Friday, January 30, 2015

Ambiguity Examples: 2008

SCHIEFFER: Do you think Senator Biden is qualified?
MCCAIN: I think that Joe Biden is qualified in many respects.
-- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), October 15, 2008, during the third presidential debate at Hofstra University, NY, between McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), hosted and moderated by by Bob Schieffer of CBS.

Comment: It's not clear that McCain answers Schieffer's question regarding whether Biden is qualified to be president. Is McCain saying that Biden is qualified to be president, and that there are many reasons he is? Or is he saying that Biden is qualified in some respects to be president, but not in others, and so is therefore not qualified overall? McCain's statement is ambiguous. Unfortunately, he didn't clarify it, nor did Schieffer or Obama ask him to do so.

OBAMA: I am Barack Obama and I approve this message.
NARRATOR: They want us to forget the insults we've put up with,
TEXT: "... stupid and unskilled Mexicans" -- Rush Limbaugh
NARRATOR: The intolerance.
TEXT: "Shut your mouth or get out!" -- Rush Limbaugh
NARRATOR: They made us feel marginalized in this country we love so much. John McCain and his Republican friends have two faces.
TEXT: Caused the failure of immigration reform -- McCain campaign advertisement
NARRATOR: One that lies just to get our vote, and another even worse, continues the policies of George Bush, putting the special interests ahead of working families. John McCain: more of the same old Republican tricks.
-- Ad from Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) presidential campaign, released September 15, 2008. (Both the TV and radio versions were aired in Spanish and appear as translated into English.)

Comment: There are several problems with this assertion. First, it's not clear in what sense -- if any -- Limbaugh and McCain could correctly be called friends. They're both Republicans, and agree on some political issues, such as the war in Iraq. But their acrimonious disagreement on various other political issues -- such as illegal immigration -- is well-known, and they are not friends in the sense of having friendly relations with one another. So, if the Obama campaign is going to call Limbaugh and McCain "friends", then it needs to spell out precisely what is meant by this ambiguous term. Otherwise, how can we tell whether or not the assertion is true? Second, supposing that Limbaugh and McCain are friends, why should that make us think less of McCain (as is the clear implication of Obama's ad)? Is this an attempt to assign guilt by association? Guilt by association is not a straightforward business: just because person A is friends with person B and person B did something bad, it doesn't necessarily follow that we should also think badly of person A.

Ambiguity Examples: 2012

ROMNEY: And then the president began what I've called an apology tour of going to -- to various nations in the Middle East and -- and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness.

OBAMA: Bob, let me just respond. Nothing Governor Romney just said is true, starting with this notion of me apologizing. This has been probably the biggest whopper that's been told during the course of this campaign, and every fact-checker and every reporter who's looked at it, Governor, has said this is not true.

ROMNEY: Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to -- to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to -- to Turkey and Iraq. And -- and by way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations and on Arabic TV you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
-- Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), October 22, 2012, during the third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL, between Romney and President Barack Obama.

Comment: This exchange -- regarding the claim that Obama went on an "apology tour" -- deserves much more detailed treatment. Here, suffice to say that most of the problem comes down to an ambiguity regarding what constitutes an apology, the result being that it's vague as to whether Obama really apologized for anything.

ROMNEY: And one thing that the -- the president said which I want to make sure that we understand -- he -- he said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt, and -- and that’s right. My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy’s and -- and -- and Continental Airlines and come out stronger. And -- and I know he keeps saying, you wanted to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. And -- and I think it’s important to know that that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet, so they could start hiring more people. That was precisely what I recommend and ultimately what happened.

OBAMA: Candy, what Governor Romney said just isn’t true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open, and we would have lost a million jobs.And that -- don’t take my word for it; take the executives at GM and Chrysler, some of whom are Republicans, may even support Governor Romney. But they’ll tell you his prescription wasn’t going to work.
-- President Barack Obama, October 16, 2012, during the second presidential debate in Hempstead, NY, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: Partly, what's going on here is an ambiguity in the meaning of "bankrupt". If "bankrupt" means the legal process of bankruptcy, then Romney supported GM and Chrysler going bankrupt, and so did Obama (because, in fact, GM and Chrysler went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations). On the other hand, if "bankrupt" means the companies going out of business, then that's not what Romney called for. He wanted them to go through the legal process of bankruptcy without government bailouts, which doesn't necessarily mean the companies would have gone out of business (as Romney mentioned: 7-Eleven, Macy’s and Continental Airlines). Obama's point is that he doesn't believe GM and Chrysler could have stayed in business after the legal process of bankruptcy without government aid. That's a complicated empirical matter about which people can disagree. But, even if GM and Chrysler had gone out of business, they're not the whole auto industry, which runs contrary to what Obama says when he states that Romney wanted to "let Detroit go bankrupt".

"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."
-- President Barack Obama, July 13, 2012.

Comment: Obama has been widely criticized for asserting that successful Americans didn't build their business. But there is an ambiguity in the reference of the word "that": is it referring to the successful Americans' business, or the bridges and roads and the American system with its teachers? In context, it seems more like the latter than the former.

"Stupid" Examples: 2008

"It is almost a wrong phrase, the politics of George Bush. It is kind of the inane stupidity and for lack of good, the absolute evil of it".
-- Actor and director Sean Penn, May 14, 2008 [CNN-IBN: Cannes' opening had all the makings of a movie (May 16, 2008)].

Comment: This instance of name-calling has Penn demonizing Bush by deriding him as both evil and mentally deficient.

"All this is too complicated for your average liberal moron."
-- Radio talk show host Mark Levin, April 1, 2008.

Comment: Saying that liberals are morons is name-calling, caricaturing them as mentally deficient.

"Liberalism is a mental disease, a very serious mental disease."
-- Radio talk show host Michael Savage, April 1, 2008.

Comment: Obviously, Savage is not a fan of liberal policies. But saying that liberalism amounts to a mental disorder perfectly illustrates the kind of name-calling in which opponents are described as mentally deficient.

