefit from it. One hundred percent of taxpayers, small businesses, wage earners, and the rest. The Republicans are saying that rather than passing that they want to hold it hostage to giving an additional tax cut to people making over $250,000 a year. That’s not negotiating. That’s hostage taking. "
-- House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), December 4, 2012, from the floor of the House of Representatives.

Comment: Pelosi is engaging in "hostage-taking" rhetoric. She is perhaps also implying that President Barack Obama has a mandate to pass his tax proposal, by virtue of his re-election. If so, do House Republicans have a mandate to block that tax proposal, since they clearly campaigned against it in their re-election?

"It's surprising to me that the President, essentially, who could get the revenues he wants from the deductions and exclusions, but insists on rates not for economic reasons but political. He wants to break the back of Republicans. This is a continuation of his campaign. He thinks he is won it and now he wants to drive a stake through the Republicans. It's all about the politics; it's nothing about economics."
-- Commentator Charles Krauthammer, December 3, 2012.

Comment: Krauthammer is accusing President Barack Obama of "politicizing" or engaging in "negative politics". Is some crass form of politics really the only reason Obama could have for preferring a raise in tax rates? Perhaps Obama believes that getting increased revenue by increasing tax rates rather than eliminating deductions and exclusions is better for economic reasons, or that it's more likely to achieve the revenue goal he has in mind.

"Again and again, the first term revealed Obama’s idea of bipartisanship: Dissenters are unpatriotic and must surrender. Compromise is a one-way street for him. As polarizing and ineffective as that approach was, he was rewarded with four more years. A different man might see that as a mulligan -- a second chance to get it right. Not Obama. His behavior now is even more troubling. That he’s willing to risk sending the economy back into recession and killing even more jobs leads me to believe his second term will be far more radical than the first. A stranger to humility, he thinks re-election confers a blank check. His demand that spending cuts and entitlement reform be put off, while Republicans give him the tax hikes and the stimulus he wants, suggests he’s not serious about facing the mountain of debt."
-- Columnist Michael Goodwin, December 2, 2012.

Comment: Goodwin is complaining that President Barack Obama's idea of bipartisanship is wanting? Is that true? Has Obama called dissent unpatriotic and treated compromise as a one-way street? Goodwin is also accusing Obama of being divisive (by calling him "polarizing"), and indulging in "radical" rhetoric. In addition, he says Obama thinks he has a limitless mandate as a result of re-election, and that Obama is not "serious" about our debt problems. All this combines to create an unflattering caricature of Obama. Goodwin can criticize Obama's positions without resorting to this name-calling and demonizing.

"[A]s the clock ticks down towards the New Year, nearly every single American is facing the real prospect of what’s called the Fiscal Cliff. If we don’t act by the end of the year, 28 million more families and individuals will be forced to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax, 21 times as many farmers and ranchers will be hit with the death tax, and the average middle-class family would see their taxes go up by at least $2,000."
-- Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-UT), December 1, 2012, during the weekly GOP address.

Comment: The "fiscal cliff" label (which didn't originate with Hatch) is metaphorical language. Is it accurate or inflammatory? Is it an exaggeration? If the President and the Congress don't reach an agreement by the end of the year, do we really face a situation akin (metaphorically speaking) to going over a cliff? Or is it more akin to a slope, or a hill?

"Democrats were the knuckle-draggers on race and populist economic reform in the 19th century, Republicans in the latter half of the 20th. … Conservatives of the last decade lost their way by rejecting science, immigration reform and personal freedom, particularly in regard to choices made by women and gays. If you believe in climate change, finding a path to citizenship for millions of hard-working Hispanics and the right to marry the person you love, there is no place in the Republican Party of 2012 for you."
-- Columnist Timothy Egan, November 29, 2012.

Comment: This is name-calling. Egan can criticize the political views of others without resorting to "knuckle-draggers", can't he? And is it rejecting science to be skeptical about some portion of the issue of climate change? Are you opposed to all immigration reform if you oppose a path to citizenship for people (Hispanic or otherwise) who broke immigration and/or border law? Is it rejecting all personal freedom if you oppose gay marriage? Aren't these hasty generalizations, and ones that serve to demonize Republicans or cast them as stupid? Would it be fair to generalize the same way about Democratic positions? For instance, to say that, because they oppose enforcing immigration and border laws on immigrants who have broken those laws, therefore they oppose the rule of law altogether? No, of course not. Nor are Egan's descriptions fair.

"Ultimately, conservatives must wage and win a war for our culture, not of traditional social issues, but one far more fundamental, of liberty versus tyranny. We must reignite those flames of freedom that once burned brilliantly with limited government and free-market capitalism, making America the most prosperous nation in human history. Where to start? We need voters. Our first step should be to exploit the natural divisions in the Democrats’ fragile alliance, starting with the one between those willing to work and those not willing. Retirees played by the rules and worked hard for their Social Security and Medicare benefits and certainly are entitled to them, at least insomuch as they were taxed for them. The real threat to their benefits is not Republicans’ reform of these programs for future generations but rather the squandering of those funds now on food stamps, “Obama phones,” disability giveaways and other welfare spending that all too often goes to people who sit on their sofas and game the system."
-- Columnist Dr. Milton R. Wolf, November 28, 2012.

Comment: Wolf is engaging in "war" rhetoric. In addition, he is perhaps also engaging in "divisive" rhetoric by advocating that conservatives "exploit the natural divisions in the Democrats’ fragile alliance".

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

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