"I almost wish Jerry Falwell were alive to see this. Almost. ... Bill O'Reilly, who is too stupid to talk about ... Sean Hannity, the butt boy of Rupert Murdoch".
-- Actor and director Sean Penn, referring to several conservatives in February or March of 2008 [San Francisco: It's a wrap - 'Milk' filming ends in S.F. (March 18, 2008)].

Comment: The name-calling here ranges from describing one person as so bad that it is better that they are dead, describing another as stupid, and using a homophobic slur to refer to two more.

"Stupid" Examples: 2011

  • This bill is stupid and I know stupid [held by a woman dressed like Sarah Palin]
  • Scott Walker schoolyard bully
  • Unions our my cup of tea
-- Wisconsin protest signs from Reuters video posted February 20, 2011.

Comment: Calling former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) -- and the legislation -- "stupid" is name-calling. Saying Walker is a schoolyard bully is demonizing (akin to calling him a dictator). The last sign is just confusing.

"It is no surprise that Justice Clarence Thomas has not spoken during a Supreme Court argument for five years. No one knows better than he how ill equipped he is to engage in open debate with the complex and agile minds of the Supreme Court bar."
-- Steven M. Wise, February 17, 2011, in a letter to The New York Times.

Comment: Wise is essentially saying Thomas is stupid, which is just derisive name-calling. Wise offers no evidence for the claim that Thomas isn't up for the job as Supreme Court justice, other than that he doesn't ask questions. Is it necessary for a justice to ask questions in order to be competent? Are Thomas' written opinions nonsensical? What if I said, "Steven M. Wise of Coral Springs, FL, isn't smart enough to be a lawyer, but I won't bother supporting that insult." Would that be fair?

"Stupid" Examples: 2012

"[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?

"According to a June Gallup report, most Republicans (58 percent) believed that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Most Democrats and independents did not agree. This anti-intellectualism is antediluvian. No wonder a 2009 Pew Research Center report found that only 6 percent of scientists identified as Republican and 9 percent identified as conservative. Furthermore, a 2005 study found that just 11 percent of college professors identified as Republican and 15 percent identified as conservative. Some argue that this simply represents a liberal bias in academia. But just as strong a case could be made that people who absorb facts easily don’t suffer fools gladly."
-- Columnist Charles Blow, December 7, 2012.

Comment: Blow is appealing to polling data to argue that Republicans are "anti-intellectual", which amounts to caricaturing them as "stupid" or perhaps as not caring about facts. Blow also considers a causal connection between political affiliation and scientific occupation, though isn't this a case of false causation?

"The good news first: the percentage of Republicans who think ACORN stole the election is down by three percent from 2009 when 52 percent thought ACORN prevented John McCain and Sarah Palin from winning the election. Here's the bad/hilarious news: ACORN ceased to exist years ago following a conspiracy of videotaped lies by Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe; a scam that was picked up by Republican leadership in Congress where the organization, which didn't break any laws, was stripped of federal funding. After it was too late, the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined that the Breitbart/O'Keefe videos were heavily edited and that no federal funds were misused and no laws were broken. But ACORN was killed by a conspiracy of lies and slander anyway. And now, years following its wrongful death sentence, ACORN is still being unjustly and inexplicably accused of stealing elections, and it's all because the base is entirely disconnected with facts and reality -- a disconnection that's reinforced in almost every sphere of right-wing influence. Anyone who thinks the Republicans are capable changing is just as delusional as the secessionists and conspiracy theorists who compose the GOP's base. The far-right entertainment complex is so deeply and inextricably woven into the life-support system of the Republican Party, it's nearly impossible to extract the crazy-cells without killing the host."
-- Columnist Bob Cesca, December 6, 2012.

Comment: The polling data Cesca cites from Public Policy Polling demonstrates that the opinion of some Republicans on a particular issue is based on false information. Does this prove that Republicans are somehow divorced from reality beyond redemption? If it is shown that the opinion of some Democrats on a particular issue is also based on false information, does that prove that Democrats as a party are somehow delusional beyond redemption?

"In the wake of the election, there's no doubt the Republican Party is capable of making some adjustments to rebrand itself. If nothing else, the party has demonstrated its proclivity for sloganeering and marketing and there are plenty of ways it can adjust its messaging. But it's obvious to anyone paying attention that the base simply won't allow the party to change in any meaningful way. The base is deeply encased within the twisted, alternate-reality looking glass that the GOP has been constructing throughout the last three decades: a realm of anger, racial resentment, distrust of government, hatred of immigrants and violently anti-choice misogynists and demagogues. The party has deliberately incited these tendencies via the conservative entertainment complex, as David Frum called it on Morning Joe -- AM talk radio, Fox News Channel and the like -- and augmented it with the generous contributions of wealthy financiers who bankroll everything from astroturf campaigns to the bulk-purchasing of every book-length screed by Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck. The problem this creates, of course, is that the Republican Party has been consumed by misinformed idiots with no substantial connection to the real world, and the first post-election PPP poll only serves to amplify this conclusion."
-- Columnist Bob Cesca, December 6, 2012.

Comment: Cesca is indulging in name-calling, against Republicans, demonizing them and saying that they are stupid, and that they are racists and bigots. Are there no moral considerations animating Republicans, only racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc.? Cesca also indulges in "demagogue" rhetoric.

"Yet there is an even deeper problem with Boehner's arithmetic. The Republicans are fighting to extend all the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest two percent along with everyone else -- but their alternative proposals are utterly inadequate to compensate for the $1.3 trillion in revenues lost by continuing those cuts for the rich. To "offer" $800 billion in new "revenues" obtained by eliminating deductions rather than raising rates simply doesn't work, as a matter of basic math. It isn't nearly enough money. If Republican leaders cannot do the arithmetic, then it is impossible to negotiate with them. If they can do the arithmetic but insist on falsifying the answers, then it is both unwise and impossible to negotiate with them. Unless and until the Republicans start talking about real numbers that can actually add up, there is nothing to be gained from pretending to negotiate. Nor should the president start negotiating with himself, as he has sometimes done in the past. Instead, he ought to make sure that the opposition understands what will happen when they fail to act responsibly. After Jan. 1, he will bring them an offer they cannot refuse to restore cuts for the 98 percent -- and they will be held accountable for any consequences caused in the meantime by their stalling."
-- Columnist Joe Conason, December 6, 2012.

Comment: Conason is indulging in name-calling, saying Republicans are too stupid to do basic math. There's a legitimate argument to be had about raising tax rates versus closing loopholes, but it's significantly an empirical one, not simply mathematical. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), for instance, estimates that $12 trillion in revenue can be raised over ten years by closing major loopholes. It may be unpopular or bad economic policy to close those loopholes, but it is not mathematically incoherent to expect that $800 billion could be raised by doing so.

"Then he [Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)] added: “I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever it is we believe. And that means teaching them science, they have to know the science, but also parents have the right to teach them the theology and to reconcile the two things.” It’s certainly a relief to know that Mr. Rubio thinks children should learn science. Perhaps he could bear a couple of things in mind as he joins the rest of us in the 21st century. (He might also want to check out some of the latest advances in horseless carriages and those little handheld computing thingies.)"
-- Editorial page editor and columnist Andrew Rosenthal, December 5, 2012. Rosenthal is referring to Rubio's earlier comments about the age of the Earth, in which Rubio declined to say whether the Earth was billions of years or merely thousands of years old.

Comment: Rosenthal is engaging in name-calling, caricaturing Rubio as stupid. Perhaps Rubio was wrong not to advocate the scientifically-determined age of the Earth (roughly 4.5 billion years), but is the age of the planet really as obvious as the existence of automobiles and iPads? No. It's a derisive caricature for Rosenthal to describe Rubio as being unaware of cars and computer tablets.

"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 it the CBO numbers indicate that raising $800 billion over 10 years 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 ended. 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.

"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.

LIMBAUGH: Groton, Connecticut. Steve. Great that you called, sir.

STEVE [last name unknown]: A couple days after the election I just absolutely felt like I'd be kicked in the stomach. I could not understand --
LIMBAUGH: Why, did you think that we were going to win and you couldn't believe that we lost, or was it something else?
STEVE: I thought it was a slam dunk for Romney. I really did.
LIMBAUGH: Why did you think that? Seriously. I'm not criticizing. No, no. I'm not criticizing. I'm genuinely curious. Why did you think that?
STEVE: Because, you know, I had hope that the American people would exercise just a small modicum of common sense when you compare the two.
LIMBAUGH: Well, yeah. I know.
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 20, 2012.

Comment: Limbaugh and the caller, Steve, are essentially saying that people who didn't vote for former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the 2012 election lack common-sense (in other words, they're stupid). In their view, people who voted for President Barack Obama did something blatantly irrational.

ROMNEY: [O]ur Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285. We're headed down to the -- to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration.

OBAMA: [Y]ou mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's -- it's what are our capabilities.
-- President Barack Obama, October 22, 2012, during the third presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: Obama is correct that military capability isn't simply dependent on the number of ships, it's also dependent on the quality and type of ships. But he could have made this point without derisively suggesting that Romney is ignorant of the fact that we now have things like aircraft carriers and submarines. Plus, it's not necessarily playing "a game of Battleship" to count ships, as there is a minimum number of ships needed in order to perform certain functions, which is what the Navy assessment was stating.

BIDEN: "They’re -- they’re closer to being able to get enough fissile material to put in a weapon if they had a weapon."
RADDATZ: "You are acting a little bit like they don’t want one."
BIDEN: "Oh, I didn’t say -- no, I’m not saying that. But facts matter, Martha. You’re a foreign policy expert. Facts matter. All this loose talk about them, “All they have to do is get to enrich uranium in a certain amount and they have a weapon,” not true. Not true.They are more -- and if we ever have to take action, unlike when we took office, we will have the world behind us, and that matters. That matters."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Comment: Again, this is name-calling. Biden is suggesting that Ryan's concerns about Iran are based on the rejection of facts, but they're not. Rather, there's a legitimate disagreement here about what constitutes the "point of no return" in Iran's nuclear weapons program. At the risk of oversimplifying, Ryan is saying that once Iran has uranium enriched to 90%, their weapons program is impossible to turn back. Biden is saying that the point of no return is at a later stage, once the 90% enriched uranium has been crafted into an actual weapon. (Ryan, I assume, would object that weaponizing enriched uranium is technically much easier than producing enriched uranium.) This is a complicated technical argument, so it's a derisive caricature for Biden to portray the debate as one side (his own) believing that "facts matter" and the other side (Ryan's) saying that they don't.

BIDEN: "Let’s all calm down a little bit here. Iran is more isolated today than when we took office. It was on the ascendancy when we took office. It is totally isolated. … I don’t know what world this guy’s living in."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Comment: This is name-calling. Biden is suggesting that Ryan is mentally deficient, or divorced from reality. The issue of what to do in order to keep a country from developing nuclear weapons is very complicated, Ryan's worries may be incorrect -- Biden is free to make that argument -- but Ryan's concerns are surely not deranged.

"This was the first time Romney addressed the whole country directly, rather than a purely Republican audience. He didn’t have to worry about the nut balls he was running against in the G.O.P. primary and was not forced to cater just to the Tea Party base."
-- Columnist Thomas Friedman, October 6, 2012.

Comment: "Nut balls" is clearly an example of name-calling. Friedman is basically saying that the GOP presidential candidates he doesn't like are mentally deranged.

"When I listened to the UN ambassador Susan Rice today several words came to mind: "asinine", "naive", "inept", "incompetent" and "borderline ignorant". Because when you understand that the Egyptian government, their intelligence services, put out a letter talking about the potential threat of an attacks and uprisings about a week before this. It was even printed in the Jerusalem Post on 9/11. And anyhow, I can tell you Judge, being in a combat zone several times after 9/11, we were always on a higher state of security and alertness on 9/11. It should have been the exact same thing here. And for Susan Rice to say that this was not a well-coordinated attack, first of all, I have to ask her what is her line of expertise in understanding what a well-coordinated attack is because this was not happenstance, it was not coincidence. This was well-planned, well-coordinated and the president there in Libya confirms that."
-- Rep. Allen West (R-FL), September 16, 2012, discussing the recent attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya.

Comment: This is name-calling. Of course there can be legitimate differences of opinion about intelligence predicting an attack (many warnings of attacks are false positives, for instance). For West to say the only explanation is that Rice is "asinine" is just derisive caricature.

"Don’t you ever forget, when you hear them talking about this, that Republican economic policies quadrupled the national debt before I took office, in the 12 years before I took office, and doubled the debt in the eight years after I left, because it defied arithmetic. It was a highly inconvenient thing for them in our debates that I was just a country boy from Arkansas and I came from a place where people still thought two and two was four."
-- President Bill Clinton, September 5, 2012, during his address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is a derisive caricature, of the "stupid" variety, implying that Republicans don't accept basic math.

"Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn't get it. A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice. "Start a business," he said. But how? "Borrow money if you have to from your parents," he told them. Gee, why didn't I think of that? Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn't determine whether you can pursue your dreams. I don't think Gov. Romney meant any harm. I think he's a good guy. He just has no idea how good he's had it."
-- Mayor Julian Castro (D-San Antonio), September 4, 2012, during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: If Castro is implying that you can't come up with policies that are good for the poor if you haven't been poor yourself, then this is a faulty appeal to authority (and "you don't know what it's like" rhetoric). And, does suggesting to people that they try borrowing money from their parents somehow make Romney "out of touch"?

"Silver Bullet" Examples: 2008

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2008 "Silver Bullet"
"Now, Senator McCain talks a lot about earmarks. That's one of the centerpieces of his campaign. Earmarks account for 0.5 percent of the total federal budget. There's no doubt that the system needs reform and there are a lot of screwy things that we end up spending money on, and they need to be eliminated. But it's not going to solve the problem."
-- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), October 15th, 2008, during the third presidential debate with GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Comment: Obama is offering up a "silver bullet" caricature of McCain's position on spending. Yes, McCain has opposed earmarks, but he has never said that simply eliminating earmarks will be enough to reform the federal budget. Obama is distorting McCain's position by implying that McCain believes that eliminating earmarks is a "silver bullet" that will fix the budget.

"Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems -- as if we all didn't know that already. But the fact that drilling won't solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all."
-- GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin's (R-AK), September 3, 2008, at the Republican Party National Convention.

Comment: Palin is pushing back against the use of the "silver bullet" caricature against her by Democrats. However, she might be indulging in a caricature of her own by suggesting that Democrats want to "do nothing at all" on energy or drilling.

"[T]he RNC is providing members of the media with complimentary tools related to Barack Obama's energy plan -- a brand new tire gauge … Because, instead of actually increasing America's domestic oil supply, this is how Obama thinks Americans should try to alleviate burdensome pain at the pump."
-- Press release from the Republican National Committee, August 4, 2008. The RNC was responding to comments by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) that people could save money on gas by properly inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups.

Comment: This is the "silver bullet" caricature. Obama's energy plan involves much more than simply inflating tires properly.

"Silver Bullet" Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 "Silver Bullet"
"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.

OBAMA: Governor Romney says he’s got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector; that’s been his philosophy as governor; that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.
-- President Barack Obama, October 16, 2012, during the second presidential debate in Hempstead, NY, between Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: This is a caricature. In particular, it's the "silver bullet" caricature. Romney isn't proposing only one thing -- a "silver bullet" -- in order to fix the economy. He has a plan that involves tax reform, energy production, trade deals with foreign nations, etc. Obama may not think it's an effective plan -- that's something he needs to argue for -- but it's not acceptable for him to distort Romney as having only a one-dimensional plan.

"And when he was asked what he’d actually do to cut the deficit and reduce spending, he said he’d eliminate funding for public television. That was his answer. I mean, thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. It’s about time. We didn't know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit. But that's what we heard last night. How about that?"
-- President Barack Obama, October 4, 2012. Obama was referring to remarks made by GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) the day before during their first presidential debate.

Comment: Obama is making a "silver bullet" caricature of Romney's position. Romney never said cutting funding for public broadcasting alone would balance the budget, and has offered many other proposals toward that goal (for instance, he said he'd eliminate Obamacare, AKA the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). Obama might disagree with Romney on whether those other proposals would work, but he can't caricature Romney as not offering those other proposals at all.

"Only My Opponent Does It" Examples: 2012

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2012 "Only My Opponent Does It"
""A pragmatic progressive" political party is the ne plus ultra of American political fantasy. It expresses unarguable values: Progress is what we all want, and all politics should be pragmatic. The question is: Why don’t we have it? Why do we have a conservative movement based on frantic spin and outright mendacity, but no true progressive movement opposing it based on facts?"
"How about a Common Sense Party? It seems it’s been a long, long time since political parties have evidenced common sense."
-- Letters to the editor of The New York Times (by David Berman and Nina Bousk, respectively), published December 16, 2012, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Comment: Berman is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that Republicans and conservatives (but not Democrats and progressives) resort to "spin" and lies. He also indulges in "pragmatic" rhetoric. Bousk, meanwhile, indulges in "common sense" rhetoric. What positions are common sense? Does anyone decide to take a position that isn't common sense?

"Confronting evil. That is the subject of this evening's Talking Points Memo. We are living in a country that is rapidly changing. Rules of civility are pretty much finished. While America has always embraced robust debate, now there are elements on both the left and the right which are using disgraceful tactics to demean those with whom they disagree. Some examples: The Supreme Court's now going to hear the gay marriage issue. Some of those who support expanding the definition of marriage are accusing those who oppose it of being human rights violators, bigots, homophobes. So if you hold the belief that traditional marriage should have a special place in society, you're a hater according to the haters. Likewise in criticizing President Obama. There are fanatical left-wingers who say those who disagree with Mr. Obama are doing so because he's black. It's a racial deal. That kind of tactic should be condemned by all Americans. Let me give you a very vivid recent situation that is simply unacceptable. … Sports writer Jason Whitlock … injected race into the Kansas City Chiefs murder-suicide. Whitlock said that unnamed forces in America want guns in the black communities so that people of color could destroy each other. Whitlock went on to call the NRA, quote, "the new KKK". … Hate speech now happening all the time. There comes a point when all good people must say "enough". That point has now been reached in America. … This stuff has got to stop."
-- TV pundit Bill O'Reilly, December 10, 2012, on The O'Reilly Factor.

Comment: First, O'Reilly seems to be implying that there used to be a time when civility prevailed and people didn't demean those with whom they disagreed. Is that true? When was it? Second, while O'Reilly is correct that, as a matter of defiance, we should confront and criticize incivility, O'Reilly leaves the impression that it's only one side that is engaging in it. He mentions, in the abstract, that both sides do it, but the examples of incivility that he cites are all from the "left". Part of the problem of incivility is that people only point it out specifically and denounce it when their opponents do it, not when it's coming from their own side. In other words, O'Reilly is engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Standing up for civil debate on an impartial basis is what will keep civility from being "finished".

"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).

"You know, Penny, we're not going to save the country, we're not going to balance the budget until your side cuts it out, and if people like you, I think you're a reasonable person, but you feel a compulsion to come on this program and defend this. Treasonous, treacherous, let the bodies pile up on the beach."
-- Commentator Sean Hannity, December 7, 2012, speaking to Democratic strategist Penny Lee on his TV show. Hannity is referring to remarks made by former Special Advisor to the White House Van Jones on December 5, 2012.

Comment: Hannity is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Certainly, Democrats, liberals, and progressives need to do more to maintain a standard of civil debate and to criticize those on their side who resort to name-calling and incivility. But so do Republicans and conservatives (and Hannity himself). Hannity is misrepresenting the situation to make it seem like only one side is at fault.

"Senator Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican and chief torch-and-pitchfork-carrier for the Tea Party, is resigning only two years into his second term to cash in on his public service with a high-paying job at that quintessential bastion of Washington establishment, the Heritage Foundation. Does this represent the institutional co-opting of the Tea Party by the Republican base? Or are we watching the Tea Party snap up the last scraps of Republicanism that linger within any sort of proximity to the mainstream of American political thought? I’m hoping for Option A, as that would neutralize the highly damaging threat that the Tea Party poses to American civil discourse."
-- Editorial page editor and columnist Andrew Rosenthal, December 6, 2012.

Comment: How is the Tea Party movement particularly bad for civil discourse? Aren't other groups also a threat? Such as unions? Or even columnists for The New York Times? Rosenthal is singling out the Tea Party movement in a way that indulges in the "only my opponent" caricature.

"[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?

"Romney was successfully defined via negative advertising by the Obamaites in the campaign. When Romney was busy raising money, Obama couldn't run ads or even a campaign on his record. There's not one positive thing Obama could say about his record, so the Democrats did what they always do. They set out to demonize their opponents, which is standard operating procedure for them. They demonize all their critics, try to discredit them and so forth, clear the playing field of them. … we had ads and a campaign strategerist, the lovely and beautiful Stephanie Cutter, claiming that Romney was a felon and that he was a corporate criminal and he had all these secret bank accounts and that he didn't care about you. None of it was true. … who are these people that believe these ads? … Look, folks, we gotta be honest. Hard work is not what an Obama voter is interested in. So the message doesn't resonate. But still, who are these people that believe this drivel, these lies, who are these people that believe all of this rotten stuff about George W. Bush that was put out? We don't run ads like that about people, do we? We never attacked Obama's character, his humanity or any of that stuff, and we could have … We didn't go anywhere near that. We are always aboveboard."
-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 8, 2012.

Comment: First, Limbaugh is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature by claiming that only Democrats -- and not Republicans -- resort to demonizing and "negative" politics, and that Republicans never attacked Obama's character. Of course they do, and of course they did. They're not "always aboveboard". Second, Limbaugh is using "negative politics" rhetoric, but to his credit he's defining the term to mean "demonizing" (he's just wrong that Republicans and conservatives don't engage in demonizing). Third, Limbaugh is demonizing people who voted for Obama by saying they are opposed to hard work. Lastly, Limbaugh is saying that Romney and the Republicans lost the 2012 election because they wouldn't stoop to the misbehavior that (allegedly only) Obama and Democrats do, which is "virtuous loser" rhetoric.

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests.
-- President Barack Obama, November 7, 2012, addressing his supporters while declaring victory in his race against Republican candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

Comment: This is typical rhetoric about civility, in the sense that Obama is lamenting incivility in the abstract without owning up specifically to his own failings with respect to civil debate. Politicians and pundits frequently speak about civility in a way that leaves people with the impression that they themselves aren't part of the problem, that it's someone else who has to clean up their act (the "only my opponents" caricature). That's one of the reasons people are so cynical about politics in general and the possibility for civil debate in particular. Also, Obama himself has frequently railed against "special interests", but here it sounds like he's dismissing the influence of special interests.

"I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly. Trivial things become big distractions. Serious issues become sound bites. And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising. If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me -- so am I."
-- President Barack Obama, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: Politicians frequently denounce campaign tactics in the abstract, without making any mention of whether they and their own campaign share any guilt. Apart from taking responsibility for being part of an "avalanche of advertising", this is what Obama is doing here. These kinds of denunciations in the abstract could be seen as implicitly making the "only my opponent" caricature: "I know there's a lot of misbehavior out there, but I'm not acknowledging that I'm engaging in any of it", which leaves your opponent as the most likely suspect. This might also be "unnamed antagonist" rhetoric.

And we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.
-- Republican candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), November 7, 2012, addressing his supporters while conceding defeat in his race against President Barack Obama.

Comment: This is more "unify the country" rhetoric, as well as "politicizing" rhetoric. What does it mean to "put people before politics"? Without specifics, isn't this an empty platitude? What is Romney himself going to do to put people before politics? Will he apologize for his acts of incivility during the campaign? Or is he just going to leave people with the impression that incivility is a problem created by someone other than himself (the "only my opponents" caricature)?

As we left the Oval Office, executive editor Eric Bates told Obama that he had asked his six-year-old if there was anything she wanted him to say to the president. After a thoughtful pause, she said, "Tell him: You can do it." Obama grinned. "That's the only advice I need," he said. "I do very well, by the way, in that demographic. Ages six to 12? I'm a killer." "Thought about lowering the voting age?" Bates joked. "You know, kids have good instincts," Obama offered. "They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that's a bullshitter, I can tell.'"
-- President Barack Obama, October 11, 2012, during interview with Douglas Brinkley for Rolling Stone Magazine.

Comment: If Obama believes Romney has engaged in distortions, misrepresentations, and exaggerations, then he should just say so and defend that claim. There's no need for him to refer to Romney with profanity, implying that Romney cares nothing about the truth. Plus, given that Obama has also engaged in distortions, misrepresentations, and exaggerations, would Obama apply the same profanity to himself? Probably not. Finally, do kids really have good instincts? Isn't much of the point of kids' education teaching them things that they don't know instinctively, things that they need to know if they're going to thrive and prosper (or at least avoid drinking cleaning fluids?)?

RADDATZ: "I recently spoke to a highly decorated soldier who said that this presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, quote, “the ads are so negative and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country.” What would you say to that American hero about this campaign? And at the end of the day, are you ever embarrassed by the tone? Vice President Biden?"
BIDEN: "I would say to him the same thing I say to my son who did serve a year in Iraq, that we only have one truly sacred obligation as a government. That’s to equip those we send into harm’s way and care for those who come home. That’s the only sacred obligation we have. Everything else falls behind that. … I would also tell him that there are things that have occurred in this campaign and occur in every campaign that I’m sure both of us regret anyone having said, particularly in these -- these special new groups that can go out there, raise all the money they want, not have to identify themselves, who say the most scurrilous things about the other candidate. It’s -- it’s an abomination. … But there are things that have been said in campaigns that I -- I find not very appealing."

RYAN: "First of all, I’d thank him to his service to our country. Second of all, I’d say we are not going to impose these devastating cuts on our military which compromises their mission and their safety. And then I would say, you have a president who ran for president four years ago promising hope and change, who has now turned his campaign into attack, blame and defame. You see, if you don’t have a good record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone to run from. That was what President Obama said in 2008. It’s what he’s doing right now. … And what do we have from the president? He broke his big promise to bring people together to solve the country’s biggest problems. And what I would tell him is we don’t have to settle for this."
-- Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Biden and Ryan.

Comment: Neither candidate makes any mention of standing up to the name-calling coming from their own party. Biden laments some misbehavior, but won't identify any specific instances. Ryan only criticizes the misbehavior of his opponents. Neither candidate is willing to criticize their own side, leaving us with the impression that it's mostly their opponents who are guilty. Raddatz, too, said little or nothing during the debate to rebuke the name-calling or unproductive rhetoric coming from Biden and Ryan.

RYAN: "Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, where 87 percent of the legislators he served, which were Democrats. He didn’t demonize them. He didn’t demagogue them. He met with those party leaders every week. He reached across the aisle. He didn’t compromise principles."
-- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), October 11, 2012, during the vice presidential debate in Danville, KY, between Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden.

Comment: Ryan is making the point that -- contrary to Romney -- Obama and Democrats demonize and demagogue. But this is the "only my opponent does it" caricature. Romney has definitely demonized his opponents in this presidential campaign (as have Obama and Biden), and -- though I don't have any documented instances -- I would be surprised if he didn't do so as well during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007.

"Candidates always have disagreements, arguing over the meaning of events or evidence. But Mr. Obama has taken ordinary political differences beyond anything we've seen. Every day, it seems, he attempts to disqualify his opponent through deliberate and undeniable falsehoods. ... Voters expect politicians to stretch the truth. But when the offender is as persistent with mistruths, half-truths and no-truths as Mr. Obama is, voters expect the other candidate to blow the whistle. ... Mr. Romney must call out the president. That is not so easy: Mr. Romney can't call Mr. Obama a liar; that's too harsh a word that would backfire. Mr. Romney must instead set the record straight in a presidential tone -- firm, respectful, but not deferential."
-- Republican strategist Karl Rove, September 26, 2012.

Comment: Rove is correct that Obama has distorted and demonized his opponents. But to suggest that Obama is doing this at an unprecedented level -- how would you measure this? At any rate, Rove seems to be engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature, as well as the "they'll say anything" caricature. Also, Rove effectively says that Obama is a liar, right? So why would it backfire to use the word "liar" in describing Obama if it's accurate?

Regarding Republicans, "[w]hat else is a turnoff is their poisonous campaign. Suffocate the airwaves, suppress the vote, poison the debate, people throw up their hands and say, 'I just don't even know if I want to participate in this'. And when they walk away -- right-thinking people walk away -- the special interests achieve a victory. So we have to keep the campaign positive, about what our president could do".
-- House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), September 26, 2012.

Comment: A lot of people are turned off by the incivility in political debate, but this incivility is hardly coming only from Republicans. For Pelosi to suggest otherwise is the "only my opponent" caricature. Also, Pelosi is disparaging "special interests".

Scott Pelley: The folks at home are so concerned about Washington's apparent inability to get big things done. How can you assure the American people that you are willing to go halfway and make a compromise with these people that you have, apparently, such acrimony with?
Barack Obama: Well, Scott, I've gotta tell you, there may be acrimony directed towards me, but you know what, that's not unique to my presidency. I'm willing to go more than halfway. And I've displayed that. I think that throughout my political career I've shown not only an instinct but a desire to find common ground.
-- September 14, 2012, CBS News' Scott Pelley interviewing President Barack Obama.

Comment: Obama makes it sound as if there is acrimony coming at him from his opponents (i.e., Republicans), but none coming from him toward his opponents. This is a caricature (in particular, the "only my opponent" caricature). There may or may not be feelings of acrimony on either side, but both sides have behaved with acrimony, frequently demonizing one another and distorting one another's positions. Obama is both a victim and a perpetrator of this misbehavior.

"[Lately President Barack Obama has] been trying out a new tactic. It’s a classic Barack Obama straw man: If anyone dares to point out the facts of his record, why then, they’re just being negative and pessimistic about the country. The new straw man is people hoping for the decline of America. … I want my children to make their own choices, to define happiness for themselves, and to use the gifts that God gave them and live their lives in freedom. Say things like this, and our opponents will quickly accuse you of being, quote, “anti-government.” President Obama frames the debate this way because, here again, it’s the only kind of debate he can win – against straw-man arguments. No politician is more skilled at striking heroic poses against imaginary adversaries. Nobody is better at rebuking nonexistent opinions. Barack Obama does this all the time, and in this campaign we are calling him on it."
-- GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), September 14, 2012, addressing the Values Voter Summit.

Comment: It's true that Republicans are sometimes accused of rooting for failure (though it's also true that some Republicans have made the same accusation about Democrats). And it's true that Obama does use straw men (i.e., caricatures and name-calling) against his opponents (though, once again, so do Republicans). Ryan, in other words, is using the "only my opponent" caricature against Obama (though it's true that Obama uses this against Republicans, too!). The "classic tactic" really on display here is to be outraged at misbehavior when your opponent does it, while giving yourself and your own side a free pass for doing the exact same thing.

George Stephanopoulos: What have you learned as you've studied all this about President Obama as a debater? What are you looking for?
Mitt Romney: Well, I think he's going to say a lot of things that aren't accurate. … I think that the challenge that I’ll have in the debate is that the president tends to -- how shall I say it -- to say things that aren’t true and -- in attacking his opponents. I’ve looked at prior debates, and in that kind of case, it’s difficult to say, ‘Well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren’t quite accurate? Or am I going to spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about?" And that's the challenge you always have.
-- Anchor George Stephanopoulous interviewing GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), released September 14, 2012.

Comment: It's true that President Barack Obama has said things that aren't true, but it's not as if the same thing doesn't apply to Romney himself. In other words, Romney is engaging in the "only my opponent" caricature. Plus, how is this lack of accuracy "the challenge you always have" if it's peculiar to Obama?

OBAMA: There's a broader lesson to be learned here. You know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that. That it's important for you to make sure that the statements you make are backed up by the facts and that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them.
KROFT: Do you think it was irresponsible?
OBAMA: I'll let the American people judge that.
-- President Barack Obama, interviewing President Barack Obama, September 12, 2012, during interview with reporter Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes". Obama's remarks concerned GOP presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney's (R-MA) criticism of a statement released by the U.S. embassy in Egypt, which Romney mistakenly described as occurring after (rather than before) an attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya.

Comment: This is an evasion. Obama has said Romney spoke carelessly and without the facts in his command, so he's effectively saying that Romney was irresponsible even if he hasn't used the word "irresponsible". Obama is using the "not my decision" evasion to avoid saying something he's basically said anyway. How would he be infringing on the opinion of "the American people" if he issued his own opinion on the matter? The American people can still make a judgment about it even if he offers his own, right? Plus, Obama is engaging in a caricature, making it sound as if Romney -- but not Obama himself -- hasn't learned that it's important to have your statements backed up by facts (and, is Obama saying he only learned this after he became president?).

"I know that campaigns can seem small, and even silly. Trivial things become big distractions. Serious issues become sound bites. And the truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising. If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me -- so am I."
-- President Barack Obama, September 6, 2012, addressing the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: Politicians frequently denounce campaign tactics in the abstract, without making any mention of whether they and their own campaign share any guilt. Apart from taking responsibility for being part of an "avalanche of advertising", this is what Obama is doing here. These kinds of denunciations in the abstract could be seen as implicitly making the "only my opponent" caricature: "I know there's a lot of misbehavior out there, but I'm not acknowledging that I'm engaging in any of it", which leaves your opponent as the most likely suspect. This might also be "unnamed antagonist" rhetoric.

"Now, there’s something I’ve noticed lately. You probably have, too. And it’s this. Maybe just because I grew up in a different time, but though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats. … And every one of us -- every one of us and every one of them, we’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we’re never going to be right all the time, and hopefully we’re right more than twice a day. Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is always the enemy, they’re always right, and compromise is weakness."
-- President Bill Clinton, September 5, 2012, during his address at the Democratic National Convention.

Comment: This is the "only my opponent" caricature. Both Republicans and Democrats routinely resort to name-calling and say hateful things about their opponents. And each side routinely complains that they have been too accommodating to the other party and not tough enough with them, and that the other party never admits its faults. There is so much invective coming from each party that it is, in practical terms, impossible to figure out which party does it more.

"I'm the newcomer to the campaign, so let me share a first impression. I have never seen opponents so silent about their record, and so desperate to keep their power. They've run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. Fear and division are all they've got left. With all their attack ads, the president is just throwing away money— and he's pretty experienced at that. You see, some people can't be dragged down by the usual cheap tactics, because their ability, character, and plain decency are so obvious— and ladies and gentlemen, that is Mitt Romney."
-- GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), August 29, 2012, at the Republican Party National Convention.

Comment: Democrats are desperate to keep power? This is similar to the way that Howard Dean demonized Republicans on February 26, 2008. Ryan is also making the "fear-mongering" accusation as well as the "divisive" accusation. I think there's an implicit "only my opponent does it" caricature here, as well.

"We win when we make it about what needs to be done. We lose when we play along with their game of scaring and dividing."
-- Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), August 28, 2012, giving the keynote address at the GOP National Convention.

Comment: To say that it's the Democrats who engage in "scaring and dividing" and not Republicans is the "only my opponent does it" caricature. There's ample evidence that this is a game that both sides play. It's also another fear-mongering accusation, along with an accusation of "dividing".

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Evil" and Demonization Examples: 2007

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2007 "Evil" and Demonization
"You [Republicans] don't have money to fund the war or [health care for] children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement...The truth is that Bush just likes to blow things up, in Iraq, in the United States, and in Congress."
-- Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), October 18, 2007.

Comment: This is a standard attribution of callousness, saying that your political opponent wants people to be killed, and is even entertained by it.

Political advocacy group runs an ad in the New York Times suggesting that Gen. David Petraeus -- the head of U.S. forces in Iraq -- be referred to as "General Betray Us" in light of his testimony to Congress regarding the conflict in Iraq.
-- September 10, 2007.

Comment: This is standard name-calling, attributing sinister motives to those with whom you disagree.
A political ad run by the presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton (D, NY) says that struggling American families and American soldiers are "invisible" to President George W. Bush.
-- August 14, 2007.

Comment: Another example of the claim that one's opponent is indifferent to the suffering of others.

"[Smaller, less intrusive government is] what makes America great, not this nanny government that Democrats want to give us, where government controls your entire life."
-- Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, July 30, 2007.

Comment: This is caricature. Democrats may want more intervention in the lives of Americans than Giuliani finds acceptable, but they do not want government to control people's entire lives any more than Republicans want to eliminate all government, including police departments.

"It is no comfort to watch as this generation's Know-Nothings bray against 'amnesty' from their anchor chairs and campaign lecterns, knowing that it gives hope to the people they hate."
-- The New York Times' editorial page, "The Immigration Deal," May 20, 2007.

Comment: This exhibits both of the standard ways of deriding your opponent: calling them stupid ("Know-Nothings"), and claiming they are motivated by sinister intentions (in this case, hatred).

Glenn Beck is "Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother".
-- Novelist and pundit Stephen King, February 1, 2007, referring to pundit Glenn Beck.

Comment: King is both demonizing Beck and calling him mentally deficient.

"Evil" and Demonization Examples: 2008

EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS: 2008 "Evil" and Demonization
"It is almost a wrong phrase, the politics of George Bush. It is kind of the inane stupidity and for lack of good, the absolute evil of it".
-- Actor and director Sean Penn, May 14, 2008 [CNN-IBN: Cannes' opening had all the makings of a movie (May 16, 2008)].

Comment: This instance of name-calling has Penn demonizing Bush by deriding him as both evil and mentally deficient.

"Liberalism by definition is a lie. Liberal policies, liberal beliefs, liberal plans all fail. Liberals know it. Liberals are in it for a host of reasons other than end results that actually work. End results that work, that don't involve government, threaten liberals. But all of liberalism is a lie".
-- Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, March 26, 2008.

Comment: To say, as Limbaugh does, that liberals consciously lie about all of their political beliefs and are not even hoping to achieve any moral goals, is caricature and demonizing.

"It's not too soon to explain to people what [Senator Barack] Obama [(D, IL)] and his presidency would mean, either [Senator] Hillary [Clinton (D, NY)] or Obama. You listen to that debate last night as I listened to it and you're listening to two people argue about how to destroy capitalism. That's what I heard. How can we destroy capitalism? ... We're not just talking about people who want to create dependents. We're talking about two people that want as many Americans to become serfs - s-e-r-f, serfs - of the state, as they can make, as they can manufacture".
-- Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, February 27, 2008.

Comment: This is a caricature. Limbaugh may disagree with the wisdom of Clinton and Obama's policies on government spending and taxes, but it is false that they are trying to destroy capitalism and put Americans into forced servitude. Limbaugh is also demonizing Clinton and Obama by falsely accusing them of malicious intentions.

"The Republican Party has been in power for the sake of being in power".
-- Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, February 26, 2008.

Comment: Although there are probably people in both the Democratic and Republican parties who seek public office merely because they enjoy wielding power, Dean's claim that that is the only motivation behind the Republican Party as a whole is derisive and false. It is name-calling and demonizing.

Radio commentator Michael Savage calls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton "two faces of evil" and says they are "not Americans".
-- February 21, 2008.

Comment: This is name-calling in the form of demonizing. In particular, Savage says they don't belong in this country.

"I'm so proud of the job that the men and women in the military are doing there [in Iraq], and they don't want us to raise the white flag of surrender, like Senator Clinton does."
-- Senator John McCain (AZ), January 24, 2008, at the Florida Republican Debate.

Comment: McCain may disagree with Clinton's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq, but to describe her position as "raising the white flag of surrender" is exaggeration, if not outright caricature.

"[Hillary Clinton's] approach to the war in Iraq: just get out as fast as you can. Just -- don't even think about the sacrifice that's been made or the need to keep Al Qaeda from establishing safe havens."
-- Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA), January 24, 2008, at the Florida Republican Debate.

Comment: This is a distortion. Clinton believes that having a large U.S. military presence in Iraq reduces the incentive for the Iraqi government to take the initiative to address security challenges -- such as Al Qaeda. Romney may disagree with that belief, but to say that Clinton cares nothing at all about whether Al Qaeda establishes safe havens in Iraq is false